My last one, was my last one – Part 2

Tuesday, April 23, 2019 continued. Em and I got on the elevator. I could feel the emotion beginning to swell and whirl around me like a warm summer breeze. It made me light-headed. I was on my way to say goodbye to a group of caregivers I’d come to love in a deep and soulful way. They watched over me and cared for me as I allowed myself to be infused with mean and nasty liquids that seeped into every part of me leaving me shrunken, weakened, vulnerable, fragile, nauseous, brain-addled and bald with sensitive skin. They were careful that every ounce of pre-meds they gave were for me, scanning my wristband for each. They had me double-check that my name and birthdate were on the bags of the Taxol and Carboplatin they administered. They constantly asked if I was okay, did I need a warm blanket, something to drink.

Em sat with me as Caroline removed the access line from my port, and we all rejoiced with broad smiles that I was finished with chemo. Steve came off the elevator with the gift bag and the three of us went into the infusion area to find Lisa and the other oncology nurses.

tulipsI’ve been thinking about my oncology nurses a lot. They truly are angels on earth. And I wanted to express my appreciation with a little token of thanks—a beautiful plate of dried fruit and nuts along with a couple bottles of Prosecco. You know, something good and sweet and nutritious. And something a little naughty, because we all need to cut loose once in awhile and those oncology nurses deserve it. I included a card that had a lovely little illustration of a black and white cat with shimmering angel wings sitting face forward. Inside I wrote:

My Angels,

I just can’t say it enough—thank you for taking such good care of me these past few months.

Your patient, kind and nurturing attention provided me a safe environment to battle with this demon called cancer. In spite of the grim circumstances, every Tuesday you made me laugh and feel at ease.

I don’t know how you do what you do every day. I’m just grateful to my core that you chose this profession and that I, like so many others, are the benefactors.

Be well. I’ll miss you.

With love,

Lana Eberhard
4.23.19

My announcement that my time with them had come to an end was met with laughter and celebratory hugs and tears. Lots of tears. I told them I loved them and I would miss them. They were all so happy for me. It was hard to walk away, but we did. We were headed home from infusion for the last time. True recovery had begun.

Sometimes our fate resembles a fruit tree in winter. Who would think that those branches would turn green again and blossom? But we hope it; we know it. —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

My last one – Part 1

tulipMonday, April 22, 2019. I woke up thinking, “Tumor Board Day. I think they meet at 9a. Hopefully Rugo will call this afternoon but it will most likely be this evening because I’m sure her schedule will be filled with appointments. Hell, maybe she won’t call at all. Maybe she’ll have one of her NP’s call instead. What if they want me to do AC? What if they think the tumor is inoperable? What if… Okay. Stop it. Take a breath. Take two. Try to relax. She’ll call when she calls. I know Rugo is on my side on this. She’s going to advocate for surgery. I just have to get through today and tomorrow’s chemo, and then whatever happens, happens.”

It was before noon when my cell phone rang. It was a 415 area code. I answered, and it was Dr. Rugo. She said the tumor board agreed that surgery would be the next step in my treatment regimen. The MRI showed that the tumor has decreased in size significantly but it did not dissolve completely. If surgery didn’t get all the remnants, radiation might be an option. I told her that was exactly what we were hoping to hear. And she said, “Me, too!” She sounded relieved, an emotion she hadn’t expressed before. It made me feel happy that she felt the same way that I did. Relieved. She went on to say that Dr. Ewing would be calling to set an appointment for me to come in and talk with her about the surgery. I said, “Great. Thank you, Dr. Rugo. This is really good news.”

One more chemo, then a few weeks of recovery, then surgery, then recovery from that, then maybe radiation. Then…then I get my life back. I GET MY LIFE BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, April 23, 2019. I wake up thinking, “It’s my last chemo day.” Number 14. And I thought the most I would do was 3. But guess what? It worked. The poison shrunk my tumor. It made it operable. That along with your healing thoughts and prayers and good wishes.

Steve and I left the house around 1030a for my 140p blood draw appointment. It was a gorgeous day. Not a lot of traffic. We rode in silence. Deep in our thoughts. Trying to wrap our brains around the fact that this really was my last infusion. My last one…ever. I don’t think I’m jinxing myself by saying that. It just helps me to believe that it’s true.

During our drive, Dr. Ewing’s scheduler Kim called to set an appointment for Friday at 1:30p. I asked if we could delay it a week since Fridays are my worst days after chemo, and I was having my last treatment today. She said, no problem and scheduled me for 1:20p on May 3.

Lovely Caroline did my blood draw. Caroline has been part of my treatment team since my very first chemo. She is a wealth of information and I was happy to have her be the one who drew my blood today. I love her accent. British. She is super competent…they all are. So she put the access line into my port, drew a couple vials of blood, taped me up, and then gave me a big hug in honor of my last chemo day. She’s awesome. Then I watched as she walked my blood over to the lab.

