Then There Was Cancer (Maybe)

In December I had an abnormal PAP smear. I didn’t stress. There had been talk of HPV a six months prior, and while my doctor at the time of the HPV drama had been a bit of a pain, he had stated that the type I appeared to have was very low risk. It didn’t cause cancer, and it wasn’t something most people even had symptoms of. I had an impaired immune system, so I had symptoms, but eventually I’d clear the infection, and be totally fine. At least that’s what he said. I opted to see an OBGYN before starting Lupron during chemotherapy, and that’s when I’d had the abnormal PAP.

Initially I worried. They wanted me to come in for a colposcopy, but I couldn’t drive, and was seriously ill from the chemo. My new doctor assured me that I could wait for the colposcopy. It took a long time for cells to change, and the external lesion that I’d noted didn’t even appear to be HPV. She told me it was likely a skin tag, or a result of my Behcet’s. I went through my chemotherapy without really thinking much about the abnormal PAP smear. What where the actual chances that I’d have all of these things going wrong at once?

On Friday I went in and had my colposcopy. I was nervous about the pain, but otherwise okay. What were the chances? They had a screen where you could watch the procedure, and so I watched…until I realized that something was wrong. Very wrong.

I stared at the screen. I wasn’t exactly sure what a cervix should look like, but I knew that there was something seriously wrong with mine. The edge was bleeding, which the doctor said wasn’t totally uncommon, but the rest of it looked foreign to me. A large white mass covered the majority of the surface, breaking the line of skin cells that mapped out the edges of the cervical surface. The doctor informed me that they’d need to do a biopsy. She turned off the screen saying that it wasn’t fun to watch yourself be cut.

A medical student held my hand, and the biopsy was quickly taken. It didn’t hurt as badly as I thought it would, but my head was swimming. The doctor told me to be prepared for the call, that the changes were moderate to severe, and more towards severe. We talked about HPV and cervical changes, and I asked if I had any options. She said that did, but that we needed to talk once the biopsy results were in.

I haven’t gotten them yet, but I’ve talked to friends who were in similar situations. Cervical cancer is this odd taboo subject. There are odd staging levels. Even if you’re in the very early stages, it’s still cancer, but it’s approached as though it isn’t. They’ll just shave off some of your cervix, or cut out some of your cervix. My friend has miscarried, once in her second trimester, due to issues with her cervix from the procedures she had to undergo. Other women have the “cancer in situ” treated via these removals, but still end up having to go through hysterectomies, because it returns.

I’ve fought through six months of chemo. I’ve accepted limitations based on odd occurrences with my autonomic nervous system. I’ve told myself that I will still find love and start a family someday, even though I’m embroiled in a long and bitter divorce. I push and push, and then the unimaginable comes form left field. Nobody was sure if I had HPV or not. They were all fairly sure I didn’t, or if I did, that it wasn’t a strain that caused cancer. Now? Well, barring a miracle that shows it’s some odd lesion related to Behcet’s, I’m facing cervical cancer. Now I have to grasp at the hope that it’s early in the cancer game, and limited to an area that can be treated without impacting my fertility.

Of course the doctor told me point blank that I am, and always will be, a high risk case. I have to see a high risk OBGYN before becoming pregnant, plan carefully, and be followed closely. People think my depression or anger over my divorce is somehow related to jealousy, jealousy that he’s living with his girlfriend, and that they have a baby. I am jealous, but not just of him. It’s this overwhelming jealous anger at the universe, because people around me have solid careers, homes, families, etc. They’ve happily fallen into the life I’ve always imagined, while I struggle to just hang on to the bits and pieces of what I’ve managed to assemble for myself.

I want to be loved, and be in love. I want to have a family. I want to have a career that enjoy. I know that life isn’t that simple, and that nothing is as perfect as it seems, but when you’ve fought as hard as I’ve fought, just to have life kick you when you’re just starting to get up…it’s hard. I feel like the wind has been knocked out of me. I’m waiting for the call, and dreading it, all at the same time. Bills have mounted, and yet I can’t even try to find some work from home work, because if I even work just a little bit, on record, my disability could be denied. I have backpay that I’m owed, that I need, because my credit card debt is brutal.

There has to be something more than this. There has to be something better. I’m so sick of finding out that the light at the end of the tunnel is really just an oncoming train.

Then There Was Cancer (Maybe)

Hello Remission!

On Monday, April 17th, I had my sixth and final round of Cytoxan. It almost didn’t happen.

