Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My Allies

Some of my very fondest childhood memories were shaped at Atlantic Beach in Amagansett, Long Island, a beautiful stretch of sand and ocean surf, just a few miles from my Grandparents' house. As I young girl, I learned to play in the waves -- body surf, boogie board, empty my bathing suit of sand when no one was looking. My Dad, my siblings, my cousins, my uncles, and I would all play out there in the waves for hours. I remember the feeling of taking a deep breath before I dove under a breaking wave. After the strong rush of water above me, I would surface. We'd play, I'd dive under again, and I'd surface again, until we all decided it was time to ride a wave in for our "summer sandwich," Snickers bars, and other snacks at the Beach Hut. 


After this morning's appointment with Dr. Bunnell, we have a plan. I love plans, so I'm feeling great.

As Brian, my Mom, and I sat in the exam room waiting for Dr. Bunnell, I cried. It was one of those holy-shit-I-can't-believe-I'm-here cries. Tears that screamed, I can't believe I need to make these awful decisions. Tears that asked, How did this happen? How will I get through it? My cry only lasted about half a minute, then that was done, and when Dr. Bunnell came in, it was down to business. 

The tumor board came back essentially split on Option #1 and #2 (the least agressive and the middle-of-the-road aggressive options). Dr. Bunnell explained that one oncologist favored the most aggressive Option #3, but even that doctor also liked the sound of #1. So Dr. Bunnell felt very confident about Option #2. It's an aggressive approach, to meet (and beat) my aggressive type of cancer, but it's not the kitchen sink approach. Perhaps best of all, this option does not carry with it the cardiac risk in Option #3, and it's 12 weeks versus 24. The bottom line is that Dr. Bunnell believes that the most aggressive drugs would not provide me (and again, I am only talking about me) any real added benefit, while just creating more risks. 

I've been thinking about the William Deresiewicz passage I included in my "Solitude in Friendship" post. The one about being patient with an issue, considering it from all angles, outlasting my impulses. I think I've done that here, and I'm proud of it. My initial impulse was to go with the most aggressive Option #3. But after hearing from a board of the best doctors in the world, and after considering Dr. Bunnell's most expert and thoughtful opinion, I have absolute faith that Option #2 is the best one for me. And I won't look back. 

So this time next week, I will have completed my first chemotherapy infusion. It will be a three and a half hour infusion. I'll get one drug for one hour, the next for another hour, and the Herceptin for ninety minutes. Dr. Bunnell explained that they will monitor everything especially carefully on the first infusion, as most allergic reactions happen immediately. Every three weeks, I will come in for the next infusion. That's only four infusions over the course of the 12 weeks. Very manageable, if you ask me. The Herceptin infusions will continue every three weeks for an additional year. I like this plan. Because I really can see the road ahead of me.

Dr. Bunnell said I will lose my hair about two weeks after my first treatment. He explained that when it starts to fall out, it will fall out fast. I don't want to see that happen, so I'll shave my head the weekend after this one, just to be sure that I don't. To be sure that I beat the cancer to the punch. 

Yesterday as my Mom and I waited in Dr. Chun's office, I made some joke about chemo being poison. My Mom stopped me and said I can't ever think of it or speak of it that way. "It's not poison, it's life-saving chemicals," she said. So I renamed the chemo drugs -- now, they are my "Allies," my new little army, and I'm ready to welcome them inside my body. I wasn't ready before, and I wrote about last Friday night being one of the scariest of my life as I lay awake thinking of the drugs that would soon destroy parts of me. I shook at the thought of a poison killing my hair, dulling my skin, stealing my energy and my ability to fight a simple cold. But as usual, my Mom, and Brian, and the team at Dana Farber can make everything better. Tonight, I feel blessed for my Allies, and I'm ready for them to go to work on the enemy. 

On the night before my big appointment with Dr. Bunnel last week, I quoted from "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." Today, I realized the relevance of another quote from that movie. Evelyn was definitely not talking about chemo when she said this, but for me, it's perfect for this stage of my journey: 

It’s like a wave. Resist and you’ll be knocked over. Dive into it and you’ll come out the other side.

As I transitioned out of "surgery phase," and into "chemo phase," I've been scared of poison. I've resisted it, and I've been knocked over. But today, I named my Allies, and I'm ready to dive into this wave. I have no doubt I'll come out the other side, and even if it's without my hair, it's going to be with my whole life ahead of me. Oh yeah, and with an awesome set of new boobs.


P.S. I love this song, and thought it was a great addition to this post. I should also clarify that despite the "This is War" title, when it comes to real war, the album is actually about peace.


  1. Reading your posts have become part of my nightly routine and I am confident I will one day be reading a book published by you! Your stories, thoughts, quotes, bravery and honesty inspire me every day and I have become to think of certain things in life with a different perspective. Keep on doing what you're doing, because you are doing a fabulous job!

    1. Amanda, You inspired me long before I ever inspired you. I'm so appreciative of that! I can't imagine a better profession for you than the one you now enter. You are going to make every day brighter for your patients and their families. So keep on doing what you're doing, because you too are doing a fabulous job :) xoxo

  2. I love your ever-positive attitude. And even if you were totally bald with zero energy, no makeup, lying in bed sick, with a bag over your head, you would still be beautiful and inspirational!

    Time to bring on the allies so you can beat this thing for good!!

    Love & best wishes-


  3. Keep up your positive attitude - that with some laughter is sometimes the best medicine.

    I have one other link for you a friend used when she was going thru same as you. Have you heard of lotsa helping hands?
    You, or Brian or other can create a community and people can sign up on line to bring dinner, pick up kids at school etc. I know you have a big family and lots of support, so their spreadsheets may just help you organize different activities.

  4. Love that you have a plan of action, know what's happening, when, and for how long. I bet that makes you feel like you have some control over this nasty enemy. So set your allies loose , enjoy the new boobs, and your hair will be back in no time. Barbara Theodore