The Art of the Ask

I had a pretty awesome week last week. Not only did I get to do our first interview for the book my oncologist and I are writing about people with terminal cancers (do you have terminal cancer and want your story told? Send me an email at!), but I also go to go down to Olympia, our state capitol, and testify before a committee hearing about a bill that would increase funding for cancer research.

How did this come about? This was the first time I’d testified before a legislative committee, and I’m not particularly politically connected these days. But I AM spending a lot of time on Twitter lately (don’t judge) chatting with other cancer people–researchers, metsters, people who survived early stage disease, that sort of thing. So I’m scrolling through my Twitter feed on Wednesday, and I see that Diane Mapes, who’s an awesome woman and cancer survivor who works for Fred Hutch, has tweeted that she’s looking for people to go with her to Olympia to testify before the legislature about cancer research funding the next day. And I was like “I’m free tomorrow, and I didn’t have chemo this week so I don’t feel like shit, I could go!” 

So I tweeted back at her that I was interested, and I also started messaging other local cancer friends to see if any of them were free. My friend Natasha Black was also available, and Diane was thrilled we could come. We got all the details about where and when and what the bill was about that evening, and I wrote my testimony. Having learned from my training through Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s Hear My Voice Program that it’s good to include the personal impact of your cancer in your advocacy, I wrote something pretty gut-wrenching about how this diagnosis has impacted me and my family. We also learned that you pair that story with an ask–in this case, research funding. 

The next day I met up with Natasha and we drove to Olympia. After a lovely lunch with a friend of Natasha’s who work there, we met up with the team from the Hutch, and found a spot to sit down and talk through our testimony. Now, the thing about committee hearings in our legislature is that there is very very limited time for public comment. Like, they usually give you only one or two minutes. My prepared remarks were more like 3 and a half, so I picked some stuff to trim, and then let the Hutch government relations guy (a really delightful man) read what I wrote to see if it fit the bill. He read it, and when he finished and looked up at me, he looked like he was going to cry. And I got a big grin on my face and said, “Right??? Nailed it!” And he was like “You totally did” and I said “Do you need a tissue?” Because I’m actually an asshole. LOL!

We also talked with a woman from American Cancer Society, and she gave us tips on testifying. She said to mention that we had cancer up front, because they were unlikely to cut us off if we went over time if the committee members knew we had cancer, but also said not to go too over because we didn’t want to annoy the committee members. 

Then we headed off to the committee room to sign up to testify before the hearing began. The hearing actually covered two bills–the first one had something to do with solar panel subsidies and was quite possibly the most boring thing I’ve ever sat through. Which is saying a lot, because I went to law school. The committee members seemed as bored as I was and there was plenty of fidgeting in their seats and whispering among the audience.

Finally it was time for the cancer research funding bill to be discussed. The first people who came to testify were all representatives of retailers of tobacco products, like 7-11 and a grocery store association, that sort of thing. All of them opposed the bill because it would put a bigger tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products, and that would cut into their bottom line. They all said that of course they support cancer research, just not through this tax. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. 

Anyway, then it was my turn to talk. I was the first of the speakers in support of the bill, and we did that on purpose because I was the one with the terminal cancer, and the one who is currently bald. Here’s a link to the video–I’m at about the 55 minute mark.

As you can see, before I spoke, everyone was still fidgeting and there were plenty of people still whispering to each other. And then I started talking, and it was like the air had been sucked out of the room–everyone stopped. And I knew they were listening. It was SUCH a good feeling. When you have cancer, there is so much out of your control–how you feel, whether it progresses–so to have a moment where I felt that I was doing something, that I was speaking for my community and actually being heard, that was powerful. That meant a lot to me.

Natasha spoke after me, and her words were so moving too, it was really powerful. She has such horrible side effects from her treatment that are lingering months after the slash/poison/burn is over–as do so many cancer patients. And just as the ACS person had said, they didn’t cut us off when we went over time with our testimony. LOL!

After we finished speaking, that woman who spoke just before me, from the grocery industry, came up to me and Natasha and thanked us for coming and wished us all the best. You guys, if I hadn’t known that I was on TV right then, I would have told her to go fuck herself. I mean, I get that’s their job and whatever, but the assholery one must engage in to oppose cancer research funding because it’ll cut into the money you make selling cancer sticks, ooops, I mean cigarettes…like, honestly I wanted to say to her, “If you care so much, how about you take the profits you make from selling carcinogens and donate it to Hutch? Oh right, because you don’t.” But, because I knew I was on TV, I just smiled politely and shook her hand. 

