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    You can find all kinds of information on the web, and in your doctor’s office, about what chemicals you are being treated with and what they might do to you.

    Chemotherapy at first struck dread into me, thinking about what it would do to my body.  I wanted to do the things I had always done, to try to minimize the harm and keep my body in balance throughout, at least as much as I could.

    Wrong!

    Chemotherapy is a wild, crazy wave, and my job was to ride the crest of it until it broke.  Certainly I wanted to protect my healthy cells, but I wanted those chemicals to knock the %*@!! out of the cancer that was threatening my life.  It was a battle for control of my body.  It was a game of chicken between those purple ewoks and wookies and the angry little bald man.  My body was the stage for this drama.  Never mind balance, that didn’t apply here!

    I understood that uninterrupted treatment was the key to my survival.  By the fourth infusion, I finally understood that to stay on that wave I had to be as comfortable as possible.  Steroids with the infusion, ativan at night.  Pain killers, anti nausea medicine, laxatives, stool softeners, all my normal bodily functions had to be slapped around to keep me on that wave.  I had a vicious cancer, and one delayed treatment for whatever reason would give it a chance to bounce back.

    When I finally understood that this was the way of it, my strategy became very clear.  Stay on the crest of that wave, don’t fall off, support my body under the onslaught, and let every ounce of energy I had be harnessed to assist the treatment.

    The first big breakthrough was, pain and discomfort leads to stress, which weakens the body more.  By the fourth infusion I was taking all the meds they gave me, at the first hint that I might need them.  The more comfortable I was, the more my body could use the energy I had to fight the beast.

    I conserved my energy for the same reason.  I did things I loved, like walking, improv, reading, puttering outside.  Things that were an energy drain I declined, and people who were toxic to me I kept out of my space, sometimes with help from others.

    I said yes constantly, as I have discussed in another post.  When people wanted to pray, bring food, take care of my children, or tidy my home, I welcomed it all.  I also said no, just as consistently, to anything that would use my precious, limited energy for something that was not important to me.  Saying yes opened my heart.  Saying no taught me to trust myself.

    I used complementary therapies to minimize side effects, and to protect my healthy cells as much as I could.  I used imagery to protect my heart, to watch the tumors shrink, to build white blood cells and hemoglobin.  I never had to miss a treatment because of low blood counts.

    Dr. Brown told me to “eat what looks good to you” and I did that.  I also developed my once a day nutrition shake to make sure all the bases were covered.

    I took advantage of every resource.  My colleagues gave me massage weekly (I remain so grateful for this!), I received acupuncture, and I had a Healing Partner who provided Healing Touch for me every week for 6 months.

    I wanted to be sure I was really showing up for all this.  I wanted my whole being to know that I was engaged in my life, that I was passionate about it.  I took advantage of the counseling that was available at Healing with Hope.  I blogged like mad at Caringbridge, and celebrated life.  I painted my room purple.

    Do you have to do all this to weather the chemo storm?

    No, not at all.  Do it the way you do it.  Just keep three things in mind, if they seem good to you.

    1. Use all the medications they give you to be comfortable.  This is not the time to be stoic!  A comfortable body heals better and faster.

    2.  Do the things you really love with the energy you have.  That way you actually get some.

    3.  Let people help.  It blesses them just as much as it blesses you, if not even more.

    If this is you right now, know that my thoughts are with you, and you will get through it!

    Reading that old Caringbridge entry reminded me again of how grateful I am to my strong, resilient body.  It took such good care of me for so long.  I was under duress for so many years, I really can’t blame my precious body for letting in that intruder.  I met him in a dream, and he was wild.  Not smart, but crazy, aggressive, and scary as hell.  He was in my house, waving a broom to bludgeon me with.  He was only in the front hall.  He hadn’t made it upstairs, into the living room, or the kitchen.  In my dream, I ran outside in terror to get reinforcements.  I knew I couldn’t get him out myself, but I knew that the four men outside would come in and carry him out.

    I had that dream in the morning on the first day of chemotherapy.  I hadn’t had my PET scan yet, but after the dream I was confident that I was safely at Stage III, only locally advanced.  Steve suggested that I attack the wild man with fierce little monkeys.  Always ready to run away hand in hand with my imagination, I decided that I didn’t even want to see the scary bald man with the sharp teeth in my house.  I imagined him in a vast, empty white space, being slowly put to sleep until he was in a coma.

    Then, I changed the image to a beautiful landscape, vast and green, with dozens of little waterways running through it.  Marring this scene was a huge, ugly gray slag heap, with two smaller ones next to it.  As the Adriamycin and Cytoxan entered my veins, an army of busy little purple Ewoks, chattering and busy, marched in and went to work on those slag heaps.  I decided that they needed some bigger, stronger help, so I called in the Wookies.  It was a busy scene there!  They loaded up the mess that came off the heaps into barges, which were carried away.  Every time I had an infusion, there would be a couple of days when my breast would flush, and be extra red.  Then it would subside and the sheet in my breast would feel softer and smaller.  These tumors went from 11 centimeter and 2 plus centimeters to half a centimeter and less than a millimeter by the time I had surgery.  This was the AC.  I came up with different visuals for the Taxol and herceptin when that time came.

    I was of course concerned about white blood cells.  I watched another man get sent home, unable to have his treatment, because his white blood cell count was low.  I knew that I could not allow that to happen to me.  I could not give the aggressive cancer I was fighting any opportunity to regroup and become resistant.  Not one bad cell could survive!  So I needed those white blood cells and I needed plenty of them.

    Oh, they were so beautiful!  I love my white blood cells.  They emerge from the rich brown earth (my bones) and take shape in pairs.  They are strong and powerful, a male and a female sent out into the world of my body to keep it safe.  They look like greek gods, dressed in tunics of white and gold.  They are very tall, and they have wings.  They are noble, and they are relentless.  Any intruder is destroyed immediately with a beam of gleaming light like a thousand suns that comes straight from their hands.  If two of them are not enough, they communicate telepathically to other pairs of guardians, until there are enough to surround the threat completely.  I still to this day am aware of, and grateful to these majestic and fearsome protectors of my body.

    By the fourth infusion, my neulasta dose was cut in half.  When I started Taxol and it was neupogen (a slightly different medicine) I needed a reduced dose of that one as well.

    I met my objective.  My treatments were uninterrupted.  My body stayed the course, and I will always appreciate my body for it’s loyalty and patience.  I admire it so much for not allowing that terrifying breast cancer past my lymph nodes to escape into my organs and bones.  I am amazed and grateful that it withstood years and years of relentless stress before succumbing to a persistent invader.  Even then, my body was still there for me, and I finally learned how to be there for her.

    My beautiful white blood cells are still there, protecting me.

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