The State of Affairs v.7.
We will start with the obvious I guess.
Phase one of chemotherapy is done.
I have meant to write, tried to write, so many times in the last week. But I can't for the life of me figure out how to put words to this space. How to summarize the coexistence of joy and grief, elation and exhaustion, optimism and fear. How do you explain what it feels like when the fight for your life - literally - has crossed a major milestone?
I am still working all that out.
But for now I will just say - Its done.
* * *
It is true what they say - each round gets worse. This last round threw me for a real loop with intense nausea and bone pain coupled with exhaustion and shortness of breath. But it helped to know this was the last. I only had to endure these side effects this one final time. So much of chemo is a mental game. And during round six I won it.
* * *
So what comes next? In many ways, that depends on my upcoming CT scan on August 16 (we get the results from that scan a week later). You might remember that Dr. Boardman feels strongly that she was able to remove all disease during my surgery in March. She even had a colleague scrub into the operating room to check things out with her to confirm that belief. So I have no tumors that we are following. That is awesome, but makes things a little tricky - because what do you follow to know if the chemo is working?
There are two lesions on my liver that my baseline CT scan identified. Neither has been confirmed malignant - meaning they could be noncancerous. Only one is large enough to use for purposes of following. That is the lesion that went down by 13% after the first three rounds. Once that lesion is gone, my disease is considered in remission. But since we don't know if its cancerous, its hard to know if chemo will make it disappear entirely. Its an odd situation.
So long as the lesion has not increased in size, we move into maintenance chemo later this month. That is one drug given by infusion once every three weeks. Side effects are very different - mainly an increase in blood pressure and the risk of blood clots. So overall, I should be feeling pretty good again. We will continue the maintenance chemo for a year unless something unusual happens. If the lesion is still there after the year, we need to discuss what to do next.
The one thing concerning Dr. McGuire is my CA125 - tumor marker - number, which is still a bit elevated. All of my holistic healers tell me that this is normal given the amount of energy work and emotional processing I have been doing during this time. I have also heard that the trauma of a major surgery - like a hysterectomy - can inflate those numbers. So I still feel confident that the cancer is gone, even with this still-elevated number.
The truth is, ovarian cancer has a cure rate of 20%. The risk of recurrence is high. But I am confident that I will be in that 20%. I know it in my heart. Its just going to be touch-and-go for awhile until we get there.
* * *
Its been hot as anything around RVA lately. Add hot flashes and the way that chemotherapy messes with your body's ability to regulate its temperature and wearing a hat has become totally impractical. So, against my strong preferences, I have been going out bald for the last several weeks.
I am amazed by the kindness of strangers. I get complimented and hugged daily by people I don't know. People often tell me my smile, eyes, or tattoos stand out beautifully against my bald head. Survivors sit down to share their experience, strength, and hope with me. Last night, a bartender bought my dinner (and he didn't even know it was the first time I could stomach real food in a week!). Its an amazing testament to the way God helps us through hard places by putting angels in our path to support us.
I have a lot more to say about being a bald woman, but that's for another day.
I've also had two dear friends and a brother travel to Norway in the last few weeks and now have an amazing supply of winter hats. So bring on the cold!
* * *
As I have felt stronger after rounds four and five I have slowly begun the work of figuring out life after chemotherapy. Its going to be a journey all its own. I am equal parts nervous and excited.
I've decided most of that will involve not planning, and seeing what God places in my path. I've already had a few opportunities to write and speak come up, and I'm hopeful more of those may present themselves as a means of sharing my testimony and encouraging others on the mapless road of dark times to seek God.
As for the rest of it, I am giving my time to three areas of my life (outside of work, of course): my recovery, my faith, and my physical health. If something isn't aligned with those areas, they need to go on the back burner for now. God and I aren't done with our one-on-one time yet, and I need to protect that.
* * *
Where am I emotionally? Everywhere. Its true that once your heart realizes that the fight is over, it finally deals with things that had to move to put in escrow while you were working to save your life. There is grief and sadness, anger and fear, many things left unsaid because there simply wasn't energy to process what it was that needed to be expressed.
But more than any of those things, there is calm. As round six ended, I could see the enemy packing up his bags and heading out. He had come here to test me, and test me he did, but he failed. I survived and my faith survived and there is an overwhelming since of calm and peace and knowledge that God resides in me and around me and that He is for me all the time. God will pursue us into the depths of all kinds of things - this I know for sure.
What they say is true. When your heart breaks, it heals even bigger than it was before. Your capacity to love after is greater. I have lessons to learn from here in forgiveness and compassion and empathy, but I know without at doubt that God took me down this dark road to bring me out the other side with no desire greater than the desire to love my neighbor. I don't know what that looks like yet. Time will tell.
But right now, I do know that things are good.