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Welcome to the DebiLyn Smith blog site. If you like what you read here, check out her website at www.debilynsmith.com

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Facing That Bald Girl In The Mirror


You know you're a redneck when...you have to vacuum the hair off your sheets in the morning.

Today is the morning after the Ducks Unlimited dinner banquet and auction and I must say between the new stark hair do and the eye-popping two inch false eyelashes, I felt rather like the belle of the ball. With almost one hundred draws between ninety people, I guess my not winning anything meant my luck was already being used up. This morning, surrounded by balls of fur on my pillow, I decided my good fortune had been just having hair intact for the evening!
The itchiness of my head has been telling me for four days that my hair is dead at the roots. My tresses are merely illusional plumage, held in place by the thinnest layer of magnetism to my body. My cartoon character would resemble the Peanut Gang's Pig Pen, where every turn of my head results in a cloud of hay-coloured strands.
No-one at the cancer clinic expanded past the fact that I would lose my hair between 2-3 weeks. But I can tell the next person to go through this that it seemed to come after two days of headaches and then a new itchiness to my scalp. At first the hair came out in my brush, heavier than normal. By day two, a soft tug resulted in 20-30 long strands coming out. So for the next 2 days I did not pull or tug at it, merely patted conditioner into it while showering then patting it dry. Finger comb- no blow drying. Thankfully, that helped it last enough for the banquet.
My friend Kerri that died from brain cancer was wearing a scarf a few weeks into her chemo and I recall laughing at her. You can't have lost it already, I said, so she showed me the moon scape of her head. A definite clear cut! Having my real hair at the banquet meant giving my friends and acquaintances a time to adjust to the fact that I have cancer. Between the extreme shortness of my hair and the promise that it was with me on borrowed time lets them prepare for seeing me next in a head wrap, a wig or bald.
As usual, that is what I say. But as I look at the hair shrouded towel from my head after my morning shower, I can tell you nothing ever prepares you for seeing your own bald scalp on the top of your head. It's a nightmare worthy of a few more alligator tears, a horror worse than anything on Scare T.V.
Okay Deb, time to readjust here. My husband finds some shears and with my head in the garbage can, we laugh and cry and take it all off. I watch the locks pile up beneath me. They're golden with black ends. I stuff some into a bag to save. Then I look in the mirror again. Well, it's not as scary as having a Pixie cut with huge bald patches in it. I don't recognize myself though. I look more like a man. Square face, all face with black peach fuzz dotting the surface like patches of desperate seaweed clinging to a rock.
Stop it! What this baldness is, I tell myself, is a badge of honour. A statement of the difficulties I have been going through and continue to face. It is an elite pass card into a world of amazing people who are facing their own existence square in the eye. These people's lives are changing as is mine. Like butterflies-to-be we are metamorphosing into something beyond the busy, self and time absorbed people we were. We have had to prepare for the worst as there's no denying any of us only have so long to be here. When you have cancer, that fact stares you in the face. You re-evaluate your life and question what you want to get done so that one day you can leave without regret. This makes you more patient about things. Your goals are higher than trying to change the small things that irritate you.
Life has slowed down for a change, to a pace I can handle. I like this pace much better. Today's entire agenda is going to be learning to look in the mirror and seeing past the physical. What I want to see is the brave person I know is looking back for acceptance from myself.
After I succeed at that, I might just crawl back into bed for a nap.
At least this time I won't be needing to vacuum my sheets in the morning.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Day Sixteen and The Sun Is Shining!

Today is a new day. It's -20C and there's 5 inches of hard snow on the ground and I don't care. The sun is brilliant, the sky blue and there's a wide grin on my face! I can't recall feeling this alive, this charged with energy in years. Everything smells better, tastes better (except for raspberries and water still) IS better. I did the Circuit Training class this morning and nudged the treadmill up to 8 a few times. My feet were on fire they moved so fast. Everyone was very obliging to the supercharged cancer girl and moved aside as I ran to each weight station, my stubby hair poking out at every angle. I feel like roaring! I am alive and strong and healthy...well, sort of. As I said to my husband Barry, "keep any one in a dark hole long enough..." It's like I finally caught a break for the first time in ages. I'm able to (almost) feel like me again. I'm back. I'm whole- scarred, lighter with less hair and breast tissue but I'm up and running, swimming, walking, eating. The mouth sores are almost gone and I can actually feel the waning of the chemo's toxicity. It's fading into the background. Round One is almost over. It's like I'm on a reverse sick-leave. I'm on leave from feeling so sick for awhile.
I am determined to use this energy in preparation for the next round of chemo, coming up in 6 days. More baking, bed changing, cleaning and smelling the roses. Hell, jumping over the roses and back again! Back flips, sommersaults, tumbling, tumbling, tumbling.