Then the folks from Hutch spoke, including Diane and another Hutch person who survived Hodgkins, and also the Hutch government relations guy, and a brilliant Hutch researcher. I felt like we each laid out our case about why research was important, from several different angles. 
And then we headed out of the hearing room and high-fived each other. The committee chairman and another representative came up to us in the hallway and told us thank you for coming and sharing our stories and how much they appreciated hearing our voices. That was pretty cool. And the ACS person said she doesn’t get moved by cancer testimony after hearing so much of it over the years, but we really moved her. It was good to hear that we’d done everything we could.

Then we headed outside, and took this picture:

I think a lot of folks feel really nervous about speaking to legislators. But you know what? They’re people, just like us. It’s not like they have magical superpowers that make them better than anyone else, and like, if you piss them off or something, they’re not going to shoot lasers out of their eyeballs or whatever. There’s no reason to fear them, and we have everything to gain if we can convince them to use their power to help us.

The bad news is, the version of the bill that the committee was considering didn’t pass. The good news is, a different version of the bill is still alive in our state senate. So, if you live in Washington, I urge you to contact your state senators and ask them to support SSB 6096 and the proposed striker amendment. The Senate bill creates a new cancer authority, funded by new revenue generated by greater tobacco enforcement, rather than by a new tax on tobacco. Personally I don’t care where the money comes from, as long as it gets spent on research. Because, as I said in my testimony, it’s what will keep me alive.

I enjoyed the experience of testifying at this hearing so much, I’m really hopeful I’ll have an opportunity to do it again as soon as possible! 

UPDATE JUNE 30: The Senate version of the bill passed both houses of the legislature by overwhelming margins and is being signed by the governor today! VICTORY!!! Thank you to everyone who reached out to the legislators, and thank you to those legislators and Governor Inslee for supporting this bill!

Crazy Cancer Cures: Smelling Farts

You guys! It’s time again for another in my series on Crazy Cancer Cures, where we discuss the many dumb ideas I’ve heard about alternative ways to cure my cancer. Today’s is by far, hands-down, my all-time favorite: that smelling farts cures cancer. Seriously, I can’t stop giggling about this one, it’s fantastic.

So here’s how this one got started: there was a study done at the University of Exeter having to do with using some kind of molecule to deliver hydrogen sulfide to cells to help preserve their mitochondria. This was done in a Petri dish in this study. Hydrogen sulfide is the stinky part of farts and rotten eggs. Ergo, smelling farts cures cancer. Wait, what?

Now, it’s funny, because duh, it’s about stinky farts. I mean, farts are just funny, always. I laughed pretty hard when the news articles about this study started floating around like hydrogen sulfide in our bathroom after The Hubs takes a dump. (He’s a good guy, though, he always turns on the bathroom fan when he poops.) 

But here’s the thing that’s kind of sad about this study: it actually points out a lot of what’s wrong in science journalism today. First, it’s really common for science journalism to make these same kinds of leaps in non-hilarious-fart-related articles. There’s a lot of articles about basic Petri dish science that end up with screaming headline about exiciting breakthroughs or cures right around the corner. As my oncologist likes to say, if you inject cancer cells in a Petri dish with just about anything, it’ll kill them. Cells in dishes just don’t like having things injected in them. But a lot of what we read about in the paper is just that: a Petri dish study. Too many science journalists, or whatever journalists write about these studies, don’t seem to get this.

Second, as in this case, the press releases about scientific studies often do their best to get press attention, as press releases are designed to do. So they sometimes/often/practically always oversell the research. Nobody’s going to cover your study on important but incremental and highly technical research that’s still ten years from bringing a new treatment to patients. How will that sell newspapers? No, instead you’ve got to talk about how that obscure research is exciting or promising or a breakthrough or some other buzzword that’s going to get your study covered in the media.

In this case, the study’s press release didn’t suggest a cure for cancer, but it did make sure to point out that hydrogen sulfide is found in farts, because farts are funny, and then talk about how the molecule they studied might have applications in cancer. Cancer’s a big one, that always gets headlines, and when combined with the fart thing, I mean seriously, that’s going to generate an awful lot of page views, isn’t it?

