Chemo Brain and Shaved Heads

I promised to talk about my time during chemo, and I’m going to! But…..there is much I don’t remember.  My entire cancer experience was done before social media, so I didn’t document much.  I was given a journal in one of my many “you have cancer so here’s some stuff” bags…..and I really tried to write down what was going on….but I only got one page done and it was my typical ~ Dear Diary….I will be better at writing in you this time!  That didn’t happen…..again.

My treatment time was a blur.  There was so much going on, not just dealing with cancer.  I was still in training for a difficult and high stress job, planning a wedding, and getting chemo/radiation.  No big deal, right?  To say I was exhausted is an understatement. I somehow found an inner strength I didn’t know existed in me and I made it all work.  But that is why my memories of that time are blurry and skewed.  Pictures help…..and some standout moments.   So……I will start recalling some of those moments over my next entries here…..

I do remember the day of my first chemo.  It was 9/25/2003, a Thursday.  I know that because I was married exactly one year from this date.  And Thursday was chosen based on the information my doctor gave me about chemo reactions.  I was able to have a flex schedule at work, where I worked 9 hours a day, 4 days a week, and 4 hours on the 5th day.  So I worked 4 hours on Thursday, and went straight to chemo.  Every 3 weeks I’d get my full treatment of Carboplatin, Taxotere, and Herceptin.  Then every week it would just be the Herceptin.

That first day my mom came with me.  I wasn’t sure I wanted her there, but was grateful later.  They were so crowded that day, it made me sad there were so many people getting treatment.  I was put in a room with another women who was getting her treatment already.  Her name was Ellen.  She was the nicest lady, and her daughter was with her.  Ironic…..since my mom came with me.  Actually, at one point they left to get us some food from McDonald’s 🙂  Ellen became my chemo buddy….and I wish I could remember our exact conversations, or any meaningful interactions.  All I have is the memory of her making me feel less anxious and more comfortable.

The treatment itself wasn’t especially memorable.  I remember the first one starting at watching the poison creep through the line until it went into my port.  I almost expected an instant reaction or feeling…..but there was nothing.  I suppose that was good…and it probably gave me a false sense of relief that I’d have no reactions at all!  Of course that wouldn’t be the case, but I felt great that day.  And I felt great the next day…..and the next….and the next.  It was the Monday after that it all came crashing down on me.  I was at work, eating some instant oatmeal.  It was apple cinnamon.  I didn’t even finish the bowl before everything I ate came rushing back up.  I went home after that.  After that I called in sick every Monday after my full treatment.  Tuesday wasn’t much better, but I could still function and I had no choice but to work.  That was one of the hardest things….going to work on those awful days when I just couldn’t function.  I used all my energy to get myself to work and do my job.

I was referred to a local place by my oncologist to figure out my hair situation.  They told me my hair would likely start falling out within the first 2 weeks of my first chemo treatment.  I hated having to do this….and to this day, seeing pictures of women wearing wigs in ads make me nauseous.  I met Sharie at a place called Studio I and she helped me pick out a wig.  I of course wanted something that would seem like a smooth transition…something that wouldn’t be obvious.  I guess I really thought that no one would notice, even though everyone knew.  Well…..of course once my hair started coming out…it came out fast.  I remember people asking me if it had started coming out yet, and I’d comb my hand through it and hold out a handful of hair.  They would always look horrified….I thought it was funny.  But once it got too bad….and very obvious I wouldn’t last much longer, I made the appointment to pick up my wig and get it fitted.  That day……ugh.  It was a Friday, and I went right after work.  Adam came with me.  And that night….Sharie shaved my head and fit my wig.  Looking back, I wish I’d taken video or pictures, but that wasn’t part of my mindset yet.  Again….before Facebook….even Myspace! 😉  I do know that we decided to shave in some funny looks…a mohawk was part of it.   As always, I have to make it funny or I’d fall apart.  I left there with my new hair…..and the feeling of really being a cancer patient.  People will always say that your hair is the least of your worries when you are fighting for your life…..but until it’s you, you don’t know.  The last thing you want is to have such a public image of your personal medical issue.  And no matter how vain it sounds…..your hair is part of your identity.  It’s a statement of your personality, your creativity, your style.  Having that taken away makes you question who you even are anymore.  Just another cancer patient.  Many people don’t realize you don’t just lose the hair on your head….but eventually every single hair on your body.  You may have some super strong hairs holding on for dear life…so you may end up with a Homer Simpson style, and you don’t dare pull those hairs out….you let them live!!!  And actually….writing about it now makes me cry.  It was traumatic and one of the many parts of cancer I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Over the course of my treatment I became very close to the staff.  Many of them were my age….and it was actually nice to have people who didn’t treat me like a sick person.  Funny….that it was the people at my doctor’s office that didn’t treat me like I was going to break 🙂  It was their support every week that helped me get through…..they were just amazing.  They are still part of my life…..and it’s because of them I’m still here! I truly believe that!

At some point during my treatment I stopped seeing Ellen.  At first I thought maybe she changed days……but as time went on I found that she had lost her battle.  It broke my heart.  She was my first major cancer loss, and I actually felt so guilty that I was still here.  I will always remember how at ease she made me feel…..knowing she was sitting next to me all those weeks fighting for her life.

Below are pictures of my many cancer looks during treatment.  The last picture is one I came across recently that I didn’t know I had.  It’s a very real picture of what cancer is really like.

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There is more……but I’ll save for another time.  I think I’ll take some time to cry now.  Sometimes reliving or remembering is just too much…..but by sharing, I hope that other people will know they aren’t alone.  And I really want people to know there is someone out there that understands those awful days.  Sometimes those days just suck.

Katie

Author: rosylenslife

I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 24. My life, job, relationships, everything was changed. I decided to face my battle with humor and keep myself positive. Life after cancer is still crazy, and I'm hoping that by sharing what I went through, and continue to go through, will help someone else feel a little less alone.

10 thoughts on “Chemo Brain and Shaved Heads”

  1. Thank you for sharing. I am a breast cancer survivor and I have found that sharing helps others. I cried reading this and I hope you don’t mind said a prayer for you and your loved ones. I look forward to reading the rest when you are ready to share.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am a survivor of Hodgkins Lymphoma. I had a relapse 3 times in less then two years. Went from a 97% chance of beating it down to a 5% the last go around. I am pleased to share that was 10 years ago! What a journey but it has changed my entire outlook on life as I am sure it did you as well. Thank you for sharing with us!!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you and yes it does. You have a new normal and look at life unlike most. People sometimes ask me how I can be so calm and let things not get to me. Well when you have been as close to death as I you appreciate everything in life and definetly don’t sweat the small stuff that drives most of us crazy. Life is too short for that.

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      2. AMEN!!!!! It’s so true. And I try not to take some of it all so seriously. I have to laugh, I have to be a little crazy…..otherwise I’d just fall apart ❤

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  3. Oh dear Katie, I always feel awe struck re-living those days with you. You are an amazing person and while I hope I would have met you another way, better this way than not at all. Love, Audrey (and Eric).

    Like

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