I, like many Canadians have a sense of relief with the end of winter. I find it more of a season to endure than to enjoy. In many ways, it makes Canadians a little bit tougher than most, and it brings us together. Weather-wise, this was not a particularly tough winter for my neck-of-the-woods and for this I am grateful. It was however, the hardest for me to date.
I started chemotherapy treatment December 16th and will finish it March 24th. In other words, the winter of 2016-2017 for me, will always be the winter I had chemo. There’s so much behind those three little words. If anyone says to me now “I had chemo”, I’m going to know and understand how much weight those words carry. I need to acknowledge what I have just gone through so that I can move away from it with acceptance and yes, even gratitude.
It meant drastic physical changes to my appearance. It involved blood work and a visit to my oncologist every other Tuesday and my infusion every other Friday. It meant a nurse coming to my house for 8 days after chemo to give me a needle in my stomach…right side one day, left side the next. Of course it also meant feeling like total garbage at least three days after each treatment before slowly getting back to normal. Just when I felt like myself, I’d start all over again. I did this 7 times over 15 weeks and am about to do it one last time.
The wonderful thing in all of this is that the treatment has worked. It’s doing its job and my body has had an excellent response to the drugs. I had a follow up MRI March 7. I hadn’t even had my last two chemo sessions but the results were amazing. My massive 10cm tumour had shrunk to 4.3cm. My cancer was pretty nasty and aggressive but modern medicine gave it the beat down it deserved. I’m not a sporty person, but to put this into perspective, I went from having a tennis ball in my breast to having a golf ball there instead.
So spring is here, and my last chemo is days away and I should be thrilled. I think the problem is that I’m only finishing chapter one of three chapters and still so much lies ahead of me. I’m also tired, and anemic, and have been thrown into menopause early. These are all side effects of my treatment and, as you can imagine, make me a bit emotional. Over the next five weeks, my body will get a much needed break before my scheduled surgery in May. We can talk about that at another time.
In the last four months I have witnessed incredible kindness and generosity from family, friends, co-workers and strangers. I have heard from many people going through the same thing and I have been truly inspired and motivated on my darkest days. If I hadn’t been diagnosed with breast cancer, I may have never experienced the kind of outpouring of love that I have. I am blessed in so many ways and for this I will be eternally grateful. It’s the people I am surrounded by who have lifted me up and carried me through. I will move past the trauma chemotherapy put me through. It pales in comparison to the joy I have experienced thanks to the goodness of others.
The night before chemo I will continue my tradition of going out for a nice meal. This time a few more people will be in attendance to celebrate this accomplishment. On March 24, I will sit in that chemo chair for approximately 4 hours, accompanied by my husband and one of my closest friends. There will be a representative from Hamilton Health Sciences who will record my experience and tell my story. There will also be a bell. The bell is there to signify the end of a patient’s chemotherapy treatments. I have heard it rung many times over the past four months and this time it will be my turn. You can bet I will ring the hell out of it.