Hello again!

Of course I want to start this as I did most entries in my diary as a kid... “Dear Journal, sorry I haven’t written in so long...” and then some excuse as if this inanimate object was sitting there, longing for my eloquent words. Ha. I don’t think I was ever honest in those either... just in case my sisters got a hold of it. Thankfully, that has changed. 

This part of the journey is one that has carried tons of apprehension for me - the “after” (sort of). I’m still in treatment, but I am okay. Life has returned to some sort of normal and that is great. Being able to be busy is a weird luxury and serves the purpose as a wonderful distraction, allowing me to forget the reality of life for a bit. It has given me more time with my kids, more energy to do what I missed so much last winter... but it has hindered the therapy that the quiet used to provide for me. I used to journal all the time... now I jot in my phone when I can. This writing has been a savior. The honesty of writing on here is what I have needed to process the nonsense of cancer. The unfairness, the struggle...that is all easier when I reach out to you all. So, thank you. 

Okay, treatment... I am currently in my last stretch of infusions. With HER-2+ breast cancer, the biotherapy Herceptin is a saving grace. It is about all they have to trust that any remaining cancer cells are not able to establish a blood supply. I receive a half-hour infusion every three weeks. It is the same process as chemo, an infusion via the port down at Smilow, only it doesn’t carry the same side effects. I am not nauseous. I still have my hair. (Holy shit, post-chemo hair is another thing entirely. Lol is all I can say). It should not exhaust me, nor should it be the direct cause of exhaustion, but damn... it takes it all out of me. Perhaps it’s simply the mental toll it takes on me, the reminder of what infusions were like a year ago. Walking into Smilow, I feel like one of Pavlov’s dogs. Who knows, but it drains me for a couple of days. 

I am not naive to assume that everyone has the same experience with cancer. I know that everyone processes it in their own way. I often think of how I cope... the Bucha way - humor, volume, laughter, all of our usual defense mechanisms. What would it be like if that wasn’t the case? What if we still lived in lonely Turlock, CA (where I am convinced this shit came from... another story entirely) and all I had was a good book and Bubble Guppies? Fortunately for me, my treatments were something I looked forward to - a good social scene with friends, family, and lots of laughter. It was also often the only time I ever had any interaction with people outside of my home. 

I don’t know what I expected. Why was I nervous? I had done this [seemingly] a thousand times before. Perhaps I thought my family and friends of chemo past were just a shield to the heinous reality of treatment. Here I am, over a year later and drastically different, both mentally and physically... and I am still thinking that this appointment, all by my lonesome, held such horrific potential. 

I saw all the usual partners. Everyone asked where my entourage was and I explained that I felt it was time that I experienced it by myself. If anything, it was a time to reflect. A time to look past the curtain around my chair, to hear what others are talking about. My first thought was, “holy shit, they must have hated us Buchas”. I never realized just how many people were sleeping. Happily, not many were alone (for some reason that makes me sad. But in truth, most that were alone were at peace or working, looking quite comfortable being alone.) I saw the way support works on a different side... it’s silent and present but not distracting. For me, the constant background noise was a very warm welcome. I wanted to laugh at why I was there... I wanted to entertain. On this day, I didn’t have to... and not that I ever felt I was entertaining, but it was bringing people “home”. Bringing people to my realm, to the paradigm within which my life was filtered. Now, it’s a mental game more than it is a physical challenge (shout out to Double Dare). It’s the ebb and flow of cancer and nothing.... every three weeks, and perhaps a couple of other appointments scattered throughout... it’s that.

