Two years with Breast Cancer. WOW can you believe that, it actually feels longer! I would never have thought two years ago today I would be enduring endless chemo treatments. I stopped counting around 60ish. I wouldn’t have thought some of my best friends would jump ship. And I would never have imagined this sickness, pain and discomfort.
Three years surviving Metastatic Breast Cancer means I beat the statistics. One more to go. But when did the timer start? Is it two years ago today when I received that dreaded call...“Larissa I’m sorry to inform you, it’s Cancer.” Or on April 27 when my whole body scan lit up like a Christmas Tree. Two years ago today I didn’t know I was Metastatic yet, no one knew...no one looked. There’s no question now I was along.
Two years ago today it was a warm March day. I remember standing outside on the phone with my dad in short sleeves and sweat pants giving him the news. The sun was high and warm. Dying was far from my mind. Women survive breast cancer everyday right? Yet, Pink Awareness doesn’t highlight MBC woman. I was 100% afraid, I was 100% unsure what the next 6 months would be like. But I wasn’t thinking: Life with cancer. For all I knew I would be a survivor after a double mastectomy, maybe chemo, maybe radiation…. Not endless treatments and several close calls.
These past several weeks I’ve struggled. And the struggles get harder each time. This time, I started planning my end of life. Two years ago if someone told me this is what I would be doing - I’d have said they were crazy. I delayed writing this blog because two years with cancer isn’t easy. It’s not easy to write this and even harder when your stuck in bed grasping the blankets, the pillow, you’re partner. It’s hard to do anything when you feel like a small boat in the middle of a major hurricane. You wonder - how long can I hold on for? When while I capsize? Two years ago I would never have imagined how life would test me.
Two years ago we were planning a family. Two years ago today freezing my eggs was an option. In less then forty days that option ceased. I see my friends popping babies out like Bruno Mars pops out hit songs...Martin really wanted kids. I’m now a small boat flooded with guilt.
Two years ago I proudly called myself a gym rat. Now I try and Cancer kicks me out.
Two years ago today was the last morning I woke up in peace. No fear. No pain No side effects. It was just a morning like any other morning, but I couldn’t describe it for you - I took it for granted. I would tell you that if you have a moment of peace - cherish it, savor it, remember it. But those moments aren’t always so easily apparent. It’s not until they’re gone when you recognize it for what it was. I don’t remember what peace like that feels like anymore. Maybe one day that memory will come back. Maybe one day I’ll do more than just remember...maybe I’ll feel it.
Metastatically Speaking Larissa Podermanski
As much as we hope that a treatment will last forever, it usually doesn’t. I have been lucky -- two out of the three treatments I have done have held strong for about eight months each time. But three treatments in less than two years can be discouraging because I will run out of treatments soon, unless more funding goes toward research for metastatic breast cancer.
The week in between Christmas and New Year’s I experienced body spasms but had no idea what caused them. I feared progression. I have been on this type of chemotherapy called Erublin since August 2017 and hadn’t experienced these side effects before. Since, when my cancer decides to progress it does so quickly, we pushed for a CT scan. Nothing. The scans showed nothing, which in cancerland is good news. The symptoms kept coming, with more intense spasms followed by a break. After the third round of spasms, I started to get sicker, nauseous, tired, weak and having immense ongoing liver discomfort and spasms. We hoped to not need to scan till the end of March or early April, but last week we got in the car and went up to Dana Farber for imaging.
Usually, when we go to Boston we make it a little special; we at least go out to dinner, but I felt so sick and nauseous the idea of doing anything other than laying down in our hotel room felt impossible. Sleeping has become an on-going challenge because once the medication wears off the discomfort and/or pain will wake me up and falling back to sleep can feel like a coin toss. Heads you will fall back to sleep, tails your loss. It usually falls on tails.
Tuesday morning we head to Dana Farber, nothing has changed; I still felt really bad. I kept trying to put one foot in front of the other, keep my head up so I wouldn’t lose my balance and keep an escape route in mind incase whatever sat in my stomach attempted to come up. As I wait after my scan for the nurse to “de-access” me -- that’s what they say when they need to remove your port needle in your chest -- my symptoms are getting harder and harder to hide. I sat in the hallway with my head against the wall as I listen to this older woman complain about routine annual tests and her hatred of needles. I thought about the time when I was afraid of needles, but can you please hurry up before I throw up all over this hallway?!?! More and more I listen to how small some people’s big problems are, but I remind myself I’m happy you don’t know my problems as I hope fewer and fewer people ever have to walk in my shoes; but hurry up!