When I went in, they did the standard laboratory work, and I was a little worried that my counts would be off. I’d been feeling rundown prior to the infusion, which wasn’t usually the case. Sure enough, the nurses returned and informed me that my potassium levels were low. This was a big concern for me because during one round of chemo, I’d had low potassium and calcium levels, which led to a massive seizure, and a night in the hospital. It should be noted that I despise bananas. My doctor cleared me for the infusion, but ordered two potassium pills to be taken prior to the infusion. She was coming in anyhow that day to discuss plans for future treatment.

So, potassium down the hatch, and then I did something idiotic…I ate during my infusion.

I don’t get nauseas during the infusion, or after, because of the glorious medications I receive. I do, however, develop an aversion to whatever I’m eating during the infusion (or drinking). This has caused me disgust at peppermint after the first round, and a lingering desire to only eat sweets after eating chips during that first round, too. Long story short…I’ve developed a sweet tooth. I stupidly ate Sour Patch Kids, which I have grown to love despite previously hating them…and my “friend” had recently purchased Swedish Fish scented vape juice just a day before. I thought it smelled wonderful.

Now? Nope.

This past week I felt like death rolled over and wrapped in horse manure. I’m staying with my “friend,” and I don’t really remember much from the first few days. I knew my potassium was still low because of the muscle twitching and pain, but I was too queasy to give a shit. I stuffed my face with potatoes even though I really didn’t want them, and then gagged whenever my “friend” would use his vape. Even now, with the nausea nearly gone, the scent of that Swedish Fish vape oil, is just too much.

Remission? My doctor seems to think so, though I guess it’s important to note that I will always have Behcet’s. I have this urge to go out, find a job, do everything a healthy person would do, but I just can’t. I’ve even pushed myself too fast already, with walks, and the dog park, and payed via sheer exhaustion, and dizzy spells. I will be taking Cell Cept, which is still a pretty strong immune suppressing drug. I’d thought remission would mean no more drugs, but apparently that isn’t quite how this thing works. I think a part of knew there would be maintenance medications, but you always want to hope that you can be “normal,” whatever that is…

My neurological issues are a whole different situation. I still have and seizures, issues with heat, muscle weakness, and tremors. My heart rate and blood pressure make no sense what so ever…which is why my neurologist is confident about his diagnosis of autonomic neuropathy. It was a blow to be told I had a form of dysautonomia, especially since diagnosis of autonomic neuropathy is based a lot on symptoms, instead of laboratory analysis.

When you’ve spent your entire adult life, and much of your childhood, searching for answers, you expect the answers to have some tangible legitimacy to them.

Of course, my heart rate fluctuations alone have given doctors pause for quite some time. In the hospital they thought the machinery was malfunctioning, because my heart rate would drop into the mid-thirties while I was asleep, and them soar to 160 when I sat up. Welcome to dysautonomia, can I take your order? 

The reality is that many Behcet’s patients suffer from some form of dysautonomia, though from what I’ve read there doesn’t appear to be a clear reason for why this happens. There aren’t a ton of us Behcet’s patients, which makes it hard to study comorbidity scenarios…but still.

Where does this leave me? I will likely have to take seizure control medications my entire life. This means I will also require antidepressants, since I have issues with depression because of the high dose anticonvulsants. If I can keep my Behcet’s in remission, I can hopefully wean off of the nausea medications, and have more of an ability to tolerate medications by mouth. I’ve already put on 40 pounds, and would love to drop some of that weight. It is hard to see my body change so drastically, but I’m grateful that I am capable of digestion again. That being said, I will also still deal with motility issues because of the dysautonomia, and because of my limited diet and hunger during my serious Behcet’s issues. I haven’t had any issues with my balance and coordination, though I do still have hyperactive reflexes. This, I’ve been told, is related to the autonomic neuropathy, which I’ll be investigating with my neurologist over the next several months. I’m also a new and proud supporter of medical marijuana. It has saved me more times than I can count in the last few months, and particularly during this last round of chemo. Without it, I’m not sure I’d have lasted the full six months.

My divorce still isn’t finalized, because my ex is controlling. It bothers me that we’re still legally married, and that I have my married name. It doesn’t bother me that he’s trying to keep control by dragging out the divorce. I am happy, and focused on my life, and he’s not able to hurt me any longer.

His words still echo in my mind though, that nobody will ever love a sick girl like me. What if that’s true? What if I’m destined to be alone like my father? Sure, he has friends, and I’m sure he dates, but he won’t open up to anyone, largely because of his illness. He’s told me that he’s better off alone, since he’s sick, and that could be a burden. I don’t think he realized I was listening when he said it to me, and he definitely didn’t know that I would one day develop my own serious health issues.