As I sat in the waiting room for treatment...alone... a young woman entered. She was in full makeup, very nicely dressed, clearly a business woman in town on business. (Regina Felangey? I think you left your Filofax in Conference Room B.) Her heels alone made me chuckle a bit to myself - you don’t see many of those in this room. I listened as she signed in... she was an employee of Blue Cross Blue Shield. Interesting. My mind immediately went to this time last year, when her employer denied me the treatment I so desperately needed. When this denial brought my blood count to the lowest threshold allowed to receive treatment. I started to boil a bit, but calmed myself with the reassurance that it was not her fault. She walked by my seat and bumped my leg with her bag. I mean, her giant bag bumped my leg and knocked it off the other one as I was sitting cross-legged. I was pissed. Not only did she deny me my treatment, but she just bumped me with ZERO acknowledgement!? GASP! How dare she!! I almost said something. (Jill has started calling me Larry, as in Larry David... saying post-diagnosis Becky is like Larry David. I was unfiltered before, but now it’s different. Social norms no longer come into play if I have something to say. I tend to release my inner dialogue for the rest of the world to digest. I just don’t care.) So I was going to let her have it... was going to ask what gives her the right to walk into my infusion lobby with no concern for the patients who need to be there. Just then I made eye contact with the gentleman sitting directly across from me. He laughed, rolled his eyes, and got it. He understood. That was enough - he was on my side in Bag-Gate and that’s all that mattered. We both giggled some more, burned her soul with our eyes, and it was back to the game on my phone.

After my deep breath, treatment was easy and uneventful as it usually is. It went by quickly which didn’t really surprise me. Tomorrow I go on to my 13th round of Herceptin, four more left after that, then one surgery, then...done. Right now I am planning on going alone. Darn it, I should have called earlier to get a massage. (They literally give you those, though I have always forgotten to sign up. Doh!)

xo b 

Here I am, one year in.

It was one year ago that I found out I had cancer. It was a Thursday, and Chris and I were leaving our driveway en route to a friend’s house to pick up Matilda when a call came in from New Haven. It was Dr. Patel, the young guy who did my biopsy that Monday and who would eventually tell me my tumor was gone four months later. He started to speak, “Unfortunately....” that was really all I heard. I broke down. I cried. I was terrified. But I wasn’t shocked. I had a feeling this was coming. Not because of my hypochondria and assumption I’d have cancer at some point.... but because I prepared myself. Leading up to my biopsy, I had the entire spectrum of emotion. I didn’t sleep. I tried to numb the pain with wine. I watched Fixer Upper, all seasons. I barely functioned. The day of the biopsy is a blur. Lindsay tells me she has never seen me that way. I had no strength, no will, no smile. Then I woke up the next day. I went through the two outcomes. Either I had cancer, or I didn’t. I figured it is much better to be completely relieved than utterly shocked and devastated. If I prepped for the cancer, it wouldn’t be as hard to hear the words. Right? No. Those words are never easy. They are sharp and direct and fucking serious. But because I had processed my worry and response in advance, there was part of me that was relieved. “Okay, I have cancer. I thought this would happen. Now what?” The waiting was also over. That really was the worst part. 

Chris gave me rational strength, to look at it for what it was. In fact, during that dreaded waiting period, when I was emotional and panicked, he laid it out for me; he said there was a road ahead of us — it might be bumpy, lots of twists and turns, or it could be straight — either way, we’re taking that road. That was it, we had no choice. That lack of an alternative has stayed with me this entire time. It’s what drives my positivity. It’s what stops my worry. My mom has always told me not to worry about something until you have to, and jokes that I am always good at finding something to worry about when there is not one. It is different now. There is no alternative, I do what I have to do. It is amazing when you can check your anxiety at the door. Things begin to hurt less. If you told me last summer that once a week I would have an inch long and thick needle slammed into this Ironman-esque thing in my chest... I would think about that needle every day of my life. And that thing under my skin!? It’s like the girl from SmalI Wonder! I’ve never been much into opening up the back of someone like a fuse box. The anticipation would be so bad I would lose sleep over it. Yet once I got the news, once I had a plan, there was only one thing to do. It really is mind over matter. I used to think the IV was the worst part of a c-section... and now I have a preference as to which veins they stick. Another story to show you how debilitating my worry could be... When we were moving to CA from CT four years ago, I was happy to leave our house because it had house centipedes. Lots of them. Then Heather reminded me that central CA has tarantulas. If you don’t think I asked every possible landlord, store owner, server, table-next-to-us-at-dinner, if there were tarantulas.... well, you don’t know me at all. I can worry. 

