Health Story Collaborative hosts cool events where patients of all kinds get to tell their stories. I spoke at one event, and afterward, I walked on air and could feel a change in the vibration of my body.
Following my magnificent experience, I was honored to host one of these discussions in my home for a woman named Liz who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I didn’t know Liz – she was recommended by Health Story Collaborative – but she and her friends had wonderful energy and sharing her story in that way was as powerful for her as mine was for me.
Though Liz and I had much in common (similar in age, children of the same age, attitudes toward life, cancer diagnosis….), we didn’t stay in touch. Life gets busy, we all have our routines, you have to prioritize your limited energy during treatments, and we each have plenty of friends we already don’t get to see as often as we would like.
This week, I actively wondered about Liz and how she was doing. I didn’t even remember her last name to try and find her email address in my list of contacts, and contacting Health Story Collaborative to find her felt like adding another thing on my list of things to do, so I didn’t follow through. Liz’s well-being remained an unanswered question.
In the meantime, here is how my chemo holiday has progressing.
First and foremost – I love not doing chemo! I love being free from tubes, I love not carrying vomit bags with me everywhere, and I love having a clearer mind. I love having more than two weeks each month when I can do things that one needs and wants to do in life (grocery shop, hair and dentist appointments, kids’ school events, etc.).
Occasionally, I think about my CT scan results. The doctors saw some fluid near the anastomosis (surgical connection of two parts of my intestines that aren’t normally connected). The fluid can be simply nothing or it could mean that the Avastin (which has been working so well for me) may be doing damage to the stitching there. If there is damage, it is inoperable, and a tear in that area would likely be fatal. And not instantly fatal – it would more likely involve a long hospital stay and decline. For the record, that is not my preferred way to die. So if that were the case, that would mean no more Avastin.
I generally don’t look ahead; I mostly assume we will handle whatever comes up when it arises. But when I think about this particular potential conversation with my doctor, I do remind myself that if Avastin is no longer an option, I am lucky to have other options when it comes to chemo drugs. There is another drug, Erbitux, that many friends have taken and one friend is currently taking with successful results. The most notable side effect is a major skin reaction. It looks like you have acne or a red rash all over your body, which is usually uncomfortable. Given how sensitive my skin is on a good day (for example, I have to watch what kind of Band-Aid I use, or which tape they use on my skin at the hospital), I fear that my skin will be especially sensitive to this drug. Besides that, it is unsightly. I kind of like not “looking” like a cancer patient.
Mostly, I try to stay focused on the present. Admittedly, that is easier to do when I am feeling well. The snow is gone and while it has been chilly, the sun is starting to shine, so that helps.
However, I’ve also had many days filled with pain that make it hard to move or even stand, and nights where the pain keeps me from sleeping. Strung back-to-back for over a week, these days feel endless and discouraging.
I realized that I rely on living my life from miracle to miracle and I wasn’t noticing anything miraculous popping up, so that was bringing me down as well.
During that time, I did what I could. I booked more acupuncture. Tom Tam loaned me this device to wear to help with my pain. (I was skeptical, but it truly helped enough to get me up and moving.) I scheduled regular bodywork appointments with a local guru. I resumed calls with my energy worker. I did a reiki session that enabled me to sleep. I read funny novels and watched comedy clips on YouTube. I reframed any negative thoughts that made their way into my psyche.
Absentmindedly deleting junk emails this week, I noticed one about a new drug approved by the FDA, ramucirumab (brand name Cyramza®) targeted for stage 4 cancer patients. It works similarly to Erbitux but with different side effects. Ah, a potential option if I need it. Thank you God. I felt myself exhale.
Then, I went into Dana-Farber for a port flush. (They need to periodically access the port in my chest and flush it with saline to keep it clear and useful.)
I signed in and the woman behind the counter gave me the plastic bracelet with my name, birthdate, and medical ID number. I hate that bracelet and all that it stands for. The port flush went well and, immediately afterwards, I walked through the waiting room, straight to the trash can, and pulled the plastic bracelet off my wrist.
As I held it over the trash can, a woman stopped and said to me, “You might not….”
Immediately defensive thoughts went flying through my mind, such as, Don’t tell me that I might not want to throw this away. Don’t tell me that I might need this for discounted parking. I just want to be rid of this thing…
Thankfully, she couldn’t hear my thoughts, so she continued on, uninterrupted (as far as she knew), “…remember me. I did a talk at your house….”
OH MY GOSH. It was LIZ! I just LOVE it when questions are answered. I didn’t know where to start reconnecting with her – there were so many places to begin!
Well, we were both alive, which seems to be everyone’s first question about cancer patients. She looked good and energetic and still had the cynical edge that made me laugh.
She was back on chemo and today was a treatment day. We talked about parenting through treatments and taking care of ourselves and living with one foot on the path of “I will heal” and the other on the path of “What if I don’t.” We talked about Kripalu. We talked about Tong Ren and Tom Tam and, in that crowded waiting room, I lifted my shirt to show her the device he developed that helps me with pain. (You should know that lifting my shirt also exposes my colostomy bag, but that paled against my excitement of seeing her and sharing something that might help. Besides, in that room, people are dealing with issues larger than the horror of glimpsing someone else’s colostomy bag.)
Running into Liz at that place and time was like a Divine Intervention. She told me that she really needed to see me at that moment, and I couldn’t explain how lifted I was to see her. It helped to restore my faith in the connectedness and purpose of the universe. Her presence helped me to feel like God was listening to my questions and would provide the answers if I can just be patient.
We exchanged email addresses again and while I am not sure how we will stay in touch, I know that our hearts are connected enough to bring us together and inspire each other as we move forward.
Thank you for always being there to inspire and support me. I appreciate your prayers as much if not even more during this break, as it can be scary and painful but also, bearable, with your friendship and support.
Blessings and love and miracles,
This post was miracle for all of us, Marie.
I LOVE this! You have lifted my spirits! Thank you! Annie
I love you, Marie. I just adore you. I love your honesty, your humanity, you.
Your candid reflections take my breath away Marie. The brutal honesty, coupled with a sense of wonder and humor that are always in the mix, sooner or
later, are windows into you and your complex, multifaceted reality. Thank you for sharing so much and allowing me to be a friend through thick and thin. Xox
I loved reading this because it brought me back to your own health story night, Marie. I’m grateful for our friendship.