Change of Direction

Unfortunately not in dancing.

Yesterday I saw the endocrinologist. I hope you never had to experience a doctor telling you that she can’t help you, as that is what happened to me yesterday.  She had a look at all my bloodwork, my history, etc. and told me that other than prescribing a medication for weight loss (which may not be covered by my medical plan), there is nothing she could do for the PMDD, high estrogen levels and low progesterone levels that would not put me at high risk for cancer recurrence.

Needless to say, I left her office feeling pretty defeated and like I would be spending 2 weeks of every month for the next 20 or so years being non-functional, depressed, and sick.  On top of that, after almost 2 years of absence, my period returned signalling a clear sign that I am no longer in ‘chemopause’.

The one thing she did tell me was to go speak with my oncologist, which was the next stop I made.  I haven’t seen him in almost 6 months but I was able to sit down with him and explain everything that was going on.  He was concerned about my estrogen levels being so high, especially while taking hormone therapy as that in itself is a risk for recurrence.

I asked him about returning to taking the progesterone supplements I was taking before diagnosis to balance out the high estrogen levels and he said it would be risky.  Then he suggested something that is a rather newly approved treatment for preventing breast cancer that also coincidentally dramatically lowers estrogen levels–ovarian suppression.

Basically, I am injected with a small ‘pellet’ of medication that shuts off my ovaries and puts me into chemical menopause.  It has the same side effects as menopause (hot flashes, body aches, fatigue, increase risk of osteoporosis), which I experienced over the past 2 years already.  There is an option of an injection 1/month or once every 3 months.  The issue is that once I have been injected, I have to live with the side effects until it wears off.

I did some research on the medication (called zoladex) and discovered it has been used to temporarily treat women with PMDD to see if an oopherectomy would solve their problems.  Many of them reported that despite the menopause side effects, the ovarian suppression dramatically changed their lives–for the better.

Everything about it made sense and I am not willing to live only half my life, so I have decided to go for the ‘hail mary’ and try the injection for one month.  I have to increase my calcium supplements, but other than that, my fingers are crossed.  I was injected this morning.  One unexpected bonus is that the pellet is injected into my belly–where I still have no sensation so I couldn’t feel the injection at all.

I was told to expect an estrogen surge over the next couple days which will make me emotional and achy, but that it will subside.  The surge somehow leads the brain to tell the ovaries to shut down.

So far today, I feel good.  I had a couple hot flashes, but not very intense ones and a few moments of feeling light-headed.  One thing I will say is that around 2 pm I felt almost like a wave of calmness come over me and suddenly I did feel better than I have in over a month.  I have had a few more dizzy and light-headed moments since then, but the calmness seems to be staying–and I hope it lasts.

I can honestly say that there were moments today when I felt more like myself than I have in a very long time.  It seems strange to want to be in menopause, but one thing I can say is that even during chemo and after while the hot flashes were at times very difficult to deal with, overall I felt stable and even.  I hope that this medication will have the same effect on me.

Being in menopause will make my weight likely difficult to manage, but it is hard to say.  I lost my most weight while taking progesterone supplements to balance out the estrogen in my system and that is apparently unusual.  If my medical plan does cover the weight loss medication the endocrinologist prescribed I will try it for 3 months to see if it makes a difference. My family doctor is optimistic they will cover it.  Fingers crossed.

If all goes well, I will be injected again in early January (every 28 days for now), just before the competition I am preparing for.  I am hopeful everything will go well and this won’t interfere too much with the competition or my preparations for it.

I am more than ready to feel better. Even my oncologist told me I was due for something to work out for me, and perhaps the ovarian suppression plus the weight loss medication will be a ‘double whammy’ for me that will allow me to get back to being fully myself.

I feel good about the decision to do ovarian suppression, even though it was a hard one.  Looking to the future, if the suppression is effective I will give serious consideration to having my ovaries removed for a more permanent solution.  It is not ideal, but it would free me from the injections and the PMDD, and while it would cause surgical menopause my body would adjust to it just as it would to natural menopause.

The other thing that happened today was that I was referred back to acupuncture to help with the side effects I will feel, especially the joint and bone pain.  It was really effective for me during chemo and radiation and I am hopeful it will help with how I feel overall.

