I'm Sorry 2014, But I Can't Wait To See You Go!


You never know going forward into a New Year, what the year will bring, except that at this time last year,  I did know.  Mentally, I wasn't even ready for 2014. Hell, I was still writing 2013 on everything when my breast surgeon dropped the news on my husband and I that I had a very aggressive form of breast cancer and that treatment had to be started immediately if I didn't want to die.   It was January 3, 2014; a day that neither one of us will probably ever forget.  Even though it was a year ago, I still vividly remember the morning that the phone rang way too early, it was 7:30.  I remember the exact feeling in my stomach.  My husband was sitting at the counter, and I remember the conversation we were having when the phone rang.  I had just poured a cup of coffee, the dogs were laying on the kitchen floor praying that I would drop them some food, and I had just wondered aloud when my biopsy results would be back.  I was filled with anxiety, an anxiety that a whole bottle of Xanax and 2 bottles of wine, wouldn't have touched.  My husband was telling me that I was being negative as I tried to explain to him that I "just know".  That was when the phone rang.  The timing couldn't have been better if a movie camera crew had been standing by.  I wasn't really aware of it then, but 7:30 is when the breast surgeons office opens, and I was their first call of the day.

The day that my world turned upside down was a Friday,  the first Friday of the New Year.  I didn't want to hear "The doctor would like to see you immediately!"  And I really didn't want to hear, "Make sure someone comes with you."  Looking back, I wonder, how did I not drop my coffee cup, how did I not pass out right then and there? Those were not the words that would be uttered when a clean biopsy report was sitting in the hands of a breast surgeon.  I can remember having a hard time finding something to wear, and I couldn't seem to get my hair "just right." Who worries about what they're wearing and if every hair is in place when they're about to be told they have cancer?  I did, and it was probably one of the ways that mentally I was preparing myself for the battle that was ahead of me.  When you're at your worst, you have to look your best.  Looking at myself in the mirror before leaving the house, I assured myself that there was no possible way that I could have cancer, I didn't look one bit sick at all, and besides I had things to do.  My husband I were practically newlyweds.  We had only had 9 years together. There were things we wanted to do.  I was running a business, my husband depended on me, we had just opened another location.  (There were now 4 stores.  2 in Pennsylvania, and 2 in Florida, one of which was my responsibility.)  I had two adorable boxers to mother- one of which I was sure would probably collapse instantly if anything were to happen to me.   I've never been to Ireland.  I've never been to Europe....  These were the things that I thought of as we were driving to Winter Park that day.

The mental and physical chaos started that day at about 12:15.  After attaching the "C" word to my identity,   my surgeon pulled out a piece of pink paper with 2 nipples on it and laid out what was to be the next year of my life.  Just like that, here is what 2014 will hold for you. (Really, pink paper with nipples?  Are you kidding me?)  I was later thankful for that piece of paper, because suddenly I had so much to do, that I had no idea where I was supposed to be and when, although I truly grew to hate the sight of it.   That piece of pink paper hung on our refrigerator for most of the year, and I took great pride in crossing things off of my "Cancer To-Do List"  I remember thinking, "Just go!  The sooner you go, the sooner it will be over with."   You're not Marianne anymore, you're a breast cancer patient, and that bothered me more than you could ever imagine.   I had no idea at that point how true that statement was.  Cancer takes over your life and your identity.  Cancer will occupy your mind and your body 24/7.  Blood work. Chest x-rays.  Genetic Testing.  PET scan.  MUGGA Scan. Meet the Oncologist.  Meet the Plastic Surgeon.  Meet the Radiation Oncologist. Port Surgery.  6 rounds of extremely aggressive chemotherapy.  Surgery with horrible expanders (they didn't tell me that!).  33 Radiation Treatments.  Final Reconstruction (6 months after radiation ends...  They didn't tell me that either!)  For a woman without even a primary care doctor, all of this was way too much.  And they never told me how I was supposed to tell my family and friends that the big "C" had invaded my body.  How was I supposed to do that?

The fog created by this flurry of activity was nothing compared to the chemo fog that would soon settle over my brain.  I remember the exact moment that it became real.  I was lying in the hospital bed, waiting to be wheeled into surgery to have my port installed.  I wanted to jump up and run like the wind, this was all a dream.  There was no possible way that this could be happening to me, but I never would have had the nerve to rip all of the IV's out of my body, and the gown that I was wearing, well it had no back. There was no possible way that I was going to make it the whole way home wearing an open back hospital gown, and my mother had my car keys.  I'm weird about anything entering my veins, and very squeamish (or at least I was at that point.).   At 39, they were about to put a line into my chest so that they could pump toxic poison all through my body.  I kept thinking that I had to get out of there before they made a horrible mistake.  I remember looking around the room for a baseball bat, surely if I could just get my hands on a baseball bat, this would all be over.  Did I really think I was going to club my way through the entire nursing staff at Winter Park Hospital and my mother?  This was not happening to me, they had the wrong girl.  Obviously, the drugs they were giving me were good ones.

It became very clear 3 days later when I entered the infusion room for the first time.  I fought it, I really did.  I so badly wanted to be healthy I just wanted to be me again.  I will never forget the smell of that room or that office.  It just didn't smell right. Cancer has a smell.  I've never liked being stuck in bed for a day with a head cold, and now all of a sudden, a wild beast, capable of killing me was raging inside my body an was about to be attacked with a poison capable of knocking an elephant down.  I was going to be sick, and I probably wouldn't feel like myself for a long time, and inevitably, there would be days when I would spend a lot of time in bed (Thank God for the boxers!). That infusion room was a huge dose of reality.  There were bald people all around me.  Some of them looked really bad, but some of them didn't look sick at all.   I'll never forget the young man (he was probably in his early 20's, if even that) that threw up the entire time he was there, and he was so weak that he couldn't even walk out of the room. (Not what you want to see heading into your 1st chemotherapy treatment).   I'm not sure if that was what did it, but seeing that, I promised myself that I wasn't going to be sick, well at least not that sick.  I really thought that I had some kind of control over it, which I didn't.  You don't control cancer, cancer controls you.  The fight to keep everything in my life as normal as possible started at that moment.  My Inner Superwoman kicked in and I vowed to fight back with everything that I had.  This was not going to get the best of me.

