Do you recall having to say goodbye to someone you loved? That boyfriend (or girlfriend) whose family packed up and left just before Labour Day? You spent the entire summer immersed in sweet 16 love, and your just heart cracked in two when it ended. The angst and pain and drama of first love – the one we never forget. Perhaps your romantic love was older – and it wasn’t as bittersweet – he just abruptly walked out the door and never said goodbye. They say that those are the most painful ones … where the words are left unsaid. But really … is it ever easy to say goodbye? It’s not just a person you mourn, it’s the gaping holes left in your once normal life. I am mourning me and the life I once had.
April 1st will forever remind me of the cruel joke playing out in my life. This past weekend has been about “goodbyes” for me. … as I dig into a leave of absence from everything I love to battle this Triple Negative Breast Cancer.
On Monday morning, I don’t get up and go to work, I instead lean into this full-time position as a cancer patient. That train left the station a few months ago, but it made a few stops in nice little towns along the way. My life, for the most part, has been much of the same, just a little less frequent and more subdued (no laughing!) with more than average trips to cute doctor’s offices. Even my lumpectomy and sentinel node removal surgeries didn’t sideline me for long. I was back out on the party scene in a week wearing my green wig and drinking green beer to celebrate St. Paddy’s Day, looking decent enough to get photographed by the local Snap’d paper.
The second I walked into the Cancer Centre last Thursday, I turned to my friend Sherri and said, “Shit just got real.” I was surrounded by my new tribe. Hairless heads. Somber old faces, little boy faces far too young to be hairless from chemo. Middle age faces in shock. Young couples, their stone faces deep in denial and in pain. Faces giving up. There is nothing inviting about the place, except for the staff. They are friendly and efficient and – for the most part – smiling and on time. Even an emergency room has a better vibe and vibrancy than the cancer ward. At least there is some hope there. Something has to be done about that place … (NOTE: Future project!)
Back on that train, we have passed all the quaint towns. The sun is setting … the tracks ahead are less clear, and the train is still gathering speed. It’s bleak and lonely outside because I don’t recognize the terrifying and unfamiliar terrain. I am racing along on a high-speed express line – not feeling anyone is in charge (God, remind me you are there) and not feeling calm and controlled. The train is gathering momentum as I prepare for the tough climb up the side of this mountain. Or maybe I am moving it. I can feel my breath catch in my throat with fear. I’m scared.
This coming week is filled with medical appointments … CAT Scan, Chemo class, heart test and Bone Density test. I have to see my GP to refill my prescriptions so I can sleep, ride the waves of anxiety and stay away from depression. About a month ago, just after the ultrasound and mammogram results came in, she asked if I felt depressed and I said no. Anxiety? Yes! But I wasn’t depressed. I was still getting out, enjoying dates, dinners and social gatherings. I could function (somewhat) at work and at home. But I said to her “I will become depressed when I am stuck inside and isolated. I am so used to a full dance card and social calendar.” She nodded and gave me a prescription to start taking immediately. I should be thankful because they say it takes six weeks for SSRIs to take effect. I can’t say I am really noticing a difference, but perhaps it is doing wonderful magic under the surface.
I have to get a PICC line put in so they can hook me up intravenously to the chemo cocktail. The PICC line is a long catheter tube that is inserted into a vein in my arm then pushed intravenously into the large vein that carries blood into my heart. That device and tube will stay on my arm at least 6 months or longer. I have to plan summer clothes and coordinating PICC line covers, because almost everything I own is sleeveless. I can’t submerge it under water.
I have to visit the Hearth Place – the local cancer support centre – to find out what services are available to get me through this journey. There are clinics for the newly diagnosed, yoga gentle enough for my still recovering arm and Look Good Feel Better sessions.
I have pamphlets to read on Living With Cancer. I have a card that identifies me as a cancer patient in treatment. If I get a fever of 38C/100.4F or above, this little card gets me to the front of the line for Emergency Room triage as what we would call in my industry a SEVERITY 2. SEVERITY 1 would mean I was Code Blue, which I am not!
I have a full accordion file folder filled with all my medical information that has to accompany me everywhere because I am learning a whole new language.
This past weekend I said goodbye to friends and acquaintances … One last big bash event with the Meetup group and a short spin on the nightclub dance floor. I probably won’t be out in crowds once I start chemo. My regimen a dose-dense delivery, meaning it is one week on/one week off, with daily white cell booster injections at home in between. My chemo needs to kill quickly replicating cells so no cells will grow. If I get sick, I have no immune system to help and will be hospitalized. If I get into an accident or have an infection, my body can’t heal. So they have to take me off chemo, delay the treatment to allow my body to repair itself … but cancer gets an equal opportunity to grow. This can’t happen.
Everyone learned to do elbow bumps instead of hugs and kisses.
My body and energy clearly indicating that I couldn’t welcome anyone into my space, which may become a very lonely bubble over the next 6 months of chemotherapy & radiation.
I have to say goodbye to an unhealthy diet and make the most of the research I have to give myself the best chance of survival. My body has been begging me to fast and eat as close to vegan as possible so I have to listen to that mind/body connection.
I have to say goodbye to loud, live music and jam packed pubs. I have to pick my dinner locations with care, since I have no idea what food I will crave – if any – or tolerate. Zip lock bags are now stashed in my purse, my car, my friend’s car, my hospital bag … everywhere! Just in case I have the need to barf.
But quiet afternoons on patios, porches and docks are certainly on my summer menu. Low stress … a few good friends … and absolutely no coughing within a 100m radius.
I said goodbye to all my jewelry … too much to take on and off so it’s off and resting on my bureau for now. Earrings. Pandora. Alex and Ani. Tiffany. My toe ring that I have worn for decades. More layers of myself stripped away. The only remaining jewelry is my Alex and Ani Unexpected Miracles cord bracelet given to me by Fran.
And one of the hardest goodbyes of all … I have to say so long to my short curly hair … it’s due to fall out at least by week five, if not sooner (I’ve been told week three is more realistic). I am not sure I can handle going into the shower as me, and leaving looking like a zombie with large clumps of missing hair. I will feel like I’ve been traumatized and scalped as my own curls clog the drain, and I will sink down into the tub for one of those gut-wrenching sobs alone. There won’t be anyone here who can crawl in the tub and hold me while I figure out who I am.
I may ask my local salon if they will have a little party for me at the end of the day and allow me the dignified choice of choosing the moment I lose my dignity … and shaving off my hair.
This week lovely Karen is dropping by to show me wig samples and I am hoping my A-Team can drop by to offer suggestions, have a few laughs and share some appetizers in a small, impromptu “Say Yes to the Tresses” party. Espresso Brown, Paprika Red and Sun Shade all sound like enticing invitations into new lives!
Eyebrows and eyelashes? Not sure what I will choose. My Dad blessed me with his long lashes … and hope they hang in there for dear life.
I had to say goodbye to people.
I don’t know if I will have to say goodbye to favourite foods.
Cleared for the gym, but I have to say goodbye to my biceps.
My dogs no longer run to me expectantly for their walks … they clued in after a week that some new kid on the block was filling their needs. So I said goodbye to my favourite time of the day. I cry with the dogs … Annie, my beautiful Northern rescue, rarely leaves my side. If she hears me in tears, she races to find me, lean in and comfort me through the storm.
I’ve had enough goodbyes for this week.
Tonight, let’s just say au revior – until we meet again,