Thursday, November 26, 2015

My Thanksgiving 2015

Earlier this month I celebrated one year of being cancer-free. Yay! It's been a strange year of ups and downs, as life is wont to do. Ultimately, I am incredibly blessed and have much to be grateful for:

—I'm grateful for eyelashes and eyebrows. I'm grateful my bangs hang over my eyes. I never thought I'd say this, but I'm also grateful for arm hair and stomach hair and back hair. You never notice how important some things are until they're gone.

November 2014
February 2015

—I'm grateful I can breathe without chest pain. A month after my final chemo treatment, I lay in my bed and inhaled a great, long, marvelous breath and there was no pain! I breathed for several minutes, reveling in the complete comfort I felt. Breathing air. No tenderness. No restrictions. I was free!
(Bonus: I can wear normal bras again! The tightness of bras exacerbated my chest pain and since no bra in the market matched what I needed, I had to create a makeshift bra to wear during the chemo months.)

I'm grateful I can run. And take long walks in the park. And go shopping without feeling like passing out (or vomiting).

Mom and I went to Disneyland in February! Super fun!

—I'm grateful I can carry a purse. (Although I've grown rather fond of the mini purse).

—I'm grateful I can chase and wrestle my nephews, and give them piggyback rides.

—I'm grateful that when I had to change insurance providers, I was able to continue with my regular oncologist's care.

—I'm grateful I finally, finally finished my MFA! Hurrah! Thank you to my kind and understanding professors—Hillary, Chip, and Amanda—for supporting me while writing my thesis. =)

—I'm grateful I survived a season of unemployment and eventually found a full-time job. (Update: A week after originally posting this, I received news that I was going to be laid off. Huh. Onward to new opportunities!)

—I am extra grateful to my friend Mack who took me on an epic expedition! This summer we went to New York, Ireland, Scotland, England, and France. Of all the historical sites and museums and plays we saw, my favorite aspect of the trip was having energy to visit everything! We walked an average of 10 miles each day (our record high was 17 miles). Among our more rigorous activities, we hiked to Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, climbed 528 steps to the top of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, and ascended 704 stairs of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Considering during chemo I barely had enough energy to make a round trip from my bedroom to my kitchen, being able to hike and climb this summer was a blessing. Thank you, Mack! (Also, watching Jack Gleeson (a.k.a. King Joffrey) and his friends perform in Bears in Space at the Soho Theatre was astronomically delightful!)

Mack and Me atop Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh

We hiked from Arthur's Seat (left arrow) to Edinburgh Castle (right arrow) and obviously to the Ferris wheel.

July 31, 2014
Chemo Costume #6
Hermione Granger
(not Voldemort!)
July 31, 2015
Enjoying hot cocoa at The Elephant House,
where J.K. Rowling penned
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

St. Paul's Cathedral

Eiffel Tower

—I'm grateful for past experiences, present blessings, and future adventures!

Thank you to everyone—family, friends, neighbors, kindred spirits—who has supported me. I wish you the best with your endeavors!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, April 24, 2015

My Side Effects: Chest Pain and Heartburn

Although six months have passed since my final chemo treatment (hurrah!), there were several posts I drafted during chemo and never got around to posting because I was too exhausted to keep up. So here I am, half-a-year later, finally getting around to updating those drafts. I figure a few after-the-fact posts are okay.

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Chest pain and heartburn. Not exactly the same.

Throughout the course of my cancer adventure, the reasons for my chest pain varied.

At first, it was probably the tumors growing under my sternum. Plus, my anxiety facing the possibility of a difficult diagnosis. Although "pain" isn't the right word for what I initially felt. In some notes I wrote in preparation for my first doctor appointment (weeks before a CT scan revealed Tiny's friends), I described the sensation as "pressure."

During the passing weeks, the pressure increased. Wearing my normal clothes hurt. My shirts strangled me, dresses deprived me of precious O2, camisoles constricted my chest, my bras were too tight. I might as well have worn a corset all laced up, like that one variation of Snow White in which the queen gives her a cursed corset and the ribbons lace up so tight she can't breathe.



I often unclasped my bra to relieve the pressure, even if I was in public. Later, I gave up and stopped wearing a bra, which posed other problems. Both options led to embarrassment. Whatever. A girl's gotta do what's a girl's gotta do to breathe. (See below for my eventual solution to this conundrum.)

I also read that chest pain is a symptom of anemia. Considering I was moderately anemic throughout my chemoification, this seems a viable reason for my discomfort.

Once chemo started, heartburn affected me. I was resistant to accept the heartburn theory for a while. Heartburn is for old people. Not someone in her late 20's. It's difficult to accept that one's body is not as healthy or strong as one would like it to be, which I'm sure is true no matter one's age.

Another reason I resisted accepting that I had heartburn is because the pain I experienced wasn't a burning sensation. (Semantics cause so much trouble.) 
I personally think the term "burn" is misleading. Burning is fire and heat. Maybe some people experience this, just not me. I felt crushing chest pain. As if my heart had been transplanted with a sea urchin.


Um...minus the spikes.


Yeah. Something like that.

There were only a few times when I could say, "Oo! Yup, that's heart burn." Yucky stomach acidity.

My Solutions

—Prescription strength antacid. Worked like a charm! As soon as I started taking it daily*, the chest pains diminished. The only exception was a couple days during treatment #10 and #11 when my dietary choices upset my stomach. What can I say? I love pizza rolls! Bonus, around the time I started taking the antacid, the horrific mouth burning significantly decreased. Correlation or coincidence? I don't care as long as I could eat food with minimal pain! 
(*Initially I thought I only needed to take the antacid on chemo weekends. After consulting a pharmacist and my oncologist, both recommended taking it daily for maximum effectiveness until chemo ended.)

—Purchased new shirts and tank tops that were a size or two larger than I normally like to wear.

—As for the bra issue, I had to make my own. That's right. I made my own bra. Nothing in the market or on the Internet matched what I needed (believe me, I looked). Sports bras were too tight. Bra extenders were still too tight. Camisoles with so-called built-in bras were too thin. As I mentioned, going braless posed other problems because I can get rather, uh, perky. (Walking from 100+ degree heat into a chilly, air conditioned store will do that to a person.) I needed something loose, easy to slip on, and with enough padding to prevent embarrassing situations. So I bought an inexpensive wireless bra, did some cutting and sewing, and voilá! The final creation was the most comfortable, magical, marvelous bra I've ever worn/made/owned. It's not perfect, but it worked. Six months later, I still enjoy wearing it from time to time.

Further Reading

Every person is different and their experiences will vary from mine. Always discuss your particular symptoms and concerns with your doctor.