Wednesday, November 18, 2020. I know. I know. It’s been awhile. The state of my brain on chemo just hasn’t had the energy, creativity, or motivation to write. It seems like every day is just like the one before—Groundhog’s Day syndrome. Most days, the only things that change are the clothes I wear and what I eat. That’s in my own little bubble of a world, of course. The world at large…well that’s a conversation for a different blog and with someone who has a helluva lot more energy than me.
This is my 19th “chemo on” week. I’ve been taking Xeloda since March 21 of this year. The regimen is 7 days on, two 500 mg tablets twice a day. For me that’s 8:30 in the morning and 8:30 at night. With this medication you need to eat something within half an hour of the dose. I have a FitBit smart watch. During my “on” weeks, I have the alarms set for 8:00a (eat) and 8:30a (meds). Twelve hours later I repeat the routine when my arm alarm vibrates at 8:00p (eat) and 8:30p (meds). It’s annoying, but it works. In the beginning, I used to wear my watch even on my off weeks. You know how these smart watches are. It can check your pulse, monitor your sleep patterns, use Bluetooth to listen to Pandora, alert you when your phone gets a new text message…the features and options go on and on. All in this little over 1-inch square, smart-ass device. Eek! However, for the last few months, when it is my chemo off week, I take the damn thing off. I’m so over all of it. Exhausted. Spent. Done.
Instead of letting myself focus on all that’s wrong or could be wrong, I have become more devoted to doing some sort of meditation every day. I used to meditate off and on in the past, and it was always beneficial for me mentally and emotionally. I liked it, but like most things I missed a practice or two and then just stopped. I decided to begin practicing again when my next MRI was scheduled for November 17 (yes, yesterday). I have a bit of PTSD from that bad MRI experience I had in 2019 . There’s anxiety attached to the procedure, and I thought a more dedicated meditation routine might help.
I started out listening to one of Calm‘s guided meditations on my tablet, or I would listen to sleep meditation sounds at bedtime. Then I discovered Jeff Warren’s 30-day course called “How to Meditate” on the Calm app. From the first 10-minute session it felt like I’d made a new friend. Typically I would listen/practice in the late evening. It felt like a treat I gave myself every day. The kind of self-medication that’s good for you. Although I’ve finished the course, I go back and revisit my favorites. It’s like making sure I have all my tools available just in case I need some extra attention or repair.
As I said, most of my days mirror one another. Yesterday, however, was not one of my mirror days, except that it is a “chemo on” week. Making the long trip to UCSF Mission Bay to have a blood draw, followed by a bilateral breast MRI, followed by a meeting with Dr. Rugo had me exhausted before we ever pulled out of the garage.
Last year, when we were driving to UCSF every Tuesday for chemo treatments, it would inevitably be raining…hard. Really hard. Like zero visibility hard. So yesterday, as we pulled onto the road to begin our 3-hour journey, it seemed almost poetic that it was a Tuesday and raining.
The good news was that on this visit Steve was able to accompany me to each of my appointments. Nine months ago, the COVID thing had restricted him from even coming in the facility. Three months ago he could get screened and get a pass to use the bathroom or go to the cafeteria. Yesterday it was unbelievably comforting to come out of the blood lab and see him sitting there waiting for me. When he escorted me to the second floor to check in for the MRI he gave me a big hug when they called me in. Well, that just threw a soothing warm blanket on the anxiety I was feeling. But best of all, when I walked into the waiting area for my appointment with Rugo and he was there, my heart was smiling. And that smile got even bigger when he was allowed to come with me for my examination and meeting with Dr. Rugo. It felt like a privilege, something I will never take for granted again.
Even though having Steve at my side, instead of waiting in the car for hours, was so far beyond awesome, the best moments of the day were yet to come.
First, all of my blood work was perfect. My red blood count was a little low, which accounts for my chronic fatigue. The Xeloda just has not kicked my immune system’s ass as hard as the more hard core chemicals (Adriamycin, Taxol, and Carboplatin) did—even though I’ve been taking it every day, every other week since March. That’s 18+ “on-weeks” that I’ve taken 2000 mg of oral chemo tablets, twice a day. The only time I didn’t was during my five week stint of radiation. My doses were cut in half on the three “chemo on” weeks that fell within that period. So far I’ve ingested 244,000 mg of this cancer destroying poison…and have never missed a dose.
The MRI went really smoothly. I drew on all the meditation tools Jeff gave me as well as a tiny bit of anti-anxiety medication. In the 45 minutes I was in the machine, I never felt overwhelmed by the noise or having to lie motionless. Most of the time I was able to keep my mind calm and focused on my breath. There were actually a couple times that I came close to nodding off! I was even successful at simply noticing the bombardment of sounds that surrounded me with curiosity rather than letting them overwhelm. The meditation (and the medication) really helped.
After a nearly hour delay, we met with Dr. Rugo and someone new to me, a lovely young woman named Dr. Hufford, a UCSF fellow. Dr. Hufford examined me first, then a bit later Dr. Rugo came in and also gave me a quick examination. We talked a bit about the small mass that we discovered just before my last visit, and agreed to keep an eye on it. Then it was time to get the BIG question of the day answered, when can I stop taking the Xeloda? It was such a relief to hear her say that all I had to do was finish this week and the treatment was complete. Sweet! So sweet I could taste it. We also asked about the MRI results, but the “wet report” wasn’t available yet. So we headed home with a lingering question. Was I clear?
Finally, nearly an hour into our long journey home, my smart watch buzzed that I had a new message in MyChart. So I got on my tablet and logged in. There was a message from Dr. Rugo’s office. “MRI looked good! Just released it to you.” I clicked on the link and pulled up the MRI report.
“RIGHT Breast: Post surgical scarring of the right breast. No abnormal area of enhancement or other MRI features of malignancy identified.
LEFT Breast: No abnormal areas of enhancement or other MRI features of malignancy identified.
OTHER: Post surgical change of the right axilla. Otherwise the axillae, skin and chest wall structures appear unremarkable.”
In other words, my breasts are unremarkable. Isn’t that fantastic?
Tomorrow belongs to those who can hear it coming. —David Bowie