It's been a busy week, and today is once again a snow day at preschool, so I knew I needed to get here and write while I am given this "free time". First, let me say that my counts were back up again (not as high as my oncologist would have liked, but they are up!), so I was able to get my chemo this week. So I am now at the half-way point in the second half of my treatment. Six more to go! Then surgery, then reconstruction, then recovery, then back to "life as I knew it". WHEW!
I have mentioned before that there are four others at my church who have been going through this same journey with me. We are a mix of different diagnoses and different treatments, but we are all joined together by the connection of the "C" word. It's a word that is always hard to hear and one we all fear we will hear one day. I can remember thinking at one time that the worst thing I thought could happen to me was to hear that I would need to have chemo treatments...and now, here I am...and I am surviving it and getting though it. You do what you have to do. All four of us have had our moments of utter helplessness and also moments of determination and "true grit".
We decided we needed to meet somewhere to "really talk". We had all been seeing each other at church and talking at coffee hour, but we wanted a place we could talk without interruptions and be able to say and ask all we needed to say and ask of each other. We met at a local diner where we knew we could take our time and gab while we ate.
All five of us have had our surgery. One of us had a double mastectomy, so did not need radiation, and had no node or other involvement so did not need chemo either. She had cancer in only one breast, but had a family history of this cancer and felt (like me) that she didn't want to take chances and wait each time she had a mammogram for the "other shoe to fall". Two others needed only radiation. Then, there is my story and one other in the group who share a similar path through chemo right now; although I will be going on to more surgery and she will be going on to radiation. So we are a real "mixed bag".
Just as you would imagine, the two who needed only radiation had a lot to say to each other as did the two of us who are in chemo. The one who had the double mastectomy talked to me about that and to the group as a whole. As we were initially greeting each other and talking about wigs, hats, baldness, chemo, radiation, tiredness...I could see some around us looking at us. But it didn't seem to matter at all. In fact, I felt kinda free being able to mention all this out loud and in public. There IS after all, "strength in numbers". And I think, if anything, that is what we all needed most. We talked about "chemo brain" (and yes, this is a real thing!), and how others look at us and think we are "feeling fine". A lot of credit for this comes mainly through make up and accessories...but all that hides the tiredness and other aches and pains and side effects that we are experiencing at any given time. We also talked about our treatments and its effect on us and our families and how we yearn to feel "normal" again. The two of us who are going through chemo are the only ones "not done" with our treatments yet (and I say this knowing we will actually never "be done" with this journey now), so we had the most to say to each other. We rode home in the car together and we both shared that we felt "jealous" somewhat of the others for only needing surgery and radiation. Even though we acknowledge that the news of BC and subsequent surgery and treatment for them was equally as hard to go through....we somehow felt they had been "spared", while we were not.
I am getting tired of my bald head and we share this feeling. We both had looked at their full heads of hair and it was a symbol of what we had lost. I feel good for her that she will be having her last chemo next week (she had the stronger dosage and 4 treatments spaced out; I have the lower dosage and 12 weekly treatments) since she has been struggling with enormous pain in her knees and has two young children.
I know this will not be the last time we will meet together. I know we need to be able to say those hard things we cannot say to others and admit those things we are afraid to admit elsewhere. And I know I will need to talk more to the one who has had the double mastectomy since that will be the next part of my journey as well. She has already generously offered to even let me "see and feel" the implants she has. And I need to make those calls today for an appointment to start the conversation with the plastic surgeons.
The dinner with these girls was the best part of my week. I am grateful for their company and all we shared. And if you look around you today, just remember that one out of eight women you will see has been touched in some way by breast cancer. You may know it...and then again, you may not. But it is a very real fact. Smile at them all!