So, unfortunately for all of you who have told me that your dog or your loved one whose farts can clear a room, I’m sorry, those farts aren’t reducing your risk for cancer. Sorry, guys. But hey, at least we all got a good chuckle out of it, right?

Summer Loving

School’s out for summer! School’s out forever! OK, not forever, but it may feel like it this summer, because it’s my second summer of active treatment. Last summer, you’ll recall, was the end of my first set of chemo, followed by mastectomy recovery. This summer, it’ll be chemo all summer.

I’m noticing that since I started chemo, The Kids have been more clingy. It’s to be expected–they can tell I don’t feel well. I’ve had to have two blood transfusions now because my body’s been gutted out by the chemo. I just have a lot less energy than I did before going back into treatment. It’s impacting my mood a bit too. I’m sad more, which is what always happens to me when I don’t feel awesome. And The Kids sense that, and want to spend more time with me.

Fortunately, we’re finding ways to make that happen even when fatigue keeps me in bed most days. Recently they started coming to our bedroom to cuddle with us in the mornings when they wake up. Which isn’t awesome when they wake up before 6, but most mornings it’s at a reasonable hour. We’re doing a lot of reading with them–I’m reading the Harry Potter series to The Boy, and The Girl really loves a book that my cousin gave her called Rosie Revere the Engineer. (I love it too, definitely one to check out.) We’re also watching movies together more often.

I know it seems lame to spend so much time indoors when the weather is nice, but that’s part of treatment life. I get out and about when I can, but with chemo happening almost every week, there are at least a few days a week when all I do is lie around. But the upside to all this lying around is that I get a lot more cuddle time than I otherwise would, while reading all those books and watching all those movies. It’s actually pretty awesome feeling all that love from The Kids.

I’m hoping as treatment goes on and I start getting into a better routine, I’ll be able to plan some outings for us around my fatigue days. The Boy asked if we could go to Great Wolf Lodge (did you know there’s a bar inside the splash park? OH YEAH!) and I’ve ordered a mastectomy swimsuit.  I’ll probably spend my time just laying near the wave pool, and shouting encouragement to the kids.

This is parenting with continuous illness. It’s not parenting the way other people do it. My kids don’t do organized sports and I don’t spend my weekends at soccer matches or little league games, because I’m too tired, and The Hubs has too much on his hands without adding stuff like that to the mix. We watch a lot of TV and read a lot of books and other people take the kids for play dates. It’s just simpler and slower than most families, and that’s OK.

Now, the interesting part about this is that the latest parenting trend is the 1970’s Summer. Have you read about it? The idea is that when we were little in the 70’s and 80’s, our parents didn’t sign us up for 4,000 activities. They just said “Get a popsicle and go outside to play” while they watched their stories. Well, now all the cool moms are doing 1970’s summers with their kids. Helicopter parenting is soooooo five minutes ago. How convenient for me, who literally can’t helicopter parent even if I wanted to, that the hot new thing in parenting is exactly what cancer is forcing me to do! 

You know, even before cancer, I was the type of parent who sat around with a drink shouting to my kids to go play in the ditch with their friends. So it’s not like this parenting style is actually that huge of a departure from what I would have chosen. But knowing that others actually CAN choose, and I can’t…I don’t know, it’s just rough. It’s getting harder and harder to read parenting blogs for me, honestly, because I see other moms agonizing about and defending their parenting choices, and I literally can’t be bothered to worry about most of that stuff anymore.

I never knew when I started writing this blog about the Cult of Perfect Motherhood that I’d end up with this particular perspective–that I’d see exactly how ridiculous it is to obsess over the things that modern middle class American moms obsess over, because terminal cancer has put it into such stark relief. It’s pretty powerful deprogramming…but I definitely wouldn’t recommend going about it this way.

Crazy Cancer Cures: The No-Sugar Diet

Recently, a friend of mine messaged me about a comment she saw on a final blog post by a young mom who was dying of metastatic breast cancer. The woman had days, possibly a few weeks to live, as her liver had shut down. The comment on the very heart felt goodbye post that my friend messaged me about suggested that the woman should try drinking carrot juice, because the commenter had read that juice cures cancer. Strike that, the comment didn’t suggest it, the comment urged that the woman try it, because her kids needed her. 

WHAT IN THE ACTUAL FUCK. Did you just try to lay a guilt trip on a dying woman to convince her to drink carrot juice when she has end-stage cancer and her liver stopped working? Did that actually just happen? Please tell me that didn’t just happen. Please? For fuck’s sake, that actually just happened.