And so it started.  The push within myself that previously had been used to make myself go to work when I hadn't had a day off in 6 weeks, and I was so exhausted that I had no idea how I was going to get through the day,  much less drive there in the first place,  was quickly changed into the push that made me get up every morning, get dressed, and put my makeup on.  What a drastic change!  I could so easily push to the back of my head that the entire room was spinning, every bone in my body ached like a had a 104 temperature, and I was so tired that I wasn't sure I could stand.  If I wanted it bad enough, I could somehow manage mascara and clothes that actually matched.  I fought the battle every day for nearly 5 months.  I just kept going.  I felt like crap, but I still fed the dogs almost every morning, and every evening.  I still did laundry, I still went places, and I still attempted to keep the house just as clean as it had always been.  No matter what, when my husband walked through the door at the end of the day, I managed a smile, a smile meant to convince him that yes, I was all right. And somehow, even with the chemo brain fog that took over my life, I managed to do all of the administrative tasks for the business that I was used to doing (and prepare a tax return for 3 businesses for the accountant), although I hated myself for all of the mistakes that I made.  I hated the fog, I hated that I was not as sharp as I was before.  My husband and brother have always teased me for being a dingy blonde, now it was actually true, except that my beautiful blonde hair was gone and this was far worse than any dinginess that I had ever displayed.  I'll never forget the day that I was unable to spell my last name at the pharmacy.  Sure, my mother is still laughing over it, but it was horrible and extremely embarrassing.

Somehow, through the grace of God, the support of my husband, mother & father, friends & family, and my 2 boxers, I made it through those 12, dreadfully long months. There were so many people rooting for me, and there was no way that I could let them down.  I had to do it.  I had to beat cancer! I finished chemo, I had a double mastectomy. I survived saline being pumped (with 2 needles that were longer than my arms) into the 2 bumps where the breasts that God had given me had been for the better part of 25 years. (yes, it definitely felt like an elephant was crushing my chest, but I managed.... not without a few choice words, but I did it!),   I reported 5 days a week for 6 1/2 weeks for radiation.  I smiled at the girls that set me up for radiation every day, even though the pain of lying on that table some days, was way more than I could bear thanks to my the dislocated scapula.  I had nearly 1 year of Herceptin infusions.  I lived through mood swings, night sweats, insomnia, nueropathy, bone pain, fevers, nausea, loosing my hair, my finger nails and my toe nails, and even the loss of my brain.  I did it!

And, throughout it all, I pushed and struggled to get back the body that I had prior to all of this cancer business.  At the end of 9 months of treatment, I found myself feeling like I had just been through a huge war, A very brutal, and bloody war.  I feel scarred, undeniably changed and scarred.  I was, and still am exhausted, and I definitely do not have the strength or the endurance that I had before cancer.  I work to accept the fact that someday, just not today, I will be able to do all of the things that I could do before. The mind is a very powerful thing.  I am grateful every day that my brain functions seem to be returning, and that every day, I do feel just a little bit stronger, but it's just not fast enough.  And I am grateful and blessed that the horrible disease that threatened everything I hold so dear, is gone from my body.    

After all of this, I was shocked that my sense of humor was still intact, how could it remain through all of the ugliness brought on by cancer?  And how was it possible that it was incredibly stronger than it had ever been?  My sense of humor as I went through treatment for breast cancer was my armor.  It kept me from crying, it kept me from being negative, and it kept me from thinking "What if?"  My sense of humor, my smile and my ability to find comical relief in just about everything I endured was what got me through it.  I push myself daily to keep going and not think about the "What ifs" or all of the side effects of the chemo and radiation that are a daily reminder of what I have endured during 2014.  I warrior on.

So, as I think about the end of 2014, and everything that I have lived through, I'm not sad to see it go.  I just can't look back fondly on all of the challenges and pain that we have endured during the last 12 months.  This has undeniably been the most challenging year of my life, and I'm glad that it's ending.  I hope and pray that 2015 is a better year for me and my family, and that we never have to go through this again.

And just for the record... I am sick of pink.





4 comments

  1. I'm sick of pink after just reading about your year! But you made it ... you made it because you made the best of it. And now, here comes 2015. Your stressed body is going to rev back up to pre-C shape and any remaining fog will be gone. You're a winner, Marianne, and all of us respect and admire you more than you know. :)

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    1. Thank you for the vote of confidence! I'm gonna do it.... I might be a little bit banged up, but I'm a boxer mom, and I've been banged up before... and I will just dust myself off, shake it off, and give it another whirl, just like a boxer!

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  2. Love this! It will keep me going strong through my fight. They told me over the phone the Saturday before Christmas and I don't find anything out about treatment, etc. until the 8th. Fingers crossed I get through it as amazingly as you did. You are my hero and my benchmark beautiful lady!!

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    1. It breaks my heart that you're going to go through it too... You've always been like a sister to me, and now unfortunately, we will have this to share too! I am hear if you need me, anything, anytime... even if I have to get in that damn car, and plug in my new radar detector for a 13 hour drive.... I love you!

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