Tuesday, October 2nd was a milestone crusher. It was the last day of another round of one of the chemo drugs in my treatment plan - Taxol (with Herceptin & Perjeta). The full protocol called for 12 rounds - which I can claim have been officially KNOCKED OUT - like, "See ya later - bye!"
I started this round, reluctantly, on July 19, and have been going in for weekly treatments...
I have been compassionately supported by my bad ass Infusion Nurse, Olie at Dana Farber. She, along with the friends and family who have accompanied me for every treatment - have seen me in all states- many of which have been quite vulnerable.
One treatment day I remember I cried from the moment I woke up, in the car to the hospital, walking the halls of Dana Farber, throughout treatment, and the entire drive home. It was a no good - awful - just straight up really bad day.
That was one day - a "Zero" day. But, I had my gladiator of a Mom with me that day. She held my hand, massaged my head - and looked me in the eye with utmost compassion & strength and said to me, “You are going to be ok, baby. We can do this.”
Every emotion one can experience has rolled through my body over these 12 weeks - from “Zero” days to “10” days. “10” days were ones like the day we took my Uncles boat into Boston Harbor,
another “10” was the night I had a few friends over with their kids, or the front row Pearl Jam concert with my Colorado besties,
or the weekend spent celebrating our best friend’s wedding, proudly by her side as a bridesmaid.
There have been some shitty days within these 12 weeks - no way around it. But, overall, my Docs, nurses, alternative Docs, and family & friends have been super stoked how “well” I’ve done throughout this phase. Taxol comes with a list of dreadful side effects for many - like neuropathy, mouth sores, bone pain, severe fatigue, fingernail/toenail loss, hair loss - and I feared, and prepared, for every-single-one-of-them. (Kind of I'd prepare for a back country ski trip - just in case there's an avalanche). My bathroom cabinet was stocked with every holistic and non-holistic remedy one can get their hands on. I was equipped. I spent weeks researching everything I could to alleviate and prevent a side effect - from ordering special mouth sore paste from Europe, to Amazon prime-ing straight ginger capsules for nausea.
I can proudly say - I made it through the 12 weeks and didn’t experience many of the expected side effects. Taxol was tricky because they couldn’t predict if I would lose my hair entirely or not. My Oncologist said that I would most likely lose some, if not a lot of my hair. So, in preparation for this, I planned to shave my head. I couldn’t bare the thought of waking one morning with my full head of thick hair less than normal.
Shaving my head was by far the scariest thing I have ever done. And that appointment was NOT planned. Liz and I were in NYC picking up a wig donated to me by the amazing organization 5 Under 40, and the hair stylist said, “Ya know, I can shave this now for you if you want?” It was a week earlier than I had planned. I replied, "Ok, do it." Liz almost fell over. It was a TOP surreal experience of my life. I leveraged by recently learned deep breathing skills, but it didn’t calm my body from shaking and tears flowing as I heard that buzzer on my head.
In hindsight, it was the bravest thing i have ever done - considering how attached I was to my hair. It was my way of not letting c-word take one more thing from me on ITS time. I took charge. It empowered me. And was hard.
Not having hair on my head has been an experience in itself - that which I will write about at some point, but not now. What I can say is that I am thankful I shaved my head before Taxol began, even though my hair started growing back in again - because the next round of chemo I have been told I will 100% lose my hair on day 16/17 after treatment. So… I have had a few weeks to prepare for that. I can’t say I am used to the ‘Britney Spears shaved-head-look’… but - it is less traumatizing looking in the mirror now.
My Chemo Nurse told me that at least 50% of her patients stop this drug early or lower the dose because the side effects just become intolerable. My main side effects were migraines, nausea - and there were days I felt like I was hit by a train. Waves best describes it. But I made it through those days, and I am really proud of myself for that because on that “Zero” day, I didn’t think I’d make it.
I am deep into the woods right now, as it has been 9 months of aggressive treatment to date. I am “IN IT”, as they say. And there are no shortcuts out. But, my toolbox is full to the rim now of what I need to support me through and OUT of this nightmare.