Thought I would share what a "good day" felt like with everyone to make up for the ugliness of Day 3 and Day 4.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Hair Is Falling...The Hair Is Falling...


It finally happened, possibly because I was tugging at it all the time. But I pulled and my hair came out in a clump in my hand. I just stared at it. As usual, I knew but never truly believed it was going to happen. Because I am so LUCKY. That rare 1 % who only suffered hair thinning? That would be me. Guess I'm in the wrong lottery and need to save my prayers for other things more important. Like no recurrence and never, never having to go through all this again.
So, yes, a bit of a shocker. But it made for a great party joke. Get a load of this, I told anyone I ran into. Then I tugged at a spot and out came a wad. Yep, big eyes right away. Made me laugh everytime.
My shower this morning was a disaster as I couldn't seem to get the gossamer of hair strands off my wet hands. So I dressed and shuffled off to Shear Delight where my dear friend Caroline (big eyes after I showed her the trick) cut the bulk of layers off. We decided not to razor it yet as we're hoping enough stays for the Ducks Unlimited banquet on Saturday. If I get any bald spots between now and then, we'll deal with it. I'm going to get my make-up done and a last minute hair-do on Saturday, so we'll have to see how it all goes. Another unknown. I handle these so well. But, for now, I still have my own hair! Pixie short, but tug-tug, it's still...oops! Gotta quit that if I want any left for Saturday. Of course we do have two wigs on stand-by, and that's going to be a whole other ball of hair! Wish me luck!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Day Ten On Chemo

Thank goodness for make-up. I am sure the scales will tip with the poundage of cover-up I am pasting on whenever I head to town. My face , chest and back have broken out in acne. Nothing too bad about that- just quit looking in the mirror I tell myself. Tug, tug...the hair is still there, although my skull is tingling and I scratch it frequently. Sigh. It's still all good. I lick my numb lips. Well, mostly all good. The only thing that stands between Chemo Me and the Old Me today resides mostly in my mouth. I keep biting and nibbling at the insides of it and there's an ache that goes up into my ears so I feel right on the verge of an infection all the time. Nothing tastes right and I'm thinking that issue is going to last the entire three months. Suddenly I love Gatorade and tea with milk and honey!
They say Days 7-10 are the bottom. So here we are and it's not bad at all. My energy is climbing back up, possibly from all the sweets I've been allowing myself for the first time in years. The Naturopath advised strongly against refined sugar during the chemo as it feeds cancer cells. So I am trying to go with the Nutrasweet, Sucralose, honey, Stivia thing. But I am dehydrated constantly so much so that I dropped 5 pounds- all liquid. You can see it on me. Even my breasts have shrunk two sizes. The sports drinks are helping me retain some of the fluid, so they're going to have to stay, 42 gms of sugar per bottle and all! I'll have to remember to ask the nutritionist about that when I see her again, but somehow I know that dehydration has to be stopped anyway possible. Regular water tastes horrible- like drinking aluminum from a tap, so I'm sticking with the milk, juices and sports drinks.
Lately I've had fewer times out on the couch during the day. Thanks to my girlfriend Sharon, I managed to get Skype downloaded onto my laptop and running, something that even the thought of doing last week was draining. I'm feeling so good that in one breath I say I am ready to do this all again. Give me another round. In the next breath I realize there are still lingering symptoms. If I was to take an honest stock account, I'm like an engine running on three of four cylinders. Not all there, but the car still runs.
Eleven days to Chemo Two. But as far as I'm concerned, we can do this! Burp...Honey...where's the antacids?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Day Five and Stablizing

