And I’m ringing the damn bell
On March 25, 2020, I began cancer treatment for my HER2+ breast cancer. I remember all of the trepidation and fear. We also just entered into the pandemic and school was on hold for two weeks as our school system readjusted.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. My kids were supposed to be in school, my dad would be dropping them off and picking them up, and my husband would sit with me during my first 6-hour treatment. But it didn’t happen the way.
With the pandemic, we couldn’t have anyone help us. We left the teenager in charge of his siblings while Daddy took Mommy for her first treatment. I felt so guilty leaving them without a support system that day. They wouldn’t have school, friends, or family to keep them distracted during the day. They would only have fear and worry.
My husband and I entered the health care facility where they told me that my husband would only be allowed long enough to help me settle in, then he would have to leave because…pandemic. I started to really hate that word. Cancer robbed me of my body and the pandemic robbed me of support and security.
However, my first oncology nurse had compassion and quietly closed the curtain surrounding my infusion chair allowing my husband to sit with me for the one and only time he would be given permission to sit with me at any of my treatments.
And there I went every week for 12 weeks to receive the drugs that would kill my cancer, make me lose my hair, give me brain fog, and hamper my vision. Unfortunately, I found out that I was highly allergic to one of the cancer drugs, but thanks to the quick thinking and action of the nurses, they saved my life as I drifted into unconsciousness. They adjusted my medications and I finished the last nine weeks of chemotherapy without further incident.
That time when you almost die, it certainly changes your perspective on life. You really do prioritize the important things in life and you let go of the bullshit. There’s no more time to placate anyone, feel bad about yourself, or regret speaking your truth.
For a year, I continued with treatment. After chemotherapy, I moved on to radiation for another four weeks. There’s only so much the body can take and mine fought to stay valid during the torment that I was putting it through so that I can come out of this time…stronger? A warrior? A survivor? I’d settle for cancer-free.
After radiation, I added a daily estrogen blocker to the regime giving my body another defense against cancer. Every three weeks, I continued with Herceptin treatments to banish the HER2+ cells. Then I added a very low-fat diet. My oncologist was giving my body every single defense he could throw at cancer giving me the best possibilities against reoccurrence.
At our last meeting, I saw his mood lighten and he was very happy with my body’s response to the treatment plan. So maybe it was worth it. We’ll see in another four years.
But on March 24, 2021, was a day to be celebrated. I finished my infusions. I got to ring the damn bell. My treks to my infusion chair were over. My journey isn’t over, but I certainly finished another huge section of my journey. I’ve made it.
I thought about what I would wear to treatment. Of course, it would have to be something port accessible. I thought about pink. Pink top, pink headband for my beautiful chemo curls, pink, pink, pink. Because pink is associated with breast cancer. But dressing in pink seemed one more concession to breast cancer…not only would it take over my body, but also my wardrobe. And I’ll be darned if I was going to be identified as some pink warrior to show my cancer status.
I wanted something else; something more. I am more than my cancer.
I channeled my favorite superhero and donned a little red and gold. The W’s in gold glitter emblazoned across my chest, my favorite yellow sparkly headband was the perfect crown on my curls. Because this was a superhero kind of day. I am finished with active treatment. I’m done with the hardest parts and I’m moving into maintenance mode.
So long as life remains, there is always hope…and so long as there is hope, there can be victory!” — Wonder Woman #6, written by George Perez and Len Wein.
Maintenance mode is less taxing. I’ll still go in for a port flush for the next 6 months. They need to make sure they have access to my port in case I have a relapse. I’ll continue taking an estrogen blocker. I’ll go for regular mammograms. I’ll have a CT scan (which to be honest, scares the crap out of me because I’m afraid it won’t be clear). I’ll continue with my extra low-fat diet because according to my oncologist, it’s one more defense against my specific kind of cancer.
There will always be a worry in the back of my mind that my cancer will reoccur. It’s something that I, and many cancer patients, worry about. So while we celebrate the wins as they come, we will always wonder.
In the meantime, I’m ringing the damn bell of victory, because it’s a superhero kind of day.