If I lay still nothing hurts. I take Ralphie’s 2×3 memory foam bed and position it in the sunlight that bathes the kitchen floor. As I curl up there I hear Ralphie walk up behind me and feel him staring at my back, waiting for me to invite him to join me. I ignore him so I don’t have to move.
I’m happy to see the view from here: my favorite maple tree, brilliant orange against the wild blue sky. A few lingering Sweet William from my untended garden seem to peek in at me. Yikes, the window is really dirty. I try not to think about the fact that from the outside our house looks like its been abandoned due to both my untended garden and the unrepaired damage from Hurricane Sandy. For a few minutes I lay still with the sun warming me.
But soon I am roused by the intensity of the sun and the intensity to Ralphie’s stare. He stands, does not sit, and waits for me to move so he can take my spot. You can have it, I tell him, its too hot. As soon as I get up and retreat to the couch to write this, he moves in.
After my last chemo infusion, although I was technically done with chemo, I accepted that I still had two weeks of side effects to endure. But for some reason I didn’t really believe Dr. Schupak that the side effects of radiation would continue to get worse after my last radiation treatment. The side effects of radiation are cumulative whereas most of the side effects of chemo are cyclical (except neuropathy which was cumulative and is still with me). She warned of ever tightening, blistering, angry skin and fatigue “like someone pulled the plug.” She told me the skin reactions will be at their worst two weeks after my last treatment, then I will start to heal. That’s five days from now and I am counting, big time.
During the six weeks of radiation therapy I felt mostly good. I was able to take myself to radiation treatments, bike ten miles twice per week, walk the dog daily, do some yoga, take myself to occupational therapy. Even though my skin looked pretty bad it really didn’t hurt that much. Even the blisters in my armpits looked far worse than they felt. But over the past few days things seem to be getting worse. The effects feel like they are internal rather than just skin-deep. Last week Fletcher drove me to OT because I felt really tired. For the past two nights its been tough getting a good night’s sleep because I can’t get comfortable. Wearing clothes is a challenge. I feel like maybe I have enough energy for a bike ride today but wonder how my skin will tolerate the clothes I will need to wear for a 56 degree day.
I realized awhile back that I have a strong desire to please my doctors. I want to be the best patient ever. I want to go for my follow up on Friday and dazzle them with how well I’ve handled everything they’ve thrown at me. I want them to talk about me behind my back, about what a remarkably cure-able patient I am. This, I think irrationally, will assure my cure.
Lately I’ve been reading about the prevention of breast cancer recurrence. There is strong scientific evidence that one should exercise a lot (like an hour every day); not be fat (goal should be to weigh what you weighed when you were 18); eat an organic, mostly vegetarian diet; avoid sugar and stress (and I don’t mean the English Beat’s song cuz’ that’s awesome); avoid alcohol and all sources of chemical exposure. But these are all things I mostly did before my diagnosis, so where does that leave me? If it didn’t stop the initial disease how could it stop a recurrence? This is a question that makes you throw up your hands.
But when I really analyze things honestly, I’ve been comparing my habits to the general population and to other people I know. And while yes, I may have had better habits than many, in hindsight there was room for improvement, especially when I compare my prior habits against these specific, evidence-based cancer recurrence prevention recommendations. Here is a run down of my habits, pre-breast cancer:
- I probably ate a below average amount of sugar, but I did eat it;
- I exercised about ½ hour most weekdays and 1 hour on weekend days;
- I’ve gained about 30 pounds over the past 30 years (I am 32 pounds heavier than I was at 18, so yes I can say I am fat. Basically I now understand that is 30 pounds of estrogen fodder for cancer cells to gorge on.)
- Probably about half of what I ate was not organic;
- I drank about a glass of wine a week, on average;
- I used conventional shampoo, conditioner and deodorant, and mostly conventional cleaning products;
- I ate little to no meat (and only then chicken), and several servings of fruits, nuts and veggies daily (My diet was really pretty good so this is probably the most annoying part for me.);
- My stress level was often high.
It would be easy to convince myself that I already was doing what I was supposed to do and that if I keep doing what I was doing I’m meeting the recommendations. But if I’m being honest there is room for improvement. And really what choice do I have if I want to remain cancer-free?
Since my diagnosis I’ve already made some lifestyle changes consistent with what I’ve read to avoid recurrence. I’m not alone on this mission, as Fletcher has been on a (so far unsuccessful) quest to find a tasty, organic, no added-sugar, low salt pasta sauce. I started to list some things I’m doing here but realize that some of them need details so I think maybe I’ll write another post(s) that reflects my efforts to make what was good even better.
Right now I’m going to go eat lunch (left over organic sweet potato and brussels sprouts followed by an organic apple), take Advil, and see if I can manage to put on the clothes that are needed for a bike ride on this cool fall day.