It’s been a crazy week and it certainly has gone in a different direction than what I expected.  There has been dance this week, I have a new paso routine and some modifications to my rumba routine.  One more lesson tomorrow and rounds practice on Sunday.  I will try to write more about dance and my competition prep soon.

Fingers crossed this is truly the beginning of the end of this long journey.  The past couple weeks have been reflective for me so I will write a bit about that.  I do feel like I am coming out of a shell and resetting and I have some very definite ideas for moving forward after my next competition.

Until next time–wish me luck that this ‘hail mary’ will work….with few side effects.

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Recognizing Anger

I am angry. And I have been for a while.

I very rarely get angry and when I do, I seldom give into it, but sometimes it is healthy to let out the anger and frustration to give it a chance to ‘clear the air’ so you can move past it instead of ignoring it.

So I apologize in advance for the angry post that is about to follow.

My body and I are still not getting along.  Even when good things happen (like being able to stop taking medication I no longer need), my body rebels.  I feel like my body and I have been at odds since before my diagnosis, and in some ways my diagnosis was my body’s way of fighting back against the changes I had been making.

Changes to get healthier.

The year before my diagnosis was one of the most positive years in my life.  I was doing very well at work, I was progressing steadily in dance (even transitioning from bronze to silver), I was steadily losing weight and that was having a positive impact on my body.  I rarely needed medications, and I can’t even remember the last time I saw my doctor other than for a mandatory check-up since sorting out my hormone issues the year before.

I was full of positive momentum and charging forward with it.  It wasn’t free of bumps in the road, but the bumps were easy to work through and I just kept overcoming it.  I could even see myself reaching my weight loss goal and was only 25 lbs from it (considering I had already lost 75, 25 was really not much).

Then I found the lump in my breast and everything changed.

Suddenly, I had no control over my body anymore.  Everything from diet to medications to hormones was taken out of my control and put into the control of my cancer diagnosis.  I kept trying to maintain control by eating a specific diet, trying to stay active and doing as much as I could.

But it wasn’t enough.  My activity level had to be reduced, medications (mainly steroids) that caused weight gain had to be taken, and chemo caused so many food aversions I couldn’t eat the things I had come to rely on in my diet and had to find substitutes.  My hormones were thrown into complete flux, first because I had to stop taking my supplements, then chemo caused premature menopause (which also tends to trigger weight gain).

My body was abused, worn out, and eventually gained 35lbs I had lost (which I have been told is the average for chemo).  After recovering from my surgeries and returning to work, I started working on me again–trying to take back control of my body–and get it back in ‘fighting form’.

But it hasn’t worked.

Over the past few weeks I have been getting angrier and angrier because I have put in a lot of time, effort, and sacrifices, but the result has been the opposite of what I expected.  It just seems like every time I get just a little more control of myself, something happens to take it away from me.  I get sick. I have to adjust medication. I have side effects from medications. I fall. I get injured.

The list seems to go on and on.

And I am very sick of it.

The withdrawal symptoms I started experiencing last week are continuing.  I missed 3 days of work last week and will miss most of this week to try and give my body the chance to flush out the medication and get used to functioning without it again.  One doctor said expect 3-4 weeks, another 7-10 days. At this point, I don’t care how long it takes, I want this over with.  It is almost like the last hurdle I need to get over to really take my life back and it is like I reach the top of it only to discover there is still another summit to go.

I feel like I have been fighting to regain my life for more than 2 years now. And I am tired. I am angry. I am trying not to give up the fight.

I am trying to remember how good it felt to see positive and expected results from hard work. I am trying to remember what it felt like to be strong and confident.  I am trying to remember what it feels like to be me–driven, motivated and full of perseverance.

Perseverance used to be my word. I might not be first or even second, but I was going to finish and I was going to do it the best I could knowing that the work I was doing meant I would be even better next time.  I knew that because I knew if I kept doing my best every time, then my best would just keep getting better.

I don’t feel I can do my best anymore. I feel like that has been taken away from me.  I know what that was and despite so much effort I feel like I am no closer to reaching the goals I was trying to reach before I got sick.  And I am really angry about that.

I feel like I am doing everything I can to help my body get stronger and healthier and it is refusing to respond.  I feel like despite all the work I have done in the past year, I am still where I was this time last year–recovering from radiation and shingles and preparing for the biggest surgery of my life.