Both my friend’s brain and mine snapped, obviously, and then I realized it really was time to start writing a series here on the blog about about Crazy Cancer Cures. I’ve been getting emails and messages about Triple C’s since I was first diagnosed.  I’ve probably sent my oncologist a dozen emails since then with the most, shall we say, interesting of these alleged cures, and never has he said “there is a study supporting that as a viable cancer treatment.” 

And yet this shit persists on the Internet. Why? Well, people with cancer, especially terminal cancer, are desperate for a cure. Desperate people will believe all kinds of horseshit. I mean, when the best options you have are going to make you feel like shit and only extend your life a bit, but can’t cure you? Yeah, it’s easy to start believing in things that clearly can’t be true. And it turns out that desperate people will also spend a crapload of money on something if they believe it will keep them alive.

Because the best way to combat bad speech is with more speech, I’ll be addressing some of the many Crazy Cancer Cures I’ve read since my diagnosis, explaining what they say they’d do, and what science actually says they’ll do. We begin with the no-sugar diet.

The theory behind this Crazy Cancer Cure is that cancer feeds on sugar, so if you don’t eat any sugar, it can’t grow. That’s it, that’s the whole theory, it’s pretty straight-forward. There’s like books and stuff out there selling this cure and saying they’ve cured their cancer by cutting out sugar from their diets; however, you’ll note that none of them are written by oncologists.

Now, it’s true that cancer cells feed on sugar. You know what else feeds on sugar? Every other cell in your body. All of them. Cells run on sugar, it’s their energy source. Even if you don’t eat any sugar, your body will take other foods you eat and convert the carbohydrates in them into sugar. Because that’s what your cells need to function. Don’t believe me? OK, then perhaps listen to the nice folks from Cancer Research UK. 

Is it healthy to eat a lot of sugar? Of course not, are you stupid? Sugar contributes to all kinds of health problems, like diabetes. And who the hell wants to get diabetes? No, I’m just saying that a no-sugar diet won’t cure your cancer. It just won’t. Because even if you don’t eat sugar, your body will just make it, even from the healthy foods you eat. Like those carrots that that asshole commenter said that a dying woman should juice because it’ll cure her cancer. WHAT IN THE ACTUAL FUCK.

If you have a Crazy Cancer Cure you think I should write about, drop a note in the comments, would you? 

Totally Tubular

Since my cancer diagnosis, I’ve spent a lot of time in various kinds of tubes. MRI tubes, CT tubes, bone scan tubes. Before cancer, I’d never experienced any of these tubes, and I’ve recently realized that folks may not know what these scans entail, and the differences between them. Let’s discuss, shall we?

All of the tube scans require you to lay very, very still in an enclosed space. So, if you’re claustrophobic and you get diagnosed with cancer, well, you’re basically fucked. And if you wiggle too much during any of the scans I’m describing, the results are gonna be bad, bad enough that you may have to redo portions of the scan. Which means more time in a tube. Luckily for me, I’m not claustrophobic, and also, I’m very very good and laying still. Ask me to run a marathon and I’m hosed, but being lazy? Now THAT is my skill set. I get complimented each scan on how well I did at not moving.

My favorite thing about tube scans is the warmed blankets. Because they want you holding still, they don’t want you too cold, because then you’d be shivering, and that’s no good. So, they have blankets kept in a warmer, and they’ll give you as many of them as you want. I wish I had a blanket warmer in my house, because warmed blankets are truly one of the only perks of having all these damn scans.

Each of the tube scans is a little different, so let’s take them one at a time. 

First off, there’s the MRI. An MRI is a very very very loud machine that uses magnets to scan you. When I say loud, we’re talking ear plugs plus big earphones to protect your hearing. You can actually hear the machine running from the next room, despite heavy doors and thick walls around it. Because an MRI uses magnets, you can’t wear any metal at all, including your wedding rings, and in fact, some MRI places I’ve been use a metal detector on you (like a hand-held one) before you go in the room, to make sure you didn’t accidentally forget about some metal you’re wearing. MRIs take lots of pictures that are, like, slices of you, like, the pictures are layer upon layer, if that makes sense. 

I’ve had both breast MRIs and brain MRIs. The breast one invlovles laying on your stomach and dropping your boobs into holes in this, like, contraption thing so they can hang down and have clear pictures taken. The brain one involves having your head strapped into a contraption like you see in the picture below, so your head doesn’t move at all. My MRIs have all come with an IV, because they take some pictures, and then they give you a contrast that makes abnormal stuff turn up clearer on your scan.