I remember the initial meeting with Dr. Silber and Dr. Chagpar. Lindsay wrote about it here. It was a long and tiring appointment that reassured me I was in the right place and with the right people. It gave me a plan, a long and really annoying plan. I was told I’d have to get the port like they were telling me to get the mail. Port, okay. Next? I remember feeling so confident in there, family around me, smart doctors, a beautiful hospital, there was absolutely no fear. I was surrounded by support, by comrades, by people and things that were going to fix me. It was hugs all around and off we went to the boutique in the hospital. Lyn and Heather tried on scarves and hats and I started to do the same. I didn’t get the cloth passed my forehead before something changed. It became real. I saw a vision of the person I was about to become. I was alone. I wasn’t dealing with this alone, but it was me who had to deal with it. I had to endure the pain and discomfort we just heard about for three hours. We walked to a vegetarian restaurant near the Yale campus (we had just learned plant-based is best so we weren’t messing around). Students bustled to class, people laughed, drank, enjoyed life. There I was... I was walking but didn’t realize it. I was sitting with my family, chatting and laughing, but I wasn’t present. I was in another reality where I was bald, I was sick, I was in pain, and I had cancer. It surprised me how quickly I felt alone and it took a day or two after that moment to get back to where I needed to be. And then I shaved my head. I maintain that that was the single-most beneficial, productive, and necessary thing I have done throughout this entire process. It gave me my control. It made this time mine. 

Now I sit at my dining room table, reflecting on this last year and wondering where in the hell the time has gone. My plan felt like an eternity. I couldn’t wait for each step, and now almost all have passed. Even though I have 11 more doses and almost a year left of Herceptin, I truly feel like I’m in the final stages. Things are often spoken of in the past now and it’s more about where I am and what is next...not for treatment, but for me. The last two treatments have been great. They are quick and easy — almost too quick actually. My mom, Heather and I hung around the first one for about an hour after my infusion was finished. We pulled the curtain and chatted with my Smilow peeps. It was wonderful to be back. My second was on Wednesday and my dad, myself, and Dr. Silber caught up and mostly spoke about the grotesque situation our country is currently in and how her students are feeling about their school. Then for the infusion we got a private room, usually reserved for those patients who are very sick, and enjoyed treatment - me in a bed, and he in an infusion chair (like a La-Z-Boy). I am tired but have been told that it is more likely due to my children rather than the treatment. Isn’t that a wonderful thing. 

Much love to you all. xo b

Preppin’ the Port

Treatment starts back up tomorrow and I am filled with mixed emotions. It is Herceptin and Perjeta, my two trusty biotherapies that I received with infusions every three weeks back in the beginning. Wow, way back then. It really seems like forever ago. Forever ago that I was a month or two into chemo and not yet feeling the real side effects. Sure, I was tired, I was nauseous, I was sick. But I had fun. I averaged about 3.5, 1000 piece puzzles a week, jamming to my own song, “Everyday I’m puzzlin’ puzzlin’ puzzlin”. Those stopped with the second round of chemo when merely looking at the pieces made my head spin. I believe the last time I puzzled was March 15th, the night before the next round. Craig and Kayleen were over and we teased him for not being as good as the rest of us. At puzzling. Jeez. I really needed to get out, eh? The kids asked to do a puzzle yesterday so we cracked open a new one. As we flipped the pieces, I got a twang of nausea. It wasn’t real, it was a ghost - a ghost of chemo past. Keeping at it, it ended up as it typically did; the kids whining about where things go, me begging them to go play, watch tv, anything so I can get back to puzzlin’ puzzlin’ puzzlin’. 