My instinct is to try to keep fighting and force my body to cooperate as much as I can.  But in the past 3 weeks, my trainer, my physiotherapist and my doctor have told me I am probably doing too much.

I am angry that the thought of slowing down and giving myself a break puts me in a panic.  I am barely able to maintain my health and weight doing as much as I am–doing less sounds like the road to disaster.

I am angry because it is like cancer was a cruel joke sent to me as a message to tell me that I can’t reach my goals. That my goals are impossible and I am a fool for trying so hard and having faith for so many years.  I have spent my life taking one step forward and two steps back and doing things people told me I would never be able to do.

I am angry because although my mind refuses to quit, my body refuses to cooperate.  A part of me is almost wondering what obstacle it is going to present me with next as a further roadblock to my goals.

I am angry because I want to stay positive. I want to keep pushing. I want to feel like my goals ARE possible.

And I feel like that is out of my control.

I keep telling myself to be patient. I keep telling myself to remember that I have been through a lot. I keep telling myself that if I keep working, it will all come together. I keep telling myself to have faith and trust and just believe that it will work out.

But how long can I keep telling myself these things before I am living in a fantasy world instead of reality? How long is too patient?

I just don’t know if my expectations are unrealistic for the new reality in which I find myself post cancer.  I feel as though I am constantly making compromises to adjust to the changes that have occurred, but I am also questioning at what point do compromises become giving in?  I am angry because I don’t think I have anything left to compromise on, and the only options left to me is to give in completely.

I am angry with myself because I blame myself. Somewhere I didn’t do enough, didn’t try hard enough, haven’t been strong enough.  I am not able to be the person I want to be anymore and I am grieving for that.  I feel as though reality is telling me it’s time to give up my dreams and find new more reasonable ones. I am angry because I am not even really sure what those dreams were any more.  My past hopes seem so naive in comparison with my current reality.

All of this may also be part of the withdrawal symptoms I am undergoing (anger is one of the symptoms listed), but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with, and it doesn’t change that I feel like I have been failing myself.

That is the hardest thing to deal with right now–feeling like I am failing.  Every day I am not able to do everything I want to do and have to adjust or compromise I feel like I am failing.  Like I am not giving myself the best chance.

Before I got sick, I was very used to doing things on my own.  Too independent according to some people.  While I was sick I had to learn the hard way to allow myself to depend on others, and as long as I was sick I was able to justify that.  Now, I am no longer sick and in my head I feel as though I should be able to take care of myself again without having to rely on others.  I feel like I should be able to work through things now without having to inconvenience others.  But I am angry because I feel like an inconvenience to those around me.

I am also angry because I feel like too many of my posts lately have been about my health and less about dance.  I am angry with myself because I feel like there has been a lot of negative coming out of me lately.  And one thing I have never been is a negative person.

So, I am giving myself some time to just be angry. Time to acknowledge that I am angry about a great many things–some in my control, some not. I am giving myself a moment to feel bad and wallow a bit in self-pity and grieve all I have lost.

My hope is to be able to find within myself the courage to regroup once again. To know that eventually I will move beyond these withdrawal symptoms and when I do the future will be waiting for me to grab it and push my way towards it.

I just have to hang on a little bit longer.

Please forgive me for expressing my anger.

Unexpected news

For the men who read this blog, be forewarned–this is going to be a ‘lady’ post.

After 18 months of enduring menopause symptoms, the bloodwork I had done on Monday showed my body is actively trying to return to it’s usual cycle.

That means I was right when I said the symptoms I was having two weeks ago when I felt exhausted, nauseous, headachy, and fuzzy-headed almost seemed like PMS.

In a nutshell, it pretty much was.

It means that any month now, my periods could return and with it regular ovulation.

This means I have to make a big decision about birth control, including whether I want to have a tubal ligation to permanently remove the risk of pregnancy.

It’s one thing to find out that you are no longer fertile due to health complications, it’s another to have to make that choice yourself for health reasons.

I am 37, single, and will be on hormone therapy for at least 5 years.  While taking HT, pregnancy is a big no-no.  When I finish hormone therapy, I will be 42–an age where pregnancy under normal circumstances can be risky.

My doctor is recommending the tubal ligation to eliminate that possible risk to my health.

I am not sure that I am ready to commit to that voluntarily. I have no way of knowing where I will be in my life in 5 years, how my health will be, or what life choices I will want to make at that time.

