It’s the C-Word

I’m referring to cancer, not any of the other C-words that you might be thinking about. I hate to claim it as my cancer because I want to get rid of it as soon as possible, but regardless of how I feel about it, it’s my companion for the time being. To put a finer point on it, it’s Stage 4 esophageal cancer because it has started to spread to the liver (just lesions now). A scary diagnosis to be sure, and the only way I can deal with it is not to think too much or too often about that aspect of it. We found out about the cancer right before Thanksgiving, and I feel very fortunate that my GI doctor worked quickly and got an oncologist into the loop. We first met him almost two days after I got the diagnosis, and a subsequent PET scan confirmed the metastasis. Fortunately, it’s spread nearby and not to a distant part of the body.

We moved as quickly as schedules and holidays would permit us, and we started chemotherapy on December 14. It’s a fairly aggressive regimen (big infusion every fourth week and a pump with daily infusion) but so far, I’ve done okay on it. My side effects have been comparatively minor. I’ve had some mild nausea, fatigue, and the dreaded mucositis. Mucositis is when the chemotherapy inflames the mucous linings of your mouth, throat, and esophagus and creates ulcers. For right now, all I’ve got is a sore throat because of the raw spots that mucositis causes. I can control that by gargling with warm salt water, using analgesics, or by drinking soothing warm liquids. Cold stuff works well too, and I spent this afternoon eating ice chips while watching a movie. Sonic Slushes, Slurpees, and milk shakes are nice treats. I have lost some weight since the diagnosis — about 15 pounds — but I haven’t lost my hair yet. My oncologist said to expect that soon since it usually occurs during the third week of treatment. I’ve bought some hats and I’m going to get my hairstylist to buzz my hair down to prepare for it. The hair loss isn’t fun but it was going to happen sooner or later anyway. My hair has been thinning for some time now. Might as well get it over with. If it comes back, it may come back a different color, so that’s something to look forward to. Maybe I’ll be the redhead I should have been.

If I had to complain about anything, it would be that showering is much more difficult now that I have a port (I’m always tethered to the pump, which I’ve named Pumpy), and I still have occasional discomfort when I eat. It seems to really hit me when I eat out more so than when I eat at home. I think I get self-conscious when the hiccups start (and I can’t always get them to stop) and I’ve barely touched my food.Robert watches me closely to make sure I’m doing okay and he’s always quick to remind me to slow down and not eat so quickly. Take-home boxes are always part of the package for me. If I’m not eating with anyone, I rarely have an issue.

But I shouldn’t complain because I’m also extremely fortunate. I’ve got a tight support group of family and friends. My husband is a rock to me; I’d never make it through this without him. My parents are beyond wonderful (as always) and they take me to my big chemo infusion treatments where I have to stay most of the day. They’re also rocks of support and prayer; so are the rest of my family. I’ve told all my closest friends about the diagnosis and they’ve been amazing. I work in an education department that is comprised mostly of nurses (even oncology nurses), so I have many resources for answering questions or getting advice. Work has been extremely flexible with me and people check in with me all the time to make sure I’m doing okay or if I need anything. And that’s from our department leadership on down to my colleagues in the department; our AVP stops by regularly, and my manager keeps close tabs on my well-being and my general health each day. You see, I have many blessings. If I have to get something like cancer, I’m working at the right place. I know I’m with the right people.

I’ll have my first scan since starting chemo around the first part of February, 2016. My hope and prayer is that we’ll see some progress and know we’re on the right track. I’ll never be cured of cancer, but I want to beat it into submission (remission) and get on with things.

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