Usually when I’m in an MRI machine, they offer to let me listen to music, and I always ask for Sinatra. Something about Old Blue Eyes just makes me feel happy. I think every MRI place in Seattle must use the same music service, because the first song they play is always Fly Me to the Moon. I always lay there thinking “I’d like to be in Acapulco right now.” Sometimes the machine is so loud, I really can’t hear the music, which bums me out.

Next up: the CT. A CT also takes pictures in slices like an MRI, and it’s better at seeing bone stuff than an MRI is. MRIs are great at seeing soft tissue, but they’re just not as versitile as a CT. From the patient standpoint, a CT has the benefit over an MRI of being a pretty quiet machine, but it comes with a major downside: you have to fast before it, which is why I always try to schedule mine first thing in the morning. Also, you have to drink this stuff.

I don’t really know what’s in there, but I’ve yet to find a flavor of it where I’m like “Yum, that was delicious!” I hear the mochachino flavor isn’t bad, but alas, I’m usually subjected to some “fruit” flavor. If you’ve had a diabetes test, like a gestational diabetes screening during pregnancy, and had to drink some fruity sugar crap for it, this tastes less horrible to me, but still not good. I tend to chug mine, so I don’t have to taste them for too long. CT scans also come with an IV, because they inject you with contrast stuff partway through, similar to the MRI experience. The machine looks pretty similar to an MRI machine.

Then there’s the PET CT. The CT part is the same as I just described, but the PET part makes it extra special. In a PET scan, you’re injected with some seriousy radioactive stuff that attaches to certain types of cells–sugar cells, cancer cells, and muscle cells that are all worked up. Because all we really want to see with a PET scan is the cancer cells, they have you not only fast before your scan, but also make sure your last meal is very low in carbs, so there isn’t much sugar in your system. In addition, before you have your exam, they give you Valium and leave you in a quiet room with some of those lovely heated blankets for an hour or so, so your muscles are super relaxed. No cell phones, no TV, no music, no nothing–just a soothing picture on the wall (the place I usualy go has one room with a sunrise, and one room with Mt. Rainier), a comfortable recliner, and your thoughts. I always, ALWAYS, fall asleep in that room, even though I’m a horrible napper. Valium is a hell of a drug.

Then, when you’re super calm, they put you in a tube, and the scan is pretty much the same experience as an ordinary CT scan, just a bit longer because they’re doing both a PET and a CT in the same session. Because of the long time you have to relax before the scan, and then how long the scan takes, and the fast you had to do before hand, I’m usually RAVENOUS when a PET CT is over. It’s become a tradition for me to have a giant Red Robin burger after a PET CT.

And finally, there’s the bone scan. Bone scans are used to see abnormalities in your bones, and in the cancer world, that means finding tumors in/on your bones. I had one when I was going through my initial diagnostic period. To me, the bone scan was the most bizarre of all the scans. They give you something radioactive, and then you hang out for a bit, and then they put you in the bone scan machine, which looks like this:

See that big flat piece sticking out? Well, in my bone scan, that thing was like 2 inches away from my face as the scan started, and it sloooooowwwwwllly moved down along my body. They did one scan straight on, and one scan sideways like you see in the picture. I have a friend that the thing almost smashed her feet when she got scanned one time. Thankfully, the techs who did mine were paying better attention. 

So, that’s what tube scans are like in cancerland. If you’ve got questions, feel free to ask them in comments!

Not a Survivor

I’m gonna rain on everyone’s parade today. I know I sound all super negative these days–maybe it’s having had so much disease progression, maybe it’s feeling like crap from chemo…or maybe it’s just that after over a year of living with metastatic breast cancer, I’ve stopped being polite and started getting real.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, y’all know that metastatic breast cancer is incurable. Sure sure, we all hope research will swoop in and save us, and exciting breakthroughs make headlines every day, yadda yadda yadda. Except, we’ve heard about exciting breakthroughs lots of times over the years, and yet, the average lifespan with MBC remains 2-3 years. So, let’s face the reality as it stands today: I will die of or with my disease. (And MBC isn’t the only cancer that falls into the incurable cancer category–many cancers have even worse average lifespans than MBC, and with even less research dollars than us breasties get.)