I’m in this odd place. I know what I want in terms of a career and a family, but I don’t know how to get there. How can I have children with my health the way it is? Who would want to have children with me? Will anyone love me enough to see past my health issues? What if my dream career isn’t fully possible with my health limitations?

You know you can adapt so much of the world to fit your abilities, but you also hesitate to ask for help with adaptation, because you want to be seen as equal to those around you. I want to be loved for who I am. I want to be seen as a human being first and foremost. I know that my disabilities are a part of who I am, but I don’t want that to be the first thing others notice about me.

There are times when I know I would need a wheelchair to do certain things I’d love to do. Take walking around Comic Con festivities. I know that the heat will break me down. I know that I would be spent by the time I walked from my apartment to the waterfront. If I had a wheelchair, I could take the stress out of the mix, assuming I had the strength to propel myself in the chair (or if I had a power chair). Still, who is going to look at me, in a wheelchair, and think, “That right there is girlfriend material!”

Sometimes I let myself wonder if my “friend” could be more, but then I take a step back, and evaluate the situation. He’s an amazing guy, with drive, and ambition. He’s attractive, kind, and comes from a good family. There is probably a reason I’ve been thoroughly friend-zoned, and it’s more than him not knowing what he wants. We all question where we’re going in life. but if we see someone who feels like they fit into the equation, we know. I don’t fit, and it’s taken me a while to accept that. So while this is fun, and a big part of me wants it to go somewhere, I’ve accepted the reality that it won’t. Guys like him don’t settle for girls like me, and no, that isn’t depression or anxiety talking. Like I said, I’ve made my peace with it.

I do want to be loved though. As much as love terrifies me, I want it. So I guess I’ll just keep fighting my illnesses, and celebrating the victories. As soon as I move into my new apartment, I’m having a post-chemo celebration. I want to have a major victory dance over the end of this chapter of my life. Eventually I’m going to head to Vegas to see one of my favorite DJ groups perform.

I’m going to live life.

Hello Remission!

Cytoxan Round #3

Ugh. Ouch. Gurgle. Noooo.

That about sums it up. The process went really well, I only had to get stuck twice, but they did increase the dose. I was pleased to have manageable side effects during, but immediately afterwards I felt gross. I had a fever of 101, which I usually am around 97.3 (which was where I was before the infusion.) I knew I had inflammation issues, but they gave me steroids so I thought I’d feel better. Nope. My bones hurt. Yeah, my joints hurt, but literally, the BONES in and around all of my joints are just horribly aching. I’m dizzy. Now, several hours later, I’m definitely a little nauseas. Thankfully I ate when I cam home, so if I can keep it down, I won’t ruin the foods for myself forever.

I’d rather have pain, than nausea, so I am grateful in a sense, I just hadn’t thought I’d have the choice to trade…or that the trade would be so debilitating. It feels like my joints are falling apart, and the bones are just shattering to bits. That’s it, in a nutshell.

My pre-dose drugs are a bit different than the average bear, as are my during and post-dose drugs, but that’s because my intestines suck, and I can’t stay hydrated to LITERALLY save my life. I get 500mL before, then 1L during the infusion (they piggy back the meds with the fluids. before I get the Cytoxan I get Zofran for nausea, and Decadron (the steroid). I’ve been told varying things about why I get the steroids, but ultimately they help me with inflammation, and because I do have extensive drug allergies, putting that in my system is kind of a “better safe than sorry,” thing.

The one drug I get that other people don’t usually get in a pre-dose, is Ativan. Listen, I try to be tough, but chemotherapy scares the living crap out of me. I don’t enjoy any aspect of it. The first dose made me feel dizzy and nauseas pretty rapidly, and during the infusion no less, so I was sort of done after that. I’d gotten Ativan for my muscles to stop twitching (disease side effect) and it worked, so then they opted to keep it in my regimen for anxiety. They also added promethazine at the end of my infusion, so I could have that in my bloodstream for my short ride home. Hey, anything that allows me to drink more fluids, is a win.

This particular drug combination makes me sleepy. This is ideal. I want to sleep. I don’t want to think about what the drug is doing in my body, what I’m missing by going through this process in terms of school, a social life, and just being who I want tone, and I definitely, DEFINITELY, don’t want to feel any of the horrible side effects I tend to have with these meds.