On the other hand, another option could be a total hysterectomy which would mean changing the HT I am on and going through menopause again.  It would also eliminate the chance of ovarian, cervical and uterine cancer.  Once my body adapted to not having ovaries anymore, my hormones should settle down.

One thing that keeps me on the fence is the PMS symptoms I experience.  They are debilitating and unfortunately uncontrollable (since I can’t take hormones).  4 days out of every month I can expect to be almost non-functional, and I am not sure if preserving my fertility is worth enduring that until my body naturally goes into menopause.  That said, those symptoms may not be ‘normal’ for me and may be changeable as my body works to return to ‘normal’ cycles.  At this point, there is no telling what ‘normal’ is for me.  It could be a 4-week cycle with 4 days of PMS, it could be shorter or longer.

As I have mentioned before, I had issues with hormones for more than a year before I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I was diagnosed with PMDD–Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder–a severe form of PMS to the point where it disrupts regular life.  It is a combination of mental and physical symptoms, but things like difficulty concentrating, anxiety, depression, mood swings, irritability and fatigue are some of the main mood issues.  The symptoms disappear completely the day menstruation starts.  To put it in a nutshell, when I experience these symptoms, I don’t feel like myself and I feel helpless to control how I react and act.  It is like I have to watch while someone else takes over my body for a few days.

This, more than anything else, upsets and makes me anxious about the news that my body is coming out of menopause.  At my worse, these symptoms lasted more than a week, and were occurring every 3 weeks.  Basically I got about 1 week out of month to feel ‘normal’ and like myself.  It affected every area of my life from my relationships to work to dance.

I don’t want to go back there again.

My periods themselves have not yet returned but I have a feeling it’s only a matter of time.  My oncologist actually told me if they do return while on the HT there might be a study for me to join as this is apparently a bit unusual.

It sometimes seems like as soon as I get one thing sorted, another pops up.  A friend of mine summed it up that this is just another ‘inject’ in my life I will have to deal with, and those words are very true.  But he also reminded me I have support.

I still feel like I should apologize in advance to every one I know before my hormones take over.  I hope the specialist will have some palatable options, but I am not looking forward to the decisions I will have to make.

F*&% cancer.

Comp Preparation

3 more weeks until the competition–Yikes!!

I have some good news from this week.  After an exhausting Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (where I didn’t even think it would be safe to drive to practice 😦 ), at about 5 pm on Thursday I suddenly had a complete turn-around and burst of energy which has continued into today.

This turn-around and other symptoms make me strongly suspect that the extreme fatigue, mind fuzziness, difficulty thinking, etc. is actually hormone related.  Looking back, the last time I felt that bad was about 4 weeks ago.  It could be a sign that despite the chemopause and hormone therapy, my body is still trying to be cyclical.  I have noted on my calendar what happened and when, and I am going to see if it happens again in about 4 weeks.  Interestingly, it was the appearance of the full moon that triggered to me that perhaps this is cyclical, and not just a random occurrence, as I remember feeling ‘off’ the last time the moon was almost full.  If I didn’t know better, I would almost think I had a bout of extreme PMS.

That aside, preparations for the competition are continuing.  All the routines are choreographed now, and this week Boss and I spent time running through them and getting them to a point where I can do them mostly from start to finish in preparation for the competitive run-through practice on Sunday.

The latin routines, with the exception of a small piece near the end of the samba I need to remind myself about are in really good shape.  I need to focus in a bit on my styling for them now and focus on working through them ‘all out’.

The standard routines are coming, but taking more work than the latin routines.  Waltz is in the best place right now, with (shockingly) Quickstep just behind followed by tango and Foxtrot.  I have the routines written out now, which seems to be key for me to memorize and understand them, and they are at a place where I should be able to get through them from top to bottom without too much incident.

The biggest thing the standard routines need right now is confidence.  When I get to a part I am not too sure of, I tend to tense up, and then my shoulders hunch, especially my right side.  I also tend to start moving small and cautiously.  Today, we had some spots where I felt confident enough to really ‘let out the gas’, and it is pretty interesting when I do.  My goal is to get to that point through all the routines and hold nothing back.  Boss is working on encouraging me to use my power in standard (while still being controlled), and helping me to really realize what I am capable of.  The more we run through the routines the more I realize how cautious I am normally and how much I hold back, but at the same time, each time I allow myself to really go for it, it is a victory.