Which brings me to the topic of this post: the word “survivor.” People always ask me why I don’t like that word, and why I don’t call myself a survivor. Lots of folks don’t understand why it’s such a loaded word for many metsters, why it makes us feel so excluded from the broader cancer community that has a legitimate chance of living a full lifespan and dying of something other than cancer. I can’t speak for everyone, because we all come at these issues a little differently, but I can explain where I personally am coming from.

Let me use an analogy, because y’all know I love analogies. Say you’re in a plane crash, but you don’t die instantly–instead, you linger on in a coma for a day or two, and then you die. Would you say that you survived the plane crash? Of course not, because you died. That day or two of suffering from your injuries doesn’t change the fact that the plane crash was the cause of your death. You didn’t survive that plane crash, you died from it. It killed you.

Or how about another analogy: my grandfather served as a bombadier in the Korean War, but he died when his plane went down during a bombing mission. Would we say he survived the war? Of course not, he died in the war. That he flew quite a few missions before he died doesn’t make him a survivor of the Korean War. 

Well, that’s what metastatic breast cancer is like. We might not die right away–we might suffer through treatments for a while, but eventually, nearly all of us will die of our disease, and 100% of us will die with our disease, because it is incurable. So, how can I be a survivor of cancer? I can’t, of course. How can you survive something that will eventually kill you?

For me, hearing the word survivor is a constant reminder that I’m different from non-terminal folks. It’s a button that people push, a button that says “That will never be you. You’re going to die.” I don’t really enjoy thinking about my death if I don’t have to, so I wish people would stop reminding me of what will never be. I will never be cured. I will not survive my disease. And you’d be surprised how often you see the word “survivor” in cancerland. Yesterday was some sort of national survivor day, and I know of two cancer conferences that happened over the weekend with the word “survivor” in their name. I didn’t attend either of these conferences. Just hearing the title of them turns me off and makes me feel like they aren’t for me.

What word do I use instead? I usually call myself a metster in the breast cancer community, and a cancer patient outside that community. I think some folks don’t like being called a patient because sometimes being a patient feels more like being an object than a person. But for me, I mean, it’s not like I can get away from the reality of treatment. I’m a cancer patient, and I will be until I die. What I’m not, and never will be, is a cancer survivor.

What’s Treatment Like: Chemo Again

It’s #MetsMonday again, and I’ve just finished my first cycle of Chemo 2015. It’s been an interesting few weeks. Let me recap.

So, let’s go back to last year’s chemo for comparison. I was on two drugs, cisplatin and etoposide, on a three-week cycle. I got both drugs the first week, and then was free the rest of the 3 weeks. Cisplatin in particular is an extremely harsh drug, so I spent most of the first week of the cycle doped up on antinausea medications that made me sleepy. Then I’d stop taking those meds and kind of wake up and say “Where am I, what day is it, what did I miss?” And then I’d go back to work, because I was still working then, and feel relatively normal.

This time around, I’m on carboplatin and paclitaxel, on a four week cycle. Carboplatin is similar to cisplatin, but a bit less harsh, and paclitaxel is a relatively mild drug, but I mean, it’s still chemo. The first week, I get both drugs, and the second and third weeks I get just the paclitaxel, and then the fourth week I’m off. Paclitaxel can be given in a higher dose once per cycle, so I wouldn’t have to come in every week, but that would increase the risk of me getting peripheral neuropathy. So, weekly it is.

The first week of this first cycle, I had my infusion on a Wednesday, and Thursday I felt fine. Well, as fine as I usually do–I get tired every afternoon around 2PM and just need to lay down, but that’s just my current “new normal.” No nausea, no new fatigue. My oncologist emailed to ask how I was doing, and I told him I’d folded a bunch of laundry and done the dishes and asked if these were real chemo drugs. He wrote back and said I was not allowed to fold laundry or do anymore dishes–doctor’s orders, he said. Best. Doctor. Ever.

Of course, my hubris was punished, because on Friday around noon, I started to feel a wee bit queasy and took a Zofran, and by evening I had a horrific migraine. It was brutal–I was horribly nauseous and sensitive to light. I think what happened is this: the drugs they gave me on Wednesday for nausea are similar to Zofran, and last a few days. So, I think the migraine was because I’d OD’d on Zofran. The next morning the headache was gone along with the nausea, but by then, more serious fatigue had set in. I stayed in bed all day Saturday, and on Sunday–Mother’s Day–I managed a shower before deciding I needed another day in bed. Luckily the kids came and cuddled with me and we watched movies together, so it was a pretty nice day.