Which brings me to a realization I just literally made with the last statement…side effects. Steroids tend to cause deep bone  pain for me. Some more than others, but it is an issue. Hopefully this will fade instead of worsen, though I have had intermittent bone pain 10-14 days after each infusion, so we’ll see.

I wasn’t a pansy, and went by myself for once. Well, I did try and pansy out and find someone to come, or pick me up, but it was for the best for me to face this alone. I need to rely on myself, while still learning to ask for help when I genuinely needed it. Sure I was afraid, and I wanted someone to hold my hand, or distract me, but I did take a nap. At the end of the day, it wasn’t a dire situation, and I have enough of those that I face alone as it is, so it makes sense to try and evaluate the actual need.

Depression and anxiety are still a thing. A major thing. I wish I could say that I had more good days than bad days, but I’m like a functional alcoholic at this point. I am profoundly unhappy, not nobody who knows me would guess that I’m a negative Nancy. To the people around me, I’m the positive girl. I’m handling my situation wit patience and grace. Above all, I take it day by day and smile.

Gag me.

Okay, maybe it isn’t that extreme, but let’s be honest for just a little while: nobody who is chronically ill, is also a diehard optimist who pisses rainbows all day everyday. It’s not physically or mentally possible. There is a difference between appearing positive, and actually buying into the things you’re saying. I fake it a lot, and a lot of the times I’ll end up in a better mood having faked my way into one…but other times I get even more depressed. I see the version of me people seem to love, and I die a little inside because that girl isn’t me.

Sometimes I cry on the floor in a ball. I scream at lab reports, and books about Behcet’s. I stare in the mirror and struggle to recognize the balding, often bloated, version of me that stares back. I get anxious about going out more than ever. It used to be a fear of vomit, and getting groped or drugged. Now it’s just wondering if my wig is going to fall off, or if I should be wearing a mask because of the germs. At least my fears regarding gropers and drink drugging have taken a hiatus. Nobody wants to touch and/or drug the bald chemo chick.

This is why I get asked a bunch of questions before my infusions. I get to talk about pooping with several nurses. Then I get to talk about my weird bruising. Then we chat about my battles with neuropathy. Then it’s the mental health assessment. Yes I take medication for depression…the anxiety situation is another story. technically my antidepressant should work on both. Hahahahaha, have the drug companies tested it on someone with my particular life configuration?

That’s the point though! My life is absurd. It’s absolutely mad. If I weren’t anxious and depressed, I would be certifiably insane, and worthy of institutionalization. 

My reality is painful. I don’t feel as though I will ever be truly loved, I don’t feel like anyone will want to live with me, share a life with me, and I’m not talking marriage, though I’m open to the idea if I found someone who wanted that…I just don’t personally think marriage is what should define a relationship. How two people treat one another is really what defines them as a couple. That aside, I can’t find myself being loved, being lovable. Sure, I’m kind. I’m not a bad person, but I have issues with depression, anxiety, and worst of all Behcet’s. I feel like the only kind of man who would “love” me, would be the caliber of man that my ex was. My ex is not capable of love. He lacks empathy. He can mimic emotions having seen them, but he doesn’t feel guilt or remorse like a normal person does. I won’t ever live that way again, ever, but that decision makes me feel like I will always be alone. Like women like me have to settle for poor quality men, simply because the good guys won’t settle for broken women like me.

It’s all deeply rooted in childhood nonsense, an I can reread it and realize how absurd I sound, but anxiety and depression don’t work off of logic. I’m anxious about living alone forever because I like to cook and clean and have someone to be there for, and have someone who is there for me. I also realize space is a blessing, and have always valued my own alone time, and the alone time of others. I am a good person, but I’m not good to myself. I know this. Changing it is the struggle. Trying to sort out wants and needs, all while feeling like you’re simply not lovable. It’s a horrible feeling.

“Nobody will ever love a sick girl like you.” The last thing my ex ever said to me in person. It replays a lot, but it’s not always his voice. It’s the voice of friends who have left me. It’s the voice of family members who judge my decision to slow down my graduate school coursework. It’s the voice in my head, my own voice, when I see couples holding hands and walking. It’s the voice of my depression, latching onto every ounce of venom in those words, words he knew would break me. He said it to crush me, for leaving him, but I kept walking. I didn’t humor him, give into the fight, and postpone my drive. He would have loved feeling like he won. Instead I just kept walking. I told myself that I wouldn’t believe, and I still hope that maybe someday  I won’t. Right now? It still feels pretty real, and it’s cold, hard, and hollow.

Cytoxan Round #3