I think one of the most challenging things I will encounter at this competition is to keep myself in check and to not ‘overdo’ it by pushing beyond what I can control.  It’s a fine line.  I need to be confident in my movement, but I also need to be able to keep the confidence within the realm of what I can control.

Boss told me 2 weeks ago that he had been reviewing our previous competition videos and that he found it really interesting.  When I asked him why it was interesting, he said he was really looking forward to seeing what will happen once I am in full power and control and at my ‘top form’.  Of the videos from my last 3 competitions, I wasn’t completely 100% for any of them, due to illness or injury.

The entry list for the competition I am doing is out and I was pleasantly surprised to see that in latin I will be against 3 other competitors in most of my single dances, and will have competition in both of my multi-dances.  That is really encouraging and awesome for this competition, considering last year I was alone.  Great growth and kudos to the organizers for that.  In standard I am alone, except possibly in my multi-dance, which takes a little bit of pressure off it.  It’s been quite some time since I have had competition, and it does make me a little nervous as all the students I am against are people who I have neither danced with nor seen previously, but it is exciting nonetheless.

Despite the nervousness, I am just trying to remind myself that the goal of this competition is simply to get the routines on the floor.  If I can do that, mission accomplished!  It’s great though to be excited about a competition, as it’s been a while since I have been.

We didn’t work on the solo this week, but we are supposed to do that on Monday.  I know that the practice on Sunday will certainly highlight the areas that still need some work, and that will likely set the stage for the preparations over the next 3 weeks.

On a different front, my dresses are coming along really well!  I have a fitting tomorrow, and following that they should be at the stage where the stoning will start, to really get them towards the final product.  The third dress should be started as well (the smooth dress), and I am excited to see all three!  I am also having a skirt made for my solo, so I am hoping there is a little bit of progress on that too as I think it will be useful to practice with it as soon as I can (no pressure to my awesome dressmaker!!).

So along with a debut of new open silver routines, I am also going to be debuting two new dresses, a new solo routine with a new skirt.  Lots of exciting things happening!

I am nervous for the rehearsal on Sunday.  It’s been more than a year since I have done any of these practices and I am not entirely sure I have the endurance to be up to the challenge.  I am going to try my best though!  I was joking with Boss tonight that my goal for Sunday is to get through everything without falling down–although I think I was more than half serious!  His goal is for me to do things ‘compact’ the first round and then to ‘open up the gas’ for the second one.  Interesting how we have different perspectives :). We will see who has the best predictions.

It’s been a while since I have been in full ‘competition prep mode’ and I am finding the change refreshing.  I think even seeing that I have actual competition in some of my heats has helped to motivate me some.  Lots to do, but I think for the goals I hope to achieve with this competition, I am in a good place.

By the way–tomorrow is my one year anniversary for my last radiation treatment!

Tangoing out

I felt marginally better today.

I did make it to my lesson, and Boss and I worked on the smooth tango routine given to me by the visiting pro and finally got it recorded so we won’t forget it.  We actually got what we had (which is about 1/2 a routine) to the point where we could do it in time with the music.  It was fun to work on and a good distraction.

I also finally heard from the oncologist directly today.  He told me he doesn’t know why the menopause symptoms have come back even though I have been taking medication to control them, but that it was a definite sign that my ovaries are ‘dead’.

Not shocking news as it has been more than a year now since they showed any signs of starting to work again.  Still a little hard to hear at 37.

Thankfully, he decided that instead of adding a new medication, it would be best to increase the dose on the one I am already taking to see if that helps to control the menopause symptoms.  I like this strategy much better.

Having to increase the dose and get these symptoms under control means there will be a delay to my trying the hormone therapy again.  It takes almost 1 month for the medication to reach full effectiveness and my oncologist wants to get my symptoms as much under control as possible before I start the HT which causes the same symptoms to be worse.

I will see the oncologist next at the end of May and we will go from there.  The plan is to still start the HT at 1/2 dose and see how it goes.

I am still nervous for my surgery on Friday but I am really hoping it goes well and finally it will be the end of complications and that there will be an end in sight.  I have decided to look forward as though all will be well and on the timeline I have been given and that when I return to dance in June I will be able to really commit myself and focus on moving forward.

