Sunday, May 31, 2015

final chemo, snapshot of me, and a flashback forward look

Hallelujah. I made it through chemotherapy! My final chemo session was on Friday. Now that part of the therapy is complete. The next couple of days will be on the lower side again with side-effects, but from then on, things should turn brighter. There is still radiation waiting, but compared to chemotherapy, that is the easier and the much shorter part.

Altogether, the chemo time was tough, but then I feared it would be worse. I was lucky with side effects, didn't suffer from migraine or fatigue. Also, the images I had in mind were from the old chemo regime - they are now using new chemo medications and therapy plans, together with special medication to reduce side effects.

The good news is that my hair already is starting to grow back. I am still a bit shy about it, but here is a photo (slightly tinted, somehow that felt more okay to post).


The round thing you see next to my right shoulderblade is my "port", which made the chemo infusions easier and safer, they just need to peek into it with a needle. It's not the most comfortable thing to carry underneath the skin, though... and I am glad they can remove it now in the next weeks.

This weekend I am in a reflective mood ... here are some notes from the last days and weeks, together with a revisit of the first chemo session, and an outlook. Plus, I just noticed this photo detail: in the infusion photo above, the upper screen says "Tür öffnen..." (meaning the front panel), but it translates to: "Open door..."

Some notes from the last 2 weeks:

Tuesday, 20th May: before the next-to-last chemo
Altogether, I am doing okay, relatively speaking. That’s actually what the doc noted after the last chemo, when they check back: “Relatives Wohlbefinden” – “Relative Wellbeing”.  My blood levels are okay, I have no migraines, no infections, no severe side effects. And I can start to see the horizon now. What really turned into an unexpected help is the art therapy. I painted a time painting last week, in it, each color square is a week of therapy. I guess that also brought the impulse to start to think in a bit larger terms again. 

time painting, each square is a week of therapy
(more about the painting, and the previous weeks, here)


Monday, 25th May (after the next-to-last chemo)

Yesterday was a low day. The chemo, like they predicted and like it is with the others, gets tough at the end, with the body tired of the cycles, and symptoms getting worse. Yesterday I had nerve pain in my finger nails and toe nails, not really bad pain, but continually there and finally took a tablet at noon. The pain should fade in the next weeks, and it's a bit scary in it strange neuronal nature. We went for a walk, and I felt like I had to pull a weight. While walking, it got better though, like it so often did: walkig helps. But today is better after a good night of sleep. And now it is only 1 cycle left. 

Oh, and I had a dream, about radiation: I went there for the first time, and it was an open air waiting area, and so many women were there on lounges, waiting and chatting. Then one had her final radiation, and she did a “walk of glory” and walked along a path while everyone cheered, happy for her, and looking forward to being the one with the final treatment. it was a surprising dream, with the focus on the joy and the community, not on the pain.


Friday, 29th May (Final chemo)
Today was the final chemo! And it went well - even though there was a moment of fright: after the first drip-infusion with side-effect-meds, the second didn’t want to run. They checked cables, which looked okay. Then they checked my port to see if something was wrong, and we alll were: oh no, please not now.. but it wasn’t the port! They fiddled some more with cables and settings, and then it worked. 

Otherwise, all went okay. and it was a bit like with your retirement-farewell: the others were happy for me and wished me well, but of course, they longed to be the one to reach the point. I told them of my dream, with the cheering “walk of completion”.


Here's a mini-video of the final minutes of chemo:



Looking forward, looking backward

The first chemo session:
Walking into the oncology centre for the final chemo brought back the memories of the start, when I was a "newie" there (and still had my own hair). That was just before Christmas, on the 19th December, and I had no real idea what to expect, and noted: "So: chemo day. I was a bit nervous, not really knowing what will happen, and how my body will react to it. On the other side, I was curious for it after the waiting, as it also will give a better idea of the time coming. Altogether, it turned into a mixed day..."

