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Sunday, October 25, 2009

27 Birthday Candles

One week from today I'll turn 27. Yep that's right, Nov 1st is the big day if you are reading this and you forgot (shame on you!) mark your calendar immediately :)

Birthdays have always been a big deal for me, whether its my day or someone elses' day, its the perfect opportunity to celebrate you! I'm all about a big party and a big celebration. Ever since I could remember I've been anticipating the next birthday and getting older and moving on to the next phase in my life:

4th birthday: My last birthday as an only little brother Garrett showed up a few months later!

10th birthday: Hit double digits! A big deal. Plus a double b-day swimming party with my friend Nichelle!

13th birthday: Finally became a teenager. Had a sleepover party at my house.

16th birthday: Dinner and a movie...I was just soo grownup

18th birthday: Legally an adult!

21st birthday: Finally able to use my real ID at a bar!

My mother used to always say "don't wish your life away" when I would complain about wanting to grow up and once I was in my twenties I think I got it. When I was a little girl I was always obsessed with becoming a "woman" and being a grown-up. However, when I turned 25 my friends and I laughed about it being all downhill from here...I know, so dramatic...but it just seemed that the twenties were the fun, youthful times of your life and as you near 30 you have to actually be an adult. Instead of being excited about the next phase in my life, each year since 25 I've started to dread it. As I look to turning 27, all I can think is "3 more years till 30...ugh!!" and 30 just seemed so...old (to my 30-plus readers, you're not old, I'm just crazy).

Yet, this birthday is a little different. As it gets closer to November, I felt the had the same "ugh I don't want to turn 27" feeling that I had before my 26th birthday, and I feel like I had to remind myself that so many Cancer patients hope and wish they had another birthday to look forward to. The American Cancer Society's new campaign is "Creating a world with more birthdays" and when I saw their ad in the subway, I was thought, "who am I to not want to get older? I should be happy to turn another year older!" The purpose of the campaign is to raise money to find a cure for Cancer, thus allowing more people around the world to celebrate more birthdays. So this made me I feel little silly about dreading turning another year older.

This year I'll be heading to Pittsburgh to spend the big day with Ross. I've always considered my birthday the kickoff of the holiday season, plus its the day after Halloween so its usually filled with candy AND cake so that makes it extra special. Logically I know 27 is just another year and doesn't mean that I'm getting old (when I tease Ross about getting old, he just says he's getting better) and I am moving to a new phase of my life...Cancer fighter and wife-to-be so I'm trying to keep that in mind.

Someone just remind me of this post when I'm 29 turning 30...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It's just HAIR, it will grow back...

Ok, so these are words to NEVER say to someone who is just diagnosed with Cancer and worried about losing their hair. They know that hair grows back, they know its just temporary, but that doesn't make it any easier. Because when it comes down to it, for some people it's not "just hair" it's what you see in the mirror everyday and it's part of you that is snatched away at a time when you're already feeling sick and vulnerable and it's just not fair. I was that person who got angry if my hairdresser cut more than 2 inches off my hair when I just asked for a trim. And in college I went through a phase when I dyed my hair blonder and blonder until it broke off in my hand and I was left with no hair on the front of my head. So faced with the prospect of being bald, I knew it was something that would be very hard for me to deal with.

I've been scared to write about my hair thus far because I don't want to jinx myself. It may seem silly to worry about a jinx but I had no idea what I would look like at this point in my treatment and I've been pleasantly surprised to see that I look! So I don't want to mess up a good thing. Don't get me wrong, I am losing hair. A lot of it. The photo above is about how much hair I lose a night (Sorry if this pic looks gross but its real!). Every night I go through my hair regime of applying Nioxin follicle booster and scalp therapy and moisturize my scalp so it stays conditioned. My hair sheds in the normal way but I just lose much more than I did pre-chemo. It just comes out in my hand when I brush it. It's scary to lose this much hair everyday and it makes me sad, but the silver lining is that when I look in the mirror I can't really tell the difference so I try to keep that in mind.