Boss told me today that I will have an opportunity to do my silver tests in August, so that is something to look forward to for sure.  I have some small plans for how I want to rebuild and I hope I will be able to carry them out.

I don’t know if I will dance tomorrow night before my surgery, but I hope I will have an opportunity.  Just waiting to hear from Boss on that.

Endurance, issues?

I had a social dance last night and competitive practice today.

Both actually went pretty good.  I did a lot of dancing last night at the social dance, but the biggest surprise was that I was able to do a full-on jive with one of more advanced leaders in the community and I made it through the whole song.  It was early in the night, but I did the jive, cha cha and a rumba back to back and that felt great.

Unfortunately, I started tiring out pretty quickly after that and by the end of the night my back and shoulders were so tired and aching I could barely hold a standard frame.  But overall, it was definitely an improvement from previous weeks.

competitive practice today actually went pretty well.  Boss is working on getting me to relax my frame some in standard to allow myself to do and follow the swing and sway he is leading and somewhere after the first foxtrot it ‘clicked’ together.  Because I wasn’t so focused on holding my frame tight I was able to notice when he was leading sway and once I noticed I was able to react to it.  I started taking the opportunity to move through the sway and stretch myself into the movement.  Basically I told myself if I am going to do it, then I should try to do as much as I can.

I didn’t tell Boss what I was doing, but he commented about seeing a difference, especially in foxtrot, so that’s a small win for me :).

He also told me my fallaway position in tango was much improved and that I should try to do the same thing in some of my other promenade moves where I am not doing the same thing.  I have no idea when I sorted out my fallaway position since I hadn’t actively worked on it, but it seems to be one of those things that stuck from one of my coaching lessons back in July I have been trying to do since.  That happens sometimes.  Once I tried adding it to the other steps, they all made more sense.

He also got me to add ‘swing’ to my natural turns in Viennese Waltz, and to think of opening up my steps leading into lock steps in quick step, whether forward or backwards.  Both of these are going to need to take some processing, but I will let my subconscious work on them.

The one thing that did upset me was my endurance.  While better than previous weeks in some dances, other dances it was not so much.  The most difficult thing was that I literally went from 100% to 0 in the space of two steps and had to stop or risk falling down.  I got dizzy really easy today.  That said, I could also tell I was working harder today than I have been able to do at previous practices.  Endurance issues aside, today was the first time in a long time I could see a glimmer of the physically strong dancer I used to be, and that is encouraging.

Latin also went really well today.  For some reason it surprises me that Boss is so enthusiastic and excited about my latin right now.  He has some definite ideas about how he wants to make small changes to my routines to make them ‘open silver’ and he mentioned some of them today.  I could tell he has been giving it some serious thought.  As long as the ideas stay mostly in his head, it is hard for me to get as excited, but I am looking forward to seeing what he has in mind.

Today may have been my last practice before my surgery because there won’t be competitive practice next week due to hall conflicts.  There are some other options for practice we might use, so I will have to see what Boss comes up with for suggestions.

I am a little sad that in the last 2 practices some things have really ‘clicked’ together in standard that is giving it some momentum it was lacking previously and I don’t want to lose that.  It’s been a while since I have felt good about standard and like I am doing something other than maintaining the status quo.

I have adjusted to the idea of being in menopause and that the symptoms aren’t likely to go away any time soon.  I think that is what I was mostly upset about–I was hoping the bloodwork might show an ‘end’ to the hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue, weakness, achiness, and insomnia.  It’s been a while since I have slept through a full night without waking up with severe night sweats.  I am hoping when I restart the hormone therapy in January that might help regulate things and let my body adjust.  The activity helps a lot, so in case I needed another reason to dance, I have one 🙂

I have a busy week ahead.  Tomorrow is my pre-surgery mammogram to just make sure there are no ‘surprises’ when I have my surgery requiring them to do more than they expect.  Hard to imagine the surgery is less than two weeks now.  I am starting to get to a point where I am asking myself ‘Am I really going to do this?’

Yep, I am and it is getting more real every day.  Thankfully I have some good friends who are helping to keep me distracted and 4 dance lessons 🙂

Uneasy news

I had some bloodwork run last week to look into some of the things that are ongoing since chemo.

Just a warning, this post is going to be a ‘cancer’ post and not about dance.

I got the results today, and while I am fine in general, I am not really sure how to process this news.  I should have known, but I guess part of me was hoping for something different.