After getting de-accessed Martin and I ventured upstairs where we play a game like I’m a 2-year-old; What do you want to eat? Nothing it’s okay…. Open up, you gotta eat… zoom zoom take a bite. Being 2 must have been so fun -- you didn’t even have to worry about feeding yourself. After a successful six bites we went upstairs to get my results. As normal, someone calls me in to get my vitals. How are you? OK, can I have a throw up bag and has anyone reported that the building keeps shaking? They really should have that looked at. Before I knew I was rolled into a private room because apparently the ground wasn’t shaking and throwing up isn’t a good thing. I felt so sick.
Soon after my doctor enters my room and gently gets straight to the point: Larissa, it’s progression and the reason why you feel this way is because of your liver. I felt so miserable I couldn’t cry or feel upset. I just begged for whatever could make me feel better right now. She explained we really need to discuss trying a new treatment today. New chemo right now? In cancerland you want to fight back as fast as you can so it can take effect and potentially you start to feel better again, so I said let’s do this. They first started with Ativan, which can help with nausea (but with less risk of constipation), then a huge bag of fluids which is a godsend, followed by my new chemotherapy: Doxil.
Doxil is administered once a month and is an anti-cancer ("antineoplastic" or "cytotoxic") chemotherapy drug. It is the drug doxorubicin encapsulated in a closed lipid sphere (liposome). Doxil is classified as an "anthracycline antibiotic." That couldn’t have possibly helped you understand because I don’t even understand it!
After Dana Farber helped put me back together again, the next day was not a walk in the park, but I wasn’t expecting to feel 100 percent; I just started a new chemo and would still have all these liver side effects until the new chemo kicks in. WARNING: There is no promise this chemo will work. I’ve been very fortunate that all the chemos I have taken have worked but it wasn’t promised. I will feel like crap until this chemo starts to work, if it works.
Larissa feeling like crap means:
I will rest a little more, I will do more from my chair and bed but I will not stop. I have exciting MBC stuff approaching and intend to keep it up. Martin and I plan to swing down to Florida in a few weeks and bring our little RV back up to Connecticut after swinging through Key West. By doing this we will be able to keep me mobile even though I don’t feel well. None of this will be easy on me, but staying home too much can turn into solitary confinement. Your thoughts start to haunt you, you begin a war of balance within yourself, your fear runs rampant, you become more and more irritable and you get sucked up into a black hole. Now even I know that that can’t be healthy? That’s not how to create a platform for yourself. But “resting” too much -- even if you need it -- can become hard emotionally, mentally and physically, and I completely can understand why some thrivers struggle to escape from the dark cloud.
I have returned to my local cancer center for fluids and help to get back to “tolerable” and I’ll probably be back for more next week. Cancer sucks, but it’s up to me to turn something sucky into something else even though it isn’t always a walk in the park. But I’m going to shine -- you can count on it. You might even think “How is she sick?”
“How are you?” The question I’m asked over and over again, each and every day. I don’t mind answering how I’m feeling, it’s a completely normal thing to ask, but let me explain what better or okay actually means.
“How are you?”
Better can mean so many different things. This past week I went from a 10 to an 8. Yeah, I feel better, but far from the better most associate with the word better.
We spend so much time sometimes trying to explain how we are feeling when, to be honest, its no easy task. Am I ever okay? No, I have cancer. But I am okay because when I’m feeling up to it I choose to be OKAY. Man is this hard to explain.
This is where positivity and determination tend to get mushed into one meaning. Am I the super positive wonder woman? Or am I a 6 on the scale and I just want to make the most of it because someday I’ll be a 10 again.
I was dreading Tuesday because I thought that I might be developing a reaction to my chemo, but Monday came and so did the pain. We don’t know why or what’s going on with me, but cancer, health, and life is hard to have all the answers for. Monday I felt the tightness in my liver, hours later the spasms crept in and by Monday afternoon I was stuck in bed afraid to move. Tuesday was supposed to be chemo day but it turned into ‘how can we try to help Larissa’s pain level get to be a 9 a least?’ By Wednesday the pain medication was finally kicking in and I could say I was finally an 8 and ready for chemo but my nausea spiked. Usually you hear of people throwing up from chemo but I was throwing up right up until chemo. Thursday I sat on the couch on my computer all day unsure what to do other than get caught up on computer stuff. I felt ironically better. What’s better? 7.