We had about 45 minutes to kill before my 240p infusion appointment. I had a couple questions I wanted to ask Em (Rugo’s super-star scheduler). So we went to the second floor. When I asked for her at the reception desk, Gabe said she was in the back, and he would give her a call. After a brief conversation, he let me know she was in the middle of something but would see me in a few minutes. It took longer than a few minutes, but when Em did come out and after a big hug, we sat down in the reception area to talk. I told her I had a couple questions the first was if I was still going to get an appointment to see Rugo on May 8, the second was when do I get my port out (it can be removed at the time of surgery), the third was do I need to get a blood draw when I see Dr. Ewing as Rugo requested (yes, Em would get it scheduled)?

Then she told me that my chemo for today had been cancelled. That my last chemo, was my last chemo. Not today, but the one on April 16. I couldn’t believe it. I was happy, of course. But I was expecting to have chemo. My mindset was just going through all the steps to get to chemo. Number 14. My last one. She said, “Aren’t you happy? You’re done with chemo.” I did a little two-handed fist pump and said, “No more chemo! Yeah! I’m just a little stunned.” I looked at Steve and said, “I mean we drove all the way down here for nothing.” Em said, “I’m sorry. I dropped the ball. I just saw the order to cancel today’s appointment right before I came out. Someone should have called you yesterday. Dr. Rugo didn’t say anything when she called.” I told her, “No, it never came up. We were just excited about the surgery news. I wish she had said something. I guess I need to go up and get this access line removed.” I stood up, and Em said, “I’ll go with you.” I looked at Steve and asked him to go to the car and get the gifts I’d brought for the oncology nurses. He said he’d meet us on the fifth floor.

To make the best use of what is in your power, take the rest as it happens. —Epictetus

 

It’s amazing what a little extra blood can do

Thursday, April 18, 2019. It was nice to have a week off from chemo, even though I never did feel like I fully recovered. I was tired and weak the entire time. Not like the last time I skipped a week, and I actually started to feel normal. I’m sure it’s the cumulative effects of the 12 chemo treatments I’d had so far catching up with me.

I did have a little adventure while I recuperated. I drove myself to Redwood Valley for a Saturday brunch with a few dear friends. I haven’t driven since I started chemo in early January, so admittedly I was a tiny bit nervous. Which for me was weird since I’ve been commuting long distances for 17 years. That said, I had a wonderful time. It is so healing to connect with people face-to-face and not have every conversation be about the “C” word. I was pretty worn out by the time I got home, but it was so worth it.

I had my third MRI on Monday. And since I had an appointment with Dr. Rugo and a chemo treatment scheduled the next day, Steve and I spent the night in Novato. We had to be at UCSF by 1p for my MRI, and I was feeling a bit anxious since my last MRI experience was not so great. So about half an hour before we arrived I took a half a Valium. I don’t know if it was the Valium or what, but everything went super smooth and for some reason didn’t seem to take as long.

We didn’t have to be at UCSF on Tuesday until 1140a, so we slept in and had a leisurely breakfast. Such a treat compared to getting up and having to leave our place by 8:30a for our 3-hour drive to the City.

My appointment with Rugo was scheduled for 1p…and she was actually, almost, right on time. That was a first. Up to that point, our shortest wait was an hour and a half. Her NP (nurse practitioner) this week was Sarah. Very likable. Big smile. Very thorough  and a good listener. The first thing we asked was if there were any preliminary results from the MRI. There weren’t. So that was disappointing. She did let me know that she was concerned about how low my red blood cells were. She recommended that I get a unit of blood, and said, with my permission, she would talk to Dr. Rugo about it. She informed me of the very rare risks of having the transfusion (especially since I would not be getting my own blood) and had me sign a release. I would be given the blood as part of my infusion. And I would be watched closely for any adverse reactions. I’ve never had a transfusion before, so the thought of it made me a little nervous. 

Our meeting with Dr. Rugo was pretty routine. We talked about the April 22 tumor board meeting and what we hoped the outcome would be. We all agreed that surgery was our top priority. Rugo did talk to me about the possibility of doing one or two more rounds of chemo after I had recovered from surgery for a couple weeks. However, it would be the really nasty stuff—Adriamycin and Cytoxin (AC). Honestly, I’m hoping it’s a decision I won’t have to make. The argument is that the Taxol/Carbo has not completely dissolved the tumor between the muscles, and the surgery might not get it all either. If it doesn’t, the cancer will return. AC would kill any remaining cancer cells. It’s a strong argument, but the side effects (both short- and long-term) are especially frightening. I don’t know if I can even go theresteve

So I got my infusion (#13), although a smaller dose of Carbo than normal. And I got some blood. Getting the blood added an hour and a half to my treatment time, so we didn’t leave the infusion center until 8p and got home just before 11p. LOOOOOONG Day. Getting the blood gave me an amazing energy boost for a couple of days. My renewed energy level did start diminishing on Thursday afternoon, but my typical “bad” Friday wasn’t so bad this week.

Next up. One final chemo on Tuesday (#14). More importantly, the tumor board meeting on Monday morning. Rugo said she would call me after and let me know the group’s consensus. Fingers crossed, they will recommend moving forward with surgery. I’ll keep you posted.

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase. — Martin Luther King Jr.