Here's the post in the blog, it also includes more details about how chemo therapy works: From last island day to first chemo day

So altogether, it was half a year of chemotherapy, and 16 sessions altogether. Which is long, but then in each cycle, there are days that are on the low side, and others that are on the up-side, and almost normal. Plus, you live in a world were chemotherapy is something "normal" - every week, you meet others who go through the process. And then things turn relative: you think you are unlucky for having cancer, and are frustrated with those 24 weeks. But then you meet those who are in a later stage of cancer, with symptoms undetected until it was too late and the cancer already spread. For them, chemotherapy is ongoing, to keep things in control. While for early detection, all this is mainly a security measure to keep it from coming back.

Looking back, I am also glad for the island time I had before chemo - we had booked it earlier in the year, and first thought we need to cancel it, but somehow it ended up fitting into the schedule: it was after the operation, and before the chemo started. It really helped to have that time to gather energy and prepare mentally for the time to come.


Upcoming: radiation, and a cure
On monday, the radiation time starts – well, not directly, but I have the first introduction date in the radiation department, which is about getting informed about the procedure, and for the docs to check on me and on my medical files. The actual radiation therapy then probably starts a week later, and will go on for 5-7 weeks. 

When that is finished, there will be a pause of about 2-3 weeks (to heal and recover), and then a cure stay is waiting for me. Really looking forward to that. I've never been to a cure, and last week, to get more of an idea of it, I drove to one of the possible cure places: Bad Waldseee. Here's a photo:

The main reason for me to go to Waldsee was to get an idea of that time - to imagine me there, and see if it would be a place for me to relax and recover, and to reach out to this time of completing therapy, and turning healthy again.

And so nice that it's a sunny Sunday today, with flowers in the garden opening, and birds chirping. Will enjoy some terrace time now, and read.

Ah, life. And strange, the way the chemo time in some ways feels unreal on a sunny day like this, like a strange story, or a parallel reality, a rabbit hole you .

And a quote from the "This art" poetry book

Think of this, she says,
every time you turn around
certain you have lost something
afraid you have left it behind, you have
But, she says solemnly, you must not ask where it is,
you must ask what it is.
She smiles.What have you lost?
- Susan Griffin, Metaphor

The shadow/light journey:
I marked all blog posts about this shadow journey with a tag: C is for cancer, and for courage, too. Here's the sorted list, starting at the beginning:

Diagnosis & Operation
17. October: life is what happens to you while... 
26. October: this translucent state of fear and hope...,
28. October: the day before, "Serious was last week"..
02. November: november roses & not knowing..
17. November: hope + fear

23. November: "we're sorry, it's chemotherapy"
13. December: getting to know the Emperor of Maledies
20. December: from last island day to first chemo day
11. January: second round of chemo & my hair, falling
02. February: paradise, counting my blood cells & ...
22. February: chemo milestone & healing and reading
14. March: first short trip, me with a wig, and a friday scare


Laurie Kolp said...

What a milestone!! Thank you for sharing your journey with us... I know it's not been easy.

Rouchswalwe said...

Oh, that is fantastic and I am so happy for you! The last chemo session! Hurrah ♪ ♫

The photo is arresting. You look great, dear Dorothee. Like the hero who has fought off all the monsters on the space station and looks at us all now with wisdom and strength.

I'm sure the Kur will do you good. I miss that about the culture here -"Kur" as a curative time. So important!

Dorothee said...

Thanks Laurie + Rouchswalwe for your support! Yes, it is a milestone. That space station analogy made me laugh, and think of Sigourney Weaver in Alien, when i remember it right she had rather short hair in the film, too.

Linda H. said...

yay, you did it!! Not easy, I'm sure, but as you said the toughest part is behind you now.

And you still look beautiful even without hair. You have the right shape head for bald. (that's one of the strangest compliments I've ever given, but it's true.)

Love your painting and how you shared your journey with us. Wishing you all good things as you go through radiation.