Life with cancer is no walk in the park and describing it is a very challenging word hunt! Part of cancer is being sick, so being under the weather shouldn’t surprise anyone. But how do we really feel? Well, better technically, but still in bed.
Tuesday’s have normally been a day that could be full of medical appointments. Majority of my chemotherapy days tend to fall on Tuesdays. This Tuesday is no different. Usually, it comes along and passes, I can experience slight anxiety but nothing people tend to notice.
But over the past couple months twice I’ve experienced mind blowing physical pain for several days after infusion. The first time it happened I feared the pain meant progression but didn’t think to connect it to chemo. Then we celebrated it wasn’t progression! But last treatment just hours after infusion the pain set in and left me incapacitated for days. Unable to walk, laugh, breath deeply, and function. Moments like these can leave you quite hopeless, but I clung on to hope that this to shall pass and it did.
Hope barely got me through those days, and now I fear it will happen again this coming Tuesday. I have tons on my plate after people I counted on jumped ship in my life. I will have to figure out pushing forward while in excruciating pain which I can’t even imagine. Life isn’t fair and never have I thought it would be. I mean if life was fair I wouldn’t have cancer and I would be on my way to starting a family surrounded by loyal supportive friends. Oh how I love to dream.
I haven’t been afraid of much this journey, but this Tuesday has me shaking in my bones. What if it lasts longer this time? I barely survived last cycle. I accept that fear is normal, and we have to face fear sometimes to get stronger but I’m willingly walking into something that is similar to torture. Can I face that? Am I ready to re-grow my relationship to my bed while it turns in to my roller coaster cart for it to whip me around and thrust me against the sharpest corners around.
Am I suppose to not be afraid of Tuesday because I’ve been so strong these past 2 years? I might be more scared of Tuesday, more than I was on the Tuesday of my double mastectomy. You might be wondering if your so scared why go through with this? Erublin has kept my cancer at bay, it has been the one chemo to reduce the size of my chemo. So it leaves you questioning: life or pain. I have chosen life so I have to tolerate it for awhile or until we know for sure its coming from the chemo, which we don’t 100% know as of yet.
Tuesday I will walking into the house of horrors which I usually look at as a party of wonderful people. Which they are still wonderful people!
When I look in the mirror I see many scars.
My chest is striped with two large scars. Two scars that remind me each day that pain is temporary.
I look at my arms and see needle prick scars from all the IVs and blood draws.
I see my port scar, a bulging lump that marks where my chemotherapy is administered. Oh my dear heart.
I see my short, dark hair as a scar, since it isn’t the hair I began my journey with.
I look down at my feet to remind myself that they are still there.
My teeth ache as I wait for the opportunity for my blood counts to approve so I can see a dentist.
I see my 60-pounds-lighter body, which is bittersweet.
I see my slightly pronounced right collarbone, which fractured in my sleep.
I feel my hip, which hurts every time it rains.
I view in the mirror my complexion, my chemo-aged skin and wrinkles.
I now have freckles ... which I never asked for.
And last, my biggest scar of all -- which is invisible to everyone but me. My infertile womb, the reality of which I struggle with each and every day.
My scars remind me that whatever comes next, it might not be as bad as what I have dealt with. But if it is worse, that pain can truly be temporary.
My scars are a part of me and a constant reminder that I survived this long, and they offer me courage for what’s to come...
Woman battling all stages of breast cancer loose a piece of their identity. Even though we may smile publicly, when we are alone with the mirror, it can take a few seconds to remember that is YOU staring back through the mirror. Sometimes you need the opportunity to see a different you, but a you your proud of now. Adjusting to the new you can be a challenge itself and for me a boost of confidence was exactly what I needed.
The Fab-U-Wish program was developed by Guliana Rancic to help make women like me feel beautiful again. Before cancer I NEVER wore makeup. People I leaned on told me I never needed it and I loved never wearing it.
I don’t think I’m ugly now, but I do appreciate the opportunity to have someone doll me up like a princess. Sometimes that dose of confidence can turn what may be borderline depression into a day of depression relief. You can bet that when I’m down I ask someone to help me grow and shine.
Guilana Rancic’s program helped lift me up. Learn more here...
Metastatic Breast Cancer Thriver/Founder of Metastatically Speaking