My bloodwork confirmed that I am in menopause.  I am 36, single and have no kids.

It is unclear right now if it is permanent or temporary and all we can do is wait to see what happens in the next 18 months.

I have been having extremely intense full body hot flashes since about a month after I finished chemo.  I think part of me was thinking it was a sign that my ovaries were waking back up after chemo and trying to get back to normal.  According to my bloodwork, they aren’t even stirring.  From a cancer point of view, it is actually a good thing because my body is not producing any hormones for cancer to feed off of.  I will still re-start the hormone therapy in January as planned because nothing is confirmed.

My doctor explained that sometimes, it just takes the body a little longer to get back to normal after chemo.  But at the same time, I knew before I started chemo that this was a possibility.  We even discussed whether or not I wanted to freeze some eggs, just in case, although my doctor recommended against it because I would have had to take a high dose of cancer-feeding hormones before harvesting.

I guess my head is just spinning a bit with this news.  There is still a chance it is temporary and it’s only been 6 months since chemo.  I guess sometimes you don’t realize how much something matters to you until it is not there.  There was a time in my life that having children was a real possibility, but that didn’t work out.  And while it is not something that was sitting imminently on my radar, I guess I hadn’t completely ruled out that possibility for the future.  I suppose it still is possible that my ovaries might get the message my brain keeps trying to tell them–hey wake up we are only 36!

I think one of the most difficult things about this is that all I can do is wait.  There is nothing that can really be done to even help with the symptoms I am experiencing.  I can’t take the usual hormone replacement therapy because my cancer likes to eat hormones.  I just have to stick it out and hope it gets better with time.  It’ll help when I can get a little more active again I hope.

So, not the end of the world, but certainly not what I expected or was hoping for.  I guess in some ways I feel like cancer may have made some more life choices for me and I resent that.  In some ways, this is another reminder that no matter how hard I try to get back to how things were ‘before’, it is impossible.  I can only move forward.

On a different note, I went to buy some post-surgery clothes today, including giant button-up shirts and drawstring pants to wear while I recover.  All of it, by coincidence is in a plaid pattern.  And all of it is going to clash together.  I am really going to be hard on the eyes for a couple weeks :).

Only time can tell how I will come through this, but I will come through this.  I will adjust.  Life is never a straight path but full of twists and turns, all of which are navigable, some of which are unexpected.  It will be interesting to see what I write a year from now and how different I will be from the person I am now.

That’s how growth happens.  We take the good with the bad and move forward.

Sunday Reflections

Yes, I know it is Monday.

I was too tired to write yesterday after I got home, so I saved these thoughts for today.

Yesterday was a good day.  I wasn’t feeling too bad and I got through most of a competitor’s practice.  The main thing was that I got through almost all of the standard and it didn’t go to bad.  Boss has me working on relaxing my upper body while still holding myself together from my lets through my core to allow for swing and sway and it seems to be working.  I am also more aware of when I am pulling back my right arm–to the point that I am now almost overcorrecting.  But it’s progress, which I really need in standard right now.

After practice yesterday I took some time to sit down by the ocean and look at the mountains and just think.  A year ago I was in Toronto competing and was named ‘Top Female Student’ for that competition.  I had found the lump in my breast and I was waiting for an ultrasound to tell me what it was.  I was working full-time and incredibly busy getting ready for Remembrance Day. I had no idea my life was about to change so much.

Looking back, it is hard to think that really it has only been a year. It seems so much longer right now.  It seems strange that it is November, the leaves are changing, the clocks have changed and I am still dealing with breast cancer and waiting for it to be over.

It occurred to me yesterday that all along I have been waiting for everything to go back the way it was.  And even though I have always known it never will be, part of me is still hoping and waiting that I will wake up and it will be ok.  I will get up and put on my uniform and go to work.  I will go to workout at the gym.  I will practice. I will work some more. I will go to the studio and have a lesson. I will practice some more. I will come home, shower and go to sleep.  Seems so simple, doesn’t it?

I guess yesterday it dawned on me that I have to put that part of myself to bed.  Even when I do return to work and know I am cancer-free, I will not be the same.  I will be a survivor.  I have learned things about myself in the past year I never thought I would know.  I have discovered I am stronger than I ever thought possible and that I can be an inspiration to others.