Well, once I got to sleep after taking a Tylenol for the sore joints, a heartburn tablet and an anti-nauseant I slept right through until eight this morning, time change and all! Not too much hot flashing last night. Maybe this wanes after the first few days? My helpful pharmacist poured me a tall glass of Gatorade and popped another anti-nauseant into me and I felt not too bad for the first time in 48 hours. Good enough to get up and make French toast and go for a walk in that amazing sunshine! Tromping through the two inches of fresh snow was fun, although my knees still ache and I can't believe I was jogging only 3 days ago. I feel like an old woman with "ginny joints".
As you can tell, the attitude has changed today. I have found a few more things that help settle my stomach like Jello and popsicles, ice cream and hummous. Then there are the things I should definitely avoid- spices, aspartame, metals. And raspberries? Maybe it's all in how you manage this? Whatever works is my new Motto, so I'm almost excited about dinner tonight. I'm planning on more cheese sauce, mashed potatoes and soft vegis with chicken. Comfort food.
Two more days to hit "bottom" on the road to the lowest point in the Immune system during the three week cycle. Then I have to be careful of infection, avoiding large groups of people, anyone with a cold and of course, any more raspberries! I'm not sure I'm ever going to be able to look at a raspberry the same way ever again.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Chemo Day Four

Today is Day Four with the Docetaxel and Cyclophosphemide floating around inside of me. I used to think food poisoning and alcohol poisoning the worst torments I could inflict on my body, but compared to this, having them both at the same time would seem easy.

I seem to be getting every symptom going. There is a thick coated feeling, almost a numbness inside of my mouth, which is labelled dry mouth. It makes me want to nibble and chew on the inside walls, which is probably why people get mouth sores. It's a metallic, salt taste, like I licked rust off someone's car. I have heartburn and achy knee joints, headaches and hot flashes so intense my hair gets soaked. Nothing tastes the way it should so you wander around trying to rid your mouth of that awful taste with things that just make it worse. My usual frozen raspberries were spit out along with the orange juice, the water, even chocolate! Go figure? There is a constant burn in the back of my throat and on top of it all, I feel like real crap. Like a big flu is coming down on top of my head. My stomach is in constant turmoil. I can't read, sit for a movie, write too long of a letter. I'm going to stop talking to people soon as I can't seem to say one single positive thing at the moment. And they say I have yet to hit bottom- that comes at day 7-10. OMG.
I managed to swim for 40 minutes yesterday but my resolve to exercise every single day flew right out the window this morning. I think I'm going to have to play this game by ear. Same for doing this the low-cal way. I had stocked the fridge with low fat, no fat, sugar free and within 4 days I have been to the grocery store twice to stock up on mashed potatoes, buttered toast, mushroom soup , cheese sauce, cheese ravioli and a gallon of milk. All in the name of trying to put the fire out. I was going to abstain from cow's milk and sugar for the three months. What do I know?! Why do I always figure I know what I am doing?
This is almost like an intervention. How else could the world prove to me that my head is so far up my ass. That maybe I need to change how I always look at things. I plan on it being one way and when its not, I am crushed and left floundering. Sort of like I'm feeling right now. Bewildered, worried about how much worse this can get and wondering how the hell people get through this? See, this is not the day to be blogging, but if you want to know the truth, the real truth, there it is. Everyone KNOWS chemo is crap but no-one ever tells you just how crappy chemo really is. And the worst of it is, I am going to get through this and then get stronger, all to just have to do it again and again and again.
It's at moments like this I have to make myself think of the multitude of children that have to go through this. Which makes me feel even worse.
And that's as long as I can sit for to write today. Thank goodness for everyone.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Chemo Is In- Day One and Two