It's funny, right after I was diagnosed I scoured the Internet for tips on how to keep my hair. I found a couple of websites where people who had not lost all their hair during chemo were concerned that this meant the chemo wasn't working. I remember reading that and thinking, "heck no, if that was me, I'd be thrilled that I still had my hair!" But now that I'm almost halfway through chemo and still have my hair, I find myself thinking, "Oh my God, is the chemo working???" instead of being happy that I still have hair. You have the classic image of a Cancer patient in your head and when you don't look like that you feel like something is wrong. I don't know why I still have my hair, part of me thinks that God was tired of hearing my "please don't let me lose my hair" prayers and decided to cut me a break and let me keep it for a I do have to remind myself that I am only halfway through, I still have 3 more cycles to finish (ugh, I feel like I've been getting chemo foreverrrrrrr) so I have no idea what's going to happen. At least I have a fabulous wig just in case :)

The other thing about hair is that I'm a black woman. And we have years and years of issues with hair. Chris Rock touched on it in his new movie Good Hair, but our hair means so much to us because we spend sooo much time on it. Pre-chemo I chemically relaxed my hair every 6-8 weeks. Once I found out that I would have to go through chemo I decided to stop relaxing it but this means that I now have to deal with lovely "new growth" or unprocessed, natural hair at my roots. I was religious about getting my hair blown out straight so this unrelaxed hair at my roots drives me crazy. Unfortunately it's just something I'll have to get used to because even after chemo I'll have to wait a significant amount of time before I can use chemicals again. I was surprised and frustrated to find that I couldn't find anything online about African-American women dealing with chemo and hair loss. Our hair is so fragile and prone to breakage that I was looking for a little guidance. And believe me I searched and searched! This experience has made me become quite an experimenter (is that a word?) so now that I know there's a lack of information in the area, maybe I'll write a book when this is all done!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cancer Paranoia

I have a problem. I have this slight, but scary fear that I will get another kind of Cancer. I don't know why but from the beginning I have always felt that I would beat the Hodgkin's and be fine. I was honestly more concerned about the prospect of losing my hair than I was about the disease itself. I think its because Hodgkin's has such a high cure rate and all the doctors I spoke to seemed so confident that I would beat I just have this sense of calm that everything is going to be ok and I will get through this....not that it won't be hard (and it has!), but in the end it will be ok. It's similar to the way I felt before I heard my diagnosis, I knew something was wrong, I just felt it and I was so scared. But once I was diagnosed and had a method for fighting it I felt more confident.

However, I do have this fear that something else could happen. I know its not a healthy way to think, but it really disturbed me that I had no idea my cells were mutating and Cancer was forming in my body, so isn't it plausible it could happen somewhere else? I hate to even put those thoughts into the universe, but it seems like Cancer is everywhere I look. I work at a women's magazine and we constantly feature articles about knowing your risks for breast and cervical cancer. Especially now that its Breast Cancer Awareness month, I see pink and ribbons everywhere so its a constant reminder that my life is forever changed by this disease. And don't get me started on ovarian has become my biggest fear now because they call it the silent killer since the symptoms are hard to pinpoint and only 20% of women diagnose it early enough. And I've always been paranoid about skin cancer for some reason. I always felt so many black women thought they couldn't get it so they didn't wear sunscreen, but I always have lathered up with SPF 30 everyday and when my job gave free skin cancer screenings this past summer I was the only one with a darker skin tone that was there. So sometimes it feels like Cancer is on my mind 24/7.

I have this urge to write down all the symptoms to every kind of Cancer out there so I know them and can be aware of them and tell my friends and family about them too. But is that anyway to live?? No.

I'm sure I'm more aware of it now, but Cancer is in the media almost everyday. I cried a few weeks ago while reading a profile of Patrick Swayze and his struggle with pancreatic Cancer. And I was deeply troubled to read that one of the winners of the Survivor TV show, Ethan Zohn, who was diagnosed with a rare form of Hodgkin's in May had relapsed. I read about Ethan right after he was first diagnosed (and before I was diagnosed) and when I read his story I felt chills, because it sounded so similar to me. Then while waiting for the results from my lymph node biopsy I read another story in a magazine about Ethan's journey during chemo. A month later I found out that I had Cancer too. And now his Cancer is back. I know these instances are pure coincidence, but I cried my eyes out when I read Ethan's Cancer was back. He was training for the New York Marathon and in remission and all of a sudden he was back in the Cancer trenches. It just sucks because stories like that are so devastating. He has a different form of Hodgkin's that I have but its still a scary reality of this disease. Life is funny that way, connecting you to people you don't even know.

