“Life is the art of living with uncertainty without being paralyzed by fear.” ~Dr. W. Dillon
I didn’t immediately look at going through cancer as an opportunity to rework my life, even though I knew it to be a wake-up call and change was needed. But I didn’t make those changes. Quite the contrary. All throughout treatment, I longed for a return to my old life, some sense of “normalcy”. Partly I could barely see the end of the treatment period, it seemed like it would last forever, making it difficult to imagine what my life could look like after cancer. And partly because treatment and healing took up all my energy…I didn’t have enough available band width to imagine anything different.
But now it’s coming on 4 years, and even though I’ll be on Aromasin until the end of 2019, it’s time to make some changes. And I think a lot of us are in the same place.
My thoughts on what art, or being an artist is, are still forming. I hadn’t done anything I would have considered art since I was about 10. I didn’t set out to “create art” when I took the expressive arts class during cancer recovery 4 years ago. It was a group activity within a larger program covering a wide range of topics geared to...
If you don’t want the gory details, the short story is that I experienced the first week of chemo as having a bad case of the flu. The second week was better. I knew I’d been sick, and that I was getting better, but still wasn’t at 100%. My hair started falling out on Day 14. The third week of chemo is when I felt like my usual self, except bald. It was a time to catch up on some of what I couldn’t do in the first two weeks of this process, and also a time to prepare for Chemo Round Two, which starts on Day 22 (January 6.)
Cancer is characterized by rapid cell division/growth. The ability of chemotherapy to kill cancer cells depends on its ability to halt cell division. Usually, the drugs work by damaging the RNA or DNA that tells the cell how to copy itself in division. If the cells are unable to divide, they die. Chemotherapy is most effective at killing cells that are rapidly dividing. Unfortunately, chemotherapy does not know the difference between the cancerous cells and the normal cells. The “normal” cells will grow back and be healthy, but in the meantime side effects occur. The “normal” cells most commonly affected by chemotherapy are also cells that divide and copy quickly – blood cells, cells in the mouth, stomach and bowel, and the hair follicles; resulting in low blood counts, mouth sores, nausea, diarrhea, and/or hair loss.
This morning we met with Dr. Mary Ann Rose, Professor and Medical Director of UC San Diego Radiation Oncology. She spent over an hour with us, going over the various procedures and timing. Now that I’ll be starting chemo on December 9 (just got off the phone with the office), I won’t be starting radiation until mid-April. So we’ll be going over most of this again at that time. The chemo will run until mid-March, and then I get 3-4 weeks off to recover before starting 6 weeks of radiation, which should finish by the end of May.
Yesterday’s appointment with Dr. Subramanian yielded the news that my gene expression results indicate I will likely benefit from chemotherapy. The oncotype test looked at a panel of 21 genes in the tumor tissue from my lumpectomy to calculate a recurrence score from 0-100. It helps identify which women with early-stage, estrogen receptor positive (ER+) [HER2- and post-menopausal with lymph node negative (N-)] invasive breast cancer are more likely to benefit from adding chemotherapy to their treatment.
My appointment with the medical oncologist Dr. Rupa Subramanian on 11/15 went well – she even remarked over how well the incisions were healing. Now that the immediate cancer concern has been taken care of by surgery, there are a slew of tests to make sure there is no cancer elsewhere in the body. If there is, I’ll have to have chemotherapy (whole body) before the radiation (localized to breast). So now I’ve got the following appointments:
I'm learning more about my art, and from my art, every day. It's not so much a matter of skill or practice... mostly it's a shift in perspective, a way of shaping how I look at and exist in the world.
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