Another hurdle has been passed and I amazingly did not fall flat on my face like the nightmares predicted. Yesterday began with my girlfriend Sharon, who is also a nurse, getting us to the hospital and up to the new cancer clinic unit on the second floor. We trundle in with bags of food, spare clothes, the stack of information sheets and books and pills, Homer (Mom and Kim's bear) in his carry satchel, purses and coats and even a rose in a vase in tow. (All carried with my one good arm to avoid lymphedema, of course! And Sharon had all but one swinging from her teeth! Look out, we're moving in!) My mad dash to the washroom produced only a nervous dribble- the last time that would be an issue once starting the two litres of recommended water a day. You need that much just to wash down the fistful of vitamins and supplements pills I'm on.
The Chemo Chair (duh, duh, de, duh) pulls back Easy Boy style and a beautiful heated quilt was placed around me. Two Ativan popped under my tongue...calm...calm...WHAT, the Chemo drugs have arrived from down the hall? Already?...calm...calm ...is that Mozart playing in the background. Look, I can see the ski hill from here and there's fresh snow on the runs!
Getting the needle placed properly into a vein finally had the skillful rock, Alice, flustered. Alice is such a dear, always thinking of everything before you do, of really understanding what you must be feeling. Always getting it right and if not doing everything she can to get it that way. Her hand had a noticeable tremor after the first ten minutes before calling the other nurse over. I guess I shouldn't have told a friend's story about an improper placement causing scarring and pain while this was going on. Loretta must have been listening because it took her a few tries as well. NO worries I assure everyone. Dr. B in Terrace had already won the Grimace Award for that pre-surgical wire placement. For that much pain, you should receive a baby or better, a (quiet) golden egg for the effort. Aw, Buckle up Deb. Old Age Ain't No Place For Sissies! And I bet I'll have to say it again. And again before life is over.
My dear friend Dr. Sandi arrives fresh from an overnight shift downstairs at Emerg. She' s propped up on coffee and admits she managed a few winks between calls, so she stays and we're all laughing and Sharon is fussing with my blankets and the drip is started. The moment comes, a tear looms large and then I look away and it is all fine. I do not feel anything. I imagined a big surge of Drano-like stinging or burning or instant metal drip down my throat. But there is nothing so we return to laughing and chatting. I am doing this. The ninety minutes pass so fast I am amazed and Alice returns to flush the vein with saline before connecting the next drug. For this one I wear frozen mitts to help stop the flow of the drug into my hands. There is a chance of it affecting the nails to the point where they thicken, blacken and possibly fall off. The mitts, I am assured, work well. What about my feet, I worry- trying to keep them pointed up in the air and quickly ditching my warm shoes? Sandi explains why it's not as big a concern, but I'm still thinking of ice packs for them next visit. There is a trip to somewhere warm after all of this, I hope! It would be nice to have the nails intact if possible. I'm a big believer in practising prevention (well, at least after having two babies in as many years I try to be more proactive about it. Thank goodness that turned out to be SUCH a good thing! Okay, so maybe I'll start a blackened toenail craze?)
The other two chemo chairs are now filled with an elderly pair with cancers that make breast issues sound trivial. My four treatments barely make me feel legitimate stacked against their 20+. I am an impostor. A surface girl. Surrounded by friends, a rose, a stuffed bear. What planet am I even from? Good thing I left my tiara home with a last minute change of mind!
Before we know it, it's over. Three hours and I was even fed a hospital meal of soup, hamburger noodle entree and peaches in water. No time to run the movie with all the questions and talking and eating and drinking. Which meant no time to get nervous- even another friend Jen dropped by- thank you Ladies! Total distraction. They know me so well! I made it through. The next three are going to be a breeze. Maybe I'll let Barry come after all.
Sandi went home to sleep and Sharon and I went shopping. What? We were in Smithers with the Christmas season looming. Top picks move fast in the few stores that we have so if you need selection, a post chemo visit will have to work. I did bump into quite a few displays and counters, but luckily didn't have to buy anything I didn't need. I made it for another hour before being whisked home, snoring all the way. Sharon and I hugged and parted ways. I made it to the couch where I slept until 9:50 pm when I awoke wondering which end was up. Is it morning, night, do I need to take a pill for anything? A little heartburn, headache, a dryness at the back of my throat so I downed a half T-3 and all was good. The Chemo is in and its staying in, as in not coming out rather quickly from one orifice or another as again the nightmares predicted. Mind you, today is only the start of Day Two. "Give it a chance to start working" I'm told. (As I write this I am enveloped in about the seventh hot flash I forgot to mention has been happening since taking the pre-chemo steroidal anti-inflammatory) At least the hair roots are holding. I check them on the hour!