I think I would be scared even if I didn't have Cancer, just seeing whats possible, but I'm even more scared now because I know its real. Anyone can get Cancer, you can be the healthiest person on earth, eat right, work out, don't smoke or drink and your cells could decide to mutate and the kicker is that the doctors just don't know why!! Yikes. What's a girl to do??

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Weight a minute!!

I'm feeling much better since my last post...the intense pains are finally gone! I still have some slight pain in my stomach but nothing like what I experienced this past weekend. I'm still taking every medicine in the world to keep my symptoms at bay and I hope it works!

So while I was suffering in pain I was unable to eat (yes my cockiness about still having an appetite came back to bite me in the butt) and I simply had no need for food. This was almost as concerning as the pain because I love to eat! It was one of the few times I actually felt like a real Cancer patient because I just couldn't force myself to eat and I know this sounds crazy, but after 3 days of only sips of chicken broth, I felt like my jeans were falling off of me so it made me start to think about my weight and how I felt like I looked sickly. Now like many women, I've obsessed over my weight through the years, I've tried every diet out there and worked out intensely all in the hope that I will be...I don't even know because who ever feels like they're perfect? And I have to admit, with the diagnosis of HL, I thought, well the silver lining is that at least I can lose those last few pounds I'm convinced I need to lose (sad but true...the only reason I feel ok admitting this on the Internet because I've read other blogs where people admit the same thing!) because that's what happens when you have Cancer, you lose weight, right? Well, it depends. It does happen for some people, who are extremely sick and nauseous and unable to hold down food. But for others, the discomfort in the stomach leads them to turn to comfort foods...grilled cheese, mashed potatoes, bread, bread and more bread. So that's not exactly great for the waistline or healthy all the time. I've combed through many message boards and read about people who are now Cancer free, yet 20-40 pounds heavier because of their diet during treatment. Crazy right? Who expects to be dealing with a weight problem after fighting Cancer.

Once I heard that this was a possibility, I was determined that this couldn't happen to me, after all I do have a wedding dress to fit into one day (June 2011!) and I can't just let myself go. When you're getting weighed weekly in a hospital in front of a bunch of people you can't help but be aware of your weight and how big or little you are. Especially when the nurses shout your weight out loud in front of everyone! I'm like, "shhhh! excccccuse me!" It seems like a strange thing to worry about when you're about to go into chemo to kill the Cancer in your blood, but I'm a woman, I can't help it!

My doctor said I could continue to work out as long as I felt ok and I could eat mostly everything except sushi. I also have to be really careful about cutting off all the skin on fruits and veggies so I don't ingest any of the pesticides since my immune system is so fragile. For obvious reasons the doctors don't want you to lose a lot of weight so you can be healthy enough to fight the disease. I've fluctuated a little bit but haven't really lost more than 5 pounds. However, about 2 years ago, I became more healthy, started working out consistently and ate more salads and fruits then I probably ever had in my life...and as a result I lost a significant amount of weight. So when people saw me, they often commented on it. Recently I saw a friend who I hadn't seen in a while and she was aware of my diagnosis and said, "oh you do look thin", now me being me, I almost said, "thanks! yeah I've been working out a lot..." and then I realized, "no dummy you have Cancer, she probably didn't mean that as a compliment!", so I had to change my response to, "oh yeah, it happens sometimes". LOL. It's hard because we're so conditioned to want to be thin and fit and even with Cancer looming over my head, my usual vain self only hears "oh you look thin" and immediately thinks its a good thing.

It's a daily struggle to be healthy and not obsess about my weight, but its sooo hard!! The first time I was really sick, the thought of eating a salad really turned my stomach so fries were definitely more appealing. I've definitely had a few "why me, I feel sorry for myself" moments and a cheeseburger and fries have made me feel better. Now with this acid reflux thing, I have to be even more careful with the greasy, fatty foods...I CANNOT go through that again!