Why didn’t I experience ALL of the side effects of Taxol? I don’t know. Maybe it was just my body doing its thing. But maybe it had even a teeny bit to do with the specialized cocktail I have worked so hard at concocting - blending East and West medical modalities. (And no, unfortunately this cocktail doesn’t have tequila)…
When I proclaimed I was “going agro on this shit” back in January - I was not kidding. I have been busy outside of Dana Farber doing things like: a ketogenic diet, acupuncture, reiki, Qi Gong, yoga, light therapy,
meditation, high dose Vitamin C IVs, hydration infusion cocktail, lymph massage for surgery recovery, ice packs on hands and feet to prevent Neuropathy, supplements as prescribed by my Naturopathic Oncologist, ongoing support by my Naturopath, Chiropractor, Keto for Cancer Nutritionist & Physical Therapist.
Then there are these non-medical things - like the gifts from opening our doors, in Seoane style, to the many, many visitors we’ve had - from everywhere!
Sleepovers with best friends from CO in my “Babe Cave”,
family members traveling from far away to visit, my Dad cooking COUNTLESS, massive quantities of food for friends (he finds no greater pleasure than this..minus doing the dishes!),
and my Mom’s unconditional heart in opening the doors to our home with a “Mi Casa es Su Casa” attitude. Her famous quote being, “Make yourself at home...If you need anything - find it! If you’re thirsty - drink it! If you’re hungry - cook it!” It has brought that sense of close knit community in our lives even more than it was before - a gift from this.
I have received support from friends and people I don’t even know - hundreds of cards, flowers, care packages, countless text messages, phone calls, Marco Polos and group Facetimes,
specialized music mixes, and spontaneous visits from friends - truly more love than I could describe. Probably best described in the form of lyrics, or poetically by Rumi.
What has helped me the most? All of it. As my Mom said to me one day - “Jen, you are seeing how a village works”. She is right. They say a miracle is something that can’t be explained by natural or scientific laws - and the way I have been supported by my tribe is just that. Everyone has helped to pick up the fallen pieces and help lift my spirits.
If one friend isn’t available to take me to an infusion appointment; my aunt or other friend is right there. Texts constantly on my phone showing the love and lifting me up. Every few days, something shows up in the mail - the most recent a bracelet that was worn by a breast cancer survivor who wore it until she beat it, and then past it on to me. I'll get to pass it on to the next fighter when I proclaim myself a survivor. People are so freaking cool. Every text, every flower,
every hug, every sweet “good morning” smile from my Mom has helped me get this far. I am so thankful.
When I have moments to pull away from the sadness this has caused in my life, and I thank everyone who has been here to help me - I have learned a deep understanding that we all have deep within ourselves all we need to get through anything life throws at us. We really do. And the people in our lives remind us of that, and that we are not alone. Maybe these physical ailments we experience are the teachers we need in our life. I have never suffered physical pain before - so this is new to me. Just never-ending lessons in this lifetime. And, there is nothing in this I am not feeling . Why my life took such a drastic, unforewarned turn - I may never humanly understand. And the moments I have dropped to my knees, I have this whispering reminder in my ear telling me: this is happening FOR me, not TO me. And when shit hits the fan, that whisper tells me its time to heal, and reminds me to pay attention.
I am in a thick forest right now surrounded by a divine storm and trying to find my way back to the light at the end of the tunnel. The other day my amazing Chiropractor told me, “keep looking for that light, because there ISN’T a train coming.”
I have been cracked open wide, and I know I’ll never be the same person I was - but the goal is to keep the parts of myself that make me who I am, but become empowered even more to live the best life I can.
I am learning what I am made of. And I plan to use this to get me through the next phases of treatment.
What do I have left? Alot. Aggressive Cancer --> Aggressive Treatment. More chemotherapy (begins October 23), 6 weeks of daily radiation, hormone therapy, reconstruction surgery.... and... my whole life.
So looking forward to the Halloween Spooktacular Party on October 19 @ Haddad's!!! My thanks to everyone are just endless... thank you, thank you, thank you.