On the Threshold of Spring

“How are you feeling?”

I’ve come to hate that question. When I know it’s coming, I brace myself for it. I run through potential answers in my head, tossing some aside, tweaking others until I settle upon a response. Like a bald Goldilocks, it often takes a few tries these days until something feels just right.

“How are you feeling?”

However reclusive I may be lately, I still can’t avoid that question. It finds its way to me via email and voicemail, text and Facebook message. Even when the question isn’t posed to me directly, it’s lying there under the surface, expectant, waiting. It’s not that I don’t want people to know how I’m doing, feeling, performing, surviving. I’m an open person who often teeters on the edge of TMI. A natural health geek and certified health coach, I’ve chosen to share intimately about my healing journey. But how to simplify the enormity of this experience into a response well suited to answer that question? That’s what plagues me.

“How are you feeling?”

That question didn’t use to bother me so much. In my early stages of cancer treatment, I think the answer was simpler. In the month between diagnosis and chemotherapy, I self-treated the cancerous tumors I found in my breast. With the help of an array of natural healing modalities and supplements, I managed to create a fever in my chest. When the fever burned off, the tumors felt different—their energy had shifted, they felt less firm. Five days later I had 15 needles inserted into my breast and underarm during a biopsy procedure. The swelling from that procedure masked any tumor activity for nearly three weeks. On July 12th I started chemo as part of a clinical trial. On July 17th I noticed that the swelling from the biopsies had finally retreated, and I couldn’t feel the tumors anymore. My oncologist confirmed what I felt at my next appointment, but I would have to wait for statistical confirmation. That came on November 28, 2017 when my surgeon called to inform me that I had a “pathologic complete response” (PCR) to the pre-surgery treatments—no cancerous cells were left in the breast tissue or four lymph nodes removed from my body.

“How are you feeling?”

My attitude towards the last half of 2017 was “GFY cancer,” and “we shall overcome.” I dyed my hair platinum blonde, wore fun socks to chemo, participated fully in life. As part of a clinical trial, I joked that I was a poster child for the future of cancer care. The chemo drug I received was a targeted treatment, it went straight to the cancer cells and left the rest of my body mostly alone. Between July 12 and October 25 I received six infusions over 15 weeks. I hung onto my hair, managed my side effects with supplements, and had plenty of time between chemo sessions to schedule my complementary treatments (massage, acupuncture, naturopathic doctor, etc.). The more infusions I had, the more the exhaustion and neuropathy built, but with only a 6-treatment protocol, it was over before the side effects felt too overwhelming.

“How are you feeling?”

If you posed that question to me last year you likely found me full of confidence and light, empowered and inspired by the journey I was on. With all the great stuff going on, how could I help but have a positive response? Plus, it was summer and fall, and we New Englanders are always a bit more optimistic when the weather is nice. I was healing, Dylan was healing, our family had a short respite where we knew what was coming and we knew we could handle it. Looking back now I can see how much I savored those days.

We knew there would be more treatments after surgery. We knew that those treatments, a standard chemotherapy protocol, would be the most difficult on my body. Why keep treating if the cancer cells were gone? Simply put, this is my long-term insurance policy to not have the cancer come back. Every human who faces down cancer must also choose the tools we will use in our quest for healing. It’s an incredibly personal choice, and sometimes the weapons we choose to fight the cancer end up turning on us in the heat of battle. I’ve relied on my years of training as a health warrior to sustain me through the long months of treatment, and it has. But I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge the toll that these last few months have taken on me.

“How are you feeling?”

Today marks the eve of my last chemotherapy treatment. From this vantage point, I can see what a loaded question that is. “How are you feeling?” The short answer: I’m okay. The truthful answer: It’s incredibly complicated.

As often as I remember, I feel grateful for the fact that I’m still here. I’m winning the battle. My weapons of choice have not turned on me. Although uncomfortable and inconvenient, the side effects I’m experiencing are so far not threatening my long-term health in any way. Although expensive, this experience will not bankrupt us.

For 11 weeks straight I’ve reported to duty at the Milford Dana Farber, 30 minutes from home. I submit to blood draws, report on side effects, chat with my nurse. Since 1/2/18, Chemo Tuesdays have been my constant, the one thing I can count on…except when last week’s blizzard moved my treatment to Wednesday. New England problems.

According to my doctors and nurses and complementary therapists, I’m sailing through treatment. My body has handled the chemo drugs well, I don’t resemble the typical cancer patient. I have plenty of fuzz on my shaved head, my eyebrows and eyelashes are diminished but intact.

“How are you feeling?”

The challenge with cancer treatment is that it doesn’t exist in a bubble. I have a life, obligations, a bucket list. There are creatures in my care, humans and animals who require daily attention, whether I feel up to it or not. Acutely aware of the impact this illness and its treatment can have on my children, I do my best to shield them. I show up to school events, celebrate birthdays, vow to keep their lives as normal as possible. I do as much as I can, as well as I can, hoping that it’s enough, retreating when it feels like it’s too much. Despite my best efforts, I leave some disappointment in my wake. I pray that any damage is reversible. I try to remember that it won’t always be like this, soon this will feel like a distant memory. I often forget.

Life didn’t pause when I started these 12 weeks of chemo. These last 12 weeks have been some of the most difficult of my life, even without the chemo. I’ve mourned the loss of a father-in-law and watched my family grieve. I’ve watched my children struggle with health issues, some known to us, some still uncertain. I’ve made urgent calls to two different vets, for two different animals, learned that guinea pigs can get breast cancer too (more often when they’re inbred), and that elderly cats sometimes faint from getting up too quickly. Aiming to be proactive, I planned rest days and spa days and days to do my taxes, only to have them superseded by wind storms and snow days and days with no power. Over and over again I’ve been reminded of the fragility of life and the uncertainty of tomorrow. Painfully present to “this moment is all that I have,” yet spending my days waiting for time to pass, waiting for spring, waiting for tomorrow.

Tomorrow is here.

 

 

 

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3.19.18 On the Threshold of Spring

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About Natural Mama Notes

I hold many passions; most revolve around health and wellness in all of their facets. I became certified as an Integrative Nutrition Health & Wellness Coach in 2016. I’m currently doing my “residency” in health coaching as I use all my skills to heal from a stage II breast cancer diagnosis (6/13/17). As if that weren’t enough excitement for the year, I’m also supporting my 11 year old son as he heals from PANDAS, an autoimmune illness caused by strep that causes neuropsychiatric disorders. I’m not currently coaching people outside of my immediate family, but I’m sure I’ll create a fabulous health coaching business when our healing journey is complete. In April 2018 I will celebrate 20 years with Jerry, the love of my life. We keep our relationship young by seeing live music on the regular. I believe energy is the most powerful product we each put out into the world. And I believe music and dancing can heal the soul.
This entry was posted in cancer, chemo, Daily Life, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Energy, Experiences, Family, gratitude, Healing, Health, Overcoming Challenges, Personal Growth, Retreat, Spring, Time, Wellness and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to On the Threshold of Spring

  1. Terre Remington says:

    May Springtime bring you sunshine, warmth to you and the family and renewed health to all.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. judygayle4u says:

    You are such an inspiration Danielle. You have no idea how much you have empowered others around you, despite it all. We are blessed to have met your family and they’ll come a day when how you’re feeling isn’t a loaded question.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Bob cleary says:

    LOVE YOU SO MUCH!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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