This last thing is the most surprising for me.  When I started on this journey, I just wanted to get through it and find a way to keep myself focused.  At first I wasn’t even sure who to tell or how much to tell.  Then it occurred to me that if I planned to live an active life through chemo then I would have to tell those I saw regularly, because it would become obvious when my hair fell out.  In a way I felt I had a choice to either try and hide what was going on by hiding myself away, or I could face it and be active throughout it all.  I chose the latter and I am very grateful I did.  Just telling people helped to make this all seem real to me.

Getting shingles has really brought reality crashing to my door.  Even through chemo and radiation I have not felt so sick, tired, and sore.  I think it is hardest right now because this is supposed to be the time when I would feel the most like myself.  I am supposed to be able to dance regularly and be active and almost like ‘normal’.  Instead I feel more worn out than I ever have in my life.  The good news is that I seem to finally be coming to the end of the shingles.

I had a ‘pre-op’ appointment today, the second of three, but this one really drove home that in just over 3 weeks I am going to have major surgery.  I was given bandages for dressing changes, medications for pain control, and other things to prepare for the surgery and after.  Suddenly, the surgery is becoming real.  I have my third ‘pre-op’ appointment on Wednesday and that will also bring home a lot of things as it is with the Plastic surgeon.

I had some bloodwork done today because it seems something is not quite right with my hormones.  Despite not being on hormone therapy and almost 5 months post-chemo, I am still have regular and intense hot flashes and my body is not showing any signs of returning to what is expected of a 36-year-old woman.  So they are checking to see if the chemotherapy may have triggered early menopause.  If it has, there will be more decisions for me to make and it may mean a difference in what hormone therapy I do.

They are also sending me for an MRI of my breasts to have a look and see what is going on to try and reduce any ‘surprises’ during surgery.  In particular, they are just making sure that my left breast is still healthy and normal to confirm that there is no need to take any lymph nodes from my left side during the surgery.  There is no reason to think that there will be any problems in either breast.  But it still makes me nervous.

I don’t have a lesson today because Boss asked to move it so he could prepare better for working on the smooth waltz and tango later in the week.  Since I am having a lot of pain from the shingles I was more than eager to agree to take the night off.  I am looking forward to working more on the smooth routines, but I really want to be feeling better overall to do it.

Before my surgery, I am going to ask Boss to sit down and have a look at post-surgery goals to lay them out and make sure we are on the same page.  I will write them in my Book of Positives so I have them for after.  Already he has mentioned about adding open steps to my silver routines to make them more ‘open silver’ and more competitive for competing in open categories where there aren’t any step restrictions.  Among other things, I think he has enjoyed working on the solos in the past while and wants to keep moving on that momentum and I am eager to agree.  I like getting outside the box.

So as I looked back yesterday, I guess I realized I need to make some small adjustments to looking forward.  I need to find the ‘new normal’ and keep hanging in there.  It surprises me that after everything I have been through–it is shingles, not cancer, that I am struggling with the most, and is proving to be the most difficult to manage and get through.

But slowly I am getting through it.

Things I need to remember are temporary…

…at least for the next 3 1/2 weeks until chemo is over, and they should slowly start to disappear and stop being ‘normal’:

  • Sore teeth
  • Rusty nail taste in my mouth
  • Sore nails and swollen toes
  • Sore sinuses and bloody noses
  • Aching all over
  • Needing 3 naps in a day
  • ‘Chemopause’
  • ‘Chemo Brain’ and a 15 minute attention span
  • Hot flashes
  • Not being able to get warm and having chills
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Really slow hair growth (ok, some places I can live with this!)
  • numb and tingling fingers and toes
  • Insomnia
  • Alligator dry skin
  • Needing to take my temperature every day
  • My port (it’s a silicone disc inserted in the chest under the skin to make it easier to deliver IV meds)
  • CHEMOTHERAPY

It’s amazing how one’s mind and body can adapt. I have 3 treatments left and after 5 months of dealing with these side effects I have just become accustomed to them.  There are probably others I don’t even realize.  I have come to realize that the last two weeks leading to my last two treatments (July 3, and 10th) are going to probably be the longest and hardest 2 weeks of my life.  I will be so close….and yet so far.  At least this week I have the showcase on Saturday to look forward to and lessons to keep me busy preparing for it.

I had an extra one tonight–I will let you know about it tomorrow 🙂