The Next Chapter

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I am staring at a new chapter of the cancer chronicles. It’s not a bad chapter, precisely, but it has me feeling a little uncomfortable. Or maybe restless. Or maybe I just don’t know what it is I’m feeling.

Next week I see my oncologist for my last biannual appointment. That is a great thing. I am nearly 8 years out from diagnosis and over 7 years since my first No Evidence of Disease report. That is a survivor’s dream.

There are only a few days left of my Arimidex and I won’t be refilling the prescription. Two years of Tamoxifen followed by five years of Arimidex and I’m finally done. The original plan was to be on post-chemo drugs for a total of five years, but somewhere around year four a study indicated that it was best to stay on the Arimidex for five years regardless of how long Tamoxifen had been taken. That was a huge disappointment at the time (worthy of a few tears), but the extra two years are done and I can finally stop the Arimidex.

Earlier this evening I was reading stories from women who had gotten off the Arimidex and how their lives were improved. More energy, weight loss, decreased stiffness and pain, slight reversal of some menopausal symptoms… all things that I deal with to some extent.  I want to be excited about the prospect of a better quality of life, but I’m afraid to. I am 47, after all. I’m not supposed to have as much energy, weight loss is supposed to be more difficult, stiffness and pain are just a part of growing older and menopausal symptoms are what you get when you’ve had your ovaries removed, right?

So what if I don’t notice any difference in any of those areas after I stop the medication? What if all my “symptoms” are just a result of my age?  I can tell you right now that if there is no improvement I will be just short of devastated. And incredibly furious. Again. The injustice of cancer has a way of causing righteous anger even still.

I was talking with two of my co-workers today and I told them that I don’t want to be a “new” me. I just want to be the old me. The me that I was at 39. Or more specifically, the me that I would be today if I hadn’t been derailed by the monster. Of course, I have no idea what that me would be. I just know it wouldn’t be the me I am. But maybe I’ll be much closer to that me after I stop the Arimidex. I guess time will tell.

There’s more to this chapter than this, though, and it goes beyond my own personal battle. This afternoon I started the process to get Katie genetically tested. When she was about 13 my oncologist told me that I would want her to be screened when she was 18 because some of her life choices would depend on whether or not she was genetically disposed to breast cancer. At the time 18 seemed so far away.

It hurts my heart that I’ve done this to her and Taylor. We don’t even know if this is genetic, but just the fact that Katie (and possibly Taylor) has to go through the testing is more than I think either of them should have to go through. I feel responsible and guilty and I’ve never been one to feel guilt over much of anything.  But this? I want to heap burning coals upon my head. Even though I know it’s not my fault. And yet…

I know I’ve said this time and time again over the past 7 years, but I really thought once I was through with treatment and reconstruction everything would be normal again. What I have found is that cancer has a ripple effect and I will never be completely free from it.  And sometimes that’s exhausting.

But then I remind myself that I don’t have cancer and I am healthy, quirky aging and/or side-effects aside. Even more important is that my children don’t have cancer and they are healthy. I have a husband who adores me, kids who love me, great family and friends and I am happy.

So next week I’ll go see the White Russian and he’ll say how great I’m doing and he’ll send me for a dexascan to see where my osteopenia is (that will hopefully eventually be reversed since I’m stopping the Arimidex) and then he’ll tell me that I don’t need to come back for another year (which will make me happy and sad all at the same time). And sometime soon Katie will go get tested to see if she has the BRCA gene (which I don’t think she does) and she can then make the educated choices that a young woman needs to make.

And then I can move on to the next chapter.

 

11 Comments

  1. nwhannas on February 7, 2013 at 1:55 am

    I feel your melancholy and exhaustion and your guilt, Jenny. And I want to hug it away over a white peppermint mocha. But I also celebrate. I celebrate that you’ve made your “mess” or your “monster” your message of perseverance and faith and hope for the last 5 years. What you’ve *done* to Taylor and Katie is given them a mom who fought like hell for her life, so that she could be there to mold them, wipe their tears, and love them for as long as God would allow. We all have predispositions for this or that or genetic links to such and such. That’s life on this side of heaven. But we also have a God who loves and who heals.

    Love you, muchly!

    • Jenster on February 7, 2013 at 12:29 pm

      You always have the perfect words. Always.

  2. Lyn on February 8, 2013 at 8:17 am

    Many junctures are bittersweet. Some people never realize that even the delightful changes are hard to make until they are faced with them. Moving on often means letting go, and letting go means you have to face something new. Exciting, yet anxiety producing, as well.

    As for your “gifts” to your children …. as nwhannas says, we all bring those. Mine is Alzheimer’s. Thank goodness there are medical miracles every day to lessen the ominous clouds. You’re an example of medical progress in breast cancer. It is too bad she needs to be tested, but thankfully she can. My first child was born about a year before the rhogam shots were available. Consequently I lost 5 babies before successfully having another. Timing, in medical progress, is a blessing. So think of it this way …. regretfully she has to have the test, and thank God she can.

    As always, you’re an inspiration. 🙂

    • nwhannas on February 8, 2013 at 10:16 am

      Beautiful words, Lyn.

    • Jenster on February 8, 2013 at 10:59 pm

      I had no idea about those children, Lyn, and I’m so sorry for it. You are absolutely right and I am very thankful for the medical advances I have benefitted from and that will help my children make informed decisions.

      I have also passed on the gifts of sarcasm, procrastination, rationalization and other character flaws that I see on a regular basis. 🙂

  3. Stacey Coates-Gagliano on February 10, 2013 at 8:43 am

    Jen I will be thinking of you as you go through this with Katie. Please let me know how you are doing and how she is doing. I have to get Maria tested when she is 18 also, I am BRCA positive so that weighs on my mind as it does yours and I know that time will come a lot quicker than I would like. I am so thankful for all of the progress they have made for breast cancer so that if she is positive there are steps that can be taken a better screening then there were years ago. Good Luck.

    • Jenster on February 10, 2013 at 11:25 am

      Stacey – You’re a great example of why the genetic testing is a good thing. And you’re exactly right. Screening is so much better and more precise and that’s significant.

  4. Tara Watson on February 10, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    Jen- your words are courageous, inspiring and haunting. Not haunting in a scary way but haunting in a “they stuck in my gut” kind of way.
    While I could never begin to understand your hell that is (was) cancer, I can relate to the feeling of losing yourself somewhere along the way. You mourn for that old self and sometimes long for her.
    I’ve had trigeminal neuralgia for 10 years now, almost my whole son’s life and half of my daughters. Sometimes it makes me sad that they’ll never know what I was like before the hammer came down and changed my life. The Mom that could go to their sports games without worrying about the heat. The Mom that could go their concerts and listen to loud music without fussing about the noise. The Mom that could go sled with them at Valley Forge or get the family Christmas tree without worry that the cold could bring on yet another round of world-stopping pain. The Mom that was normal.
    And then I remember that they know and love me for who I am now. Period. No past comparisons. And even though some days I lament this illness with such anger; most days I praise God for it. Because quite honestly, I am a better person on so many levels now than I was 10 years ago when I thought I was “normal”.
    I love deeper. I hug tighter. I laugh louder. I live slower. I work harder. I give more. I linger with friends longer.
    Praying that this next chapter in your life is an all-out page turning best seller!
    Keep on keepin’ on my friend.

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