Friday, June 17, 2011

short term planning

I kind of left you in suspense yesterday.

I was sitting an exam room, waiting to see my oncologist to discuss whether I could continue my break from chemo. 

Here's what happened next:

We waited.

We played a little Lexulous.

I knit. My hands shook a little.

And then the door swung open and Dr. B. entered the room. 

Dr. B. is not my oncologist. The cancer centre has a title called GPO (which I assume means general practitioner - oncology) for doctors who work with the oncologists. I hadn't seen Dr. B. in more than a year and without hesitating, we hugged each other - something I've never done with any doctor. She's wonderful and she's the only doctor I trust as much as my oncologist.

After a physical exam (liver is where it should be and the size it should be. Chest sounds fine) and looking over my bloodwork (everything normal), we had the following conversation:

Dr. B.: "I'd bet you'd like to extend this break from chemo."

Me (nodding vigorously): "Yes!"

Dr. B.: "For the summer?"

Me: "Or longer? I'd love to think about longer term plans."

And...she shook her head. She said, "When it comes to metastatic breast cancer, there are no 12 month plans."

While it may seem like forever to me that I've been at this, it really is still pretty new. And as I've written before, many times, there is just too much uncertainty to make any longer term treatment plans or even to be absolutely certain what choices are the right ones.

It was very good having Tim there, though, as he brought a different perspective to the table. I wanted to choose between a short break and an indefinite one. Tim's concerns were more about the risks of taking even short breaks from chemo. He loves me and he wants me to feel well but also to stay healthy.

But Dr. B. explained that the break from chemo is not just to give me some respite from side effects (although I needed that, both physically and emotionally) but to help my immune system and bone marrow to rebuild so that chemotherapy, when I need it again, will continue to be effective. She also said that most stable metastatic breast cancer patients need to take breaks long before I did.

This was a breakthrough moment for me. I've been feeling like my body failed me by becoming run down and developing more side effects. I felt like I was wimping out by feeling an emotional need for a break. I felt that I just wasn't strong enough.

I felt ashamed.

However, it turns out that I'm not taking an irresponsible risk by taking a break from chemo. I'm readying my body for whatever lies ahead. And I'm not weak. I've been doing this for more than five years, while continuing to live my life. I'm actually pretty damn tough.

It was a great appointment. I feel relieved of an awful lot of guilt I didn't know I was carrying around. I feel hopeful. And my step was a little lighter today.

So for the next three months, I'll continue on the Herceptin. In early September, I'll have a brain scan (because Herceptin doesn't cross the brain blood barrier) and an abdominal scan. I'll do more bloodwork. And we'll plan for the next three months.


zoom said...

Oh! This is in some ways such a heartbreaking think you've been carrying around guilt for not being even stronger than you are, which is already stronger than anybody should ever have to be.

If only we could be as gentle and nurturing with ourselves as we are with our friends.

Eileen said...

Darling girl, I DARE anyone to call you weak!!

And I'm glad you are getting a bit of a rest. We all need one, once in a while, and I think the summer is a great time to do it. I hope you take advantage of your 'chemo vacation' to have a REAL vacation... you deserve it!


Lene Andersen said...

woo! So glad you added this update - was a bit on tenterhooks.

Love that Dr. B was able to give you the gift of perspective. Your body clearly rocks! (erm... that might've sounded strange...)

laurie said...

So many of us do this beat ourselves up over things for which we would never judge others. Thanks for the added perspective, my friends.

MoninaW said...

I don't have to tell you how strong and inspiring I think you are. If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't keep coming to your blog to get updates on you and your life. Laurie, you're an amazing person. Savor the next few months and then take life as it comes!

JuliaR said...

What Zoom said!

Also, we all know how amazing you are and how TOUGH. You have to be tough to go through what you do. Not many people can do it.

I was just gagging at the fact that Sarah Fergusson has a "reality" show, where she whines / talks about how she is putting her life back together. Because you know, she had it all and then... what happened? Oh yeah, she spent too much money. And of course, we FEEL for her. Give me a BREAK.

Finola said...

It is surprising to me that you could ever think that you were weak. You are tougher than just about anyone I know, and yet you are still warm and friendly too. I know that I could not do what you do with your grace and style. I really admire you.

laurie said...

Mo, Julia, Finola - you guys made me cry. In a good way. xo

Nat said...

I apologize for not having seen this sooner.

I think Zoom is right. There is no weakness in this disease, and you are fighting it both emotionally and physically every day I suspect.

I hope you take a moment to be good to yourself, enjoy your family and your friends and life, this summer!