The fatigue was less bad the following two days, and then it was time for week 2 and more paclitaxel on Wednesday. Thursday at 4AM, I woke up with horrible chills, and at 7AM I took my temperature and it was 100.8. I emailed my oncologist and asked for instructions, and he emailed back and said “I’ll be in the office at 8AM and you should be there too.” So, off I went, feeling pretty weak. They hooked me up to some fluids and drew some blood, both to check my red and white blood levels and to do a culture to see if I had an infection.

When the blood work came back, it showed that my hematocrit had dropped from 27 on Tuesday, to 22 two days later. My oncologist said “This has to be a mistake, we’ll run the test again.” But sure enough, the second test came back with my hematocrit at 21. So, my oncologist sent me across the skybridge to the main hospital building for a blood transfusion. One of the nice nurses wheeled me there in a wheelchair, because I was still feeling so weak.

By this time, it was lunchtime, so The Hubs (who stayed with me the whole day, bless his heart) went off to get me some food, and the nurses in the main hospital typed my blood–twice, because that’s standard protocol for first-time transfusion people–and then they put in the request for some blood for me, which takes some time to get delivered from the blood bank. I got two bags of blood, and it took about 5 hours to do the transfusion. 5 hours. Luckily, the hospital fed me dinner. By the time we left the hospital, my hematocrit was 29 and it was 10PM. That’s right, I spent 14 hours at the hospital that day. (Thank goodness for friends and my parents, who helped out with the kids for us.)

The transfusion incident scared the shit out of everyone except me. Maybe I’m naive or in denial or something, but I trust my oncologist to be able to handle stuff like this, and he did. It was a long and unpleasant day, but it was just a day. And the next day, I woke up feeling AMAZING. Like, better than I had in months. Which was great, because that night I was signing books and doing a reading at MamaCon, which was a BLAST and you all should attend next year! The feeling good continued for several days, and when I had my blood draw before my third week of chemo, my hematocrit was at 34, which explained the sudden burst of energy. After that third infusion, I didn’t need any nausea meds and my fatigue level was at its usual 2PM exhaustion level through the rest of the cycle. 

My hair started to fall out the day of that third infusion, like, in clumps, so I had The Hubs shave it off that night, in the back yards, with the kids watching because it’s less shocking for them that way. Last year when we shaved it, I cried and cried and I hated looking at myself in the mirror, because I still wasn’t used to seeing Cancer Beth. But now I’ve been Cancer Beth for a long time, and I’m slowly getting used to seeing her in the mirror. 

So, this time around, losing my hair was much less emotional for me, and I’ve mostly been going around bald and not feeling self-conscious about it. I did wear a wig to The Boy’s birthday party at his request, because my head was still kind of stubbly and we both agreed the wig would look better in pictures. And sometimes I wear a hat, because you’d be surprised how cold your head gets without hair on it–and on sunny days, I don’t want to get sunburnt, so I wear my SPF hat. But otherwise, I’m just rocking the baldness.

This week the cycle starts all over again, with carboplatin and paclitaxel. My doctor is convinced it was the carboplatin that gutted me out and made me need the transfusion, and he suggested lowering the dose of carboplatin. My reaction was “THE FUCK YOU WILL.” (Literally, that’s what I wrote back to him.) Because I want to gut out as much of the cancer as I can, and I don’t mind feeling like shit and getting transfusions if it means I can get to having no evidence of disease. 

Is chemo fun? No. But, it’s a necessary evil. It’s what I hope will buy me enough time to see The Girl start kindergarten in 2017, which is the most important goal for me at this point. I’ve got just over 2 years until then, which would put me about 4 1/2 years from diagnosis–longer than the average livespan for someone with mets. That’s why I want to be aggressive with my treatments. I know it’s hard for the people around me to see me go through chemo, but I’ve told them they need to grow a thicker skin, because this is important to me. 

Someday I hope there will be better treatments for people with cancer. Someday I hope we’ll look back on the chemo era as positively medieval compared to the new treatments to come. Unfortunately, that day looks to be a long way off, because we aren’t spending enough on cancer research, especially research into metastasis. I encourage all of you who don’t want to see me and other cancer patients suffer through chemotherpy to donate to research-oriented chartities like Metavivor