I'm still working out, I take spin and kickboxing classes and lift weights, I've even started taking yoga with my friend Kristin. It feels good to look in the mirror and see my "gun show" on my it makes me feel strong and empowered as I fight this disease. I can't believe that a year ago as I was getting stronger, Cancer was mutating my cells. It goes to show there's no rhyme or reason for this disease. But, I truly believe that being healthy to start with has helped me have less symptoms and will help me in my journey to remission. I want (and need) to be just as strong in 6 months as I am now.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Pain, pain go away...

Argh. I'm in pain. Serious pain as I write this. Wednesday night I was woken up each hour by throbbing pain in my stomach and chest. This would be concerning no matter what but as a Cancer patient I tend to live on the side of paranoia where if my fingernail breaks for no reason, I'm like, "oh no, its the Cancer!" So I made an appt with my doctor where I was told that it possibly had nothing to do with the chemo and the Cancer and was probably acid reflux or heartburn. I was ultra confused because I've never had either and when I think of acid reflux I think of Ashlee Simpson lip synching at SNL and blaming her lack of performance on her acid reflux. So I thought it was something in your throat area that caused you not to be able to talk or sing? And although I'm not the best singer in the world, I do think I could hit a note right now even with my pains. But it turns out it could be that there's too much acid in my stomach causing it to freak out and put me in excruciating pain.

Now the nausea sucked. Big Time. But it passes and then I'm back to being my normal self. However, this acid reflux stuff threw me for a loop because It.Wont.Go.Away! I try to sleep, it bothers me. I try to sit at my desk and do work, it bothers me. I wanted to work out last night and the acid reflux laughed in my face....or my stomach I guess. So instead I came home where I tried to distract myself with the latest US Weekly and the possibility that Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel broke up (which I don't believe by the way! they are so cute together) but it didn't work. So I called my Doctor friend Kamilla who has been the recipient of many calls that start with, "I'm having this weird pain..." ever since she finished med school. Hey, who wouldn't want free health care advice! Health insurance is expensive! Thanks Kamilla :) She told me that the Nexium, the medication I have for the acid reflux, could take a few days to work. WHAT?? oh no, I couldn't wait that long so I went to my local Rite Aid and spoke to the pharmacist, told her I have been taking Nexium but I need immediate relief. Like. Right NOW. And she told me without hesitation that I should take some Pepcid AC. Her confidence made me feel like Pepcid AC would be my savior. So I eagerly popped a pill and waited for the magic to happen. When it didn't after an hr, I called Ross in tears asking him to somehow make it better...from Pittsburgh. He looked up Pepcid AC online and it said it could take up to 2 hrs to work...what is with these acid reflux meds?? I'm in pain people, I need results ASAP!

Luckily, I was distracted for an hr or so while I went to pick up my friend Nichelle who came in town for the weekend. As I walked through the streets of Harlem I was more concerned with brushing off guys who's intro line was "Hey Ma!" then I was about my stomach. Whatever, I'll take any distraction that works. So after Nichelle and I came back to my house, the pain set in again. I don't know, I wonder if it's a mind thing at this point. I made a few trips to the bathroom (TMI I know, but it happened) but no relief. We called Nichelle's mom who is a doctor as well and I also called the doctor on-call at my hospital to get some additional advice. I finally decided to go to bed in the hopes I would sleep thru the night. Unfortunately I didn't. But at 5am when I woke up, I felt normal, no pain! It came back about 30 min later but not as strong. I just took some more meds in the hopes they can get me thru the day. As I was laying on my bed I looked at my "wall of fame" where I've placed all my get well cards and read some of the words..."Thinking of you" "You're in my thoughts and prayer", " Today may be a mountain but you were born to climb", I'm trying to take all those positive thoughts and aim them towards my stomach to get me through this. I'm upset because normally after a treatment I'm fine by Friday and with Nichelle here and my friend Eboni on her way to visit as well, I really expected to be in tip top shape to have a fun weekend.

Ironically enough, writing this post has made me feel better..slightly. So I'm praying it gets better throughout the day. Wish me luck!