Many incredible things have happened since the last time I wrote. I have been showered with love from many of the people I adore most in this world. Friend’s birthdays, my birthday, my 20th high school reunion, a wedding for two of the greatest, and oh yes, the icing on the cake, the creme de la creme... my Gettysburg lacrosse team came for a visit. A surprise. My coach - she’s still there, by the way, you may have heard of her...she’s won three National Championships and is pretty much the shit on the street if you know what I’m sayin’. Anywho, Coach picked me up under an “in town for some recruiting” guise and we went over to friend and former teammate Meghan’s house to grab her and get some lunch. Next thing I know, I turn the corner to her kitchen and standing in there, clad in shirts they had made - “Bucha 18, Cancer 0. Nothing stops a Bullet” was over a dozen of my former teammates. They traveled from all over, some having flown in late the night before. It was incredible. I am crying while I write this. I have never felt better than I have battling cancer and that is because of all of you. You sure know how to make someone feel supported, loved, and strong. Thank you. 

I am somewhat relieved to get back to treatment. I was ecstatic when radiation was over. A huge time-sucking, sort of painful, alarmingly damaging drag. That’s radiation. But then I just had to wait for the next step. More waiting. I am relieved that step is here. I need the reminder. After surgery, waiting for radiation, that was intense for me. My body needed a break and my mind did, too. I stopped thinking about treatment, pain, time, and just lived how I once did (only healthier :-)). The problem is — my mind took a break in a way that I hadn’t anticipated. Some of the perspective I gained dissipated, especially that from initial diagnosis and immediately thereafter. I became less focused, but also more independent. I didn’t filter life through the cancer on a daily basis. Part of this was knowing - wonderfully knowing - that the worst was behind me. But in the beginning, I wouldn’t have cared. That would have been irrelevant, and frankly a waste of time. I had one job to do and I would do ANYTHING to get it done. Being on the “other” side of it makes that stuff go to the back burner a bit. Willingly, of course. Once you’ve tackled the major obstacle, things start to go back to normal... but you’re not even sure what that is anymore. My normal for 37 years no longer exists. I was sort of stagnant, lost in time somewhere between it all. Do I move on? Do I reflect? Radiation was exactly what I needed to figure it out. A daily task, but more importantly, a daily reminder. This new round of treatment will serve the same purpose. Cancer is not something I regret, or dwell upon, or hold any hostility towards. This is me. It is the most important lesson I’ve ever been taught. Rather, it is the culmination of every lesson I’ve been taught, tested. 

And so with these new steps comes the perspective. “Cancer Becky” returns (she’s a good thing), and I get back in the game. I will always need the perspective I gained last October, and then again in June, and now again on the eve of my second-to-last phase of treatment (one more surgery to go as well). Time to separate the bullshit from what really matters. I know I will continue to lose this every now and then and am thankful for the many people around me that say, “hm, cancer Becky wouldn’t feel that way.” They’re right, Cancer Becky doesn’t sweat the small stuff. I am thankful as well, for the lifetime of scans and tests ahead of me...for the reminder of that perspective you gain when faced with the ultimate test.

As I wrap this up, I’m doing pretty great these days. Feeling is slowly starting to come back which is nice, but also freaky and somewhat painful. My port is once again noticeable (feeling-wise) and can bug me out a bit when I all of a sudden get some sensation from the muscle within which it is bed. I’m convinced one of these days that thing is going to come bursting out of my chest like the water balloon shot out of a sling shot from my family to the Kennedy’s. True story, oops. So Herceptin, the miracle drug that makes my cancer curable, powers up again tomorrow. It is the same process as chemo so I get to return to Dr. Silber and my squad in the infusion lab. I’m sure patients who remember me and my entourage from before will be over the moon to see us back on the beat (sarcasm). I’m not as weak as I was before so things could get a little rowdier than they were in the winter. These drugs shouldn’t come with side effects, thankfully, but carry quite a load when it comes to the heart. Being that I’m not starting off with a perfect model, this concerns me a bit. It will be my thing to worry about, I always need one. I am being monitored closely by my cardiologist, and having echocardiograms after every two or three doses. I remain 100% confident in Smilow, in my doctors, in my treatment. I trust whatever they do is making me better, not worse. Sometimes you just have to weigh the risk and reward, ya know? Anyway... There will be 13 of these treatments... so saddle up, partners.

xo b