Sweater Weather

sweaters breast cancer hot flashes northern virginiaOk, I know that it’s finally officially summer, so not the normal time to write about sweater weather.  But I was rather attached to this stack of cardigans a few months ago.  In fact, after Christmas, I went out and bought three of four of these, along with a several tank tops to add to my stack, in the same trip.  They were just that important.

Chemo does lots of things to a gal’s body.  Not many people mention it, but one of the lovely side effects is chemically induced menopause.  That’s right, ladies.  Hot flashes.   (And a few other undesirables…)  But the hot flashes nearly drove me nuts.  They started at night, and so I’d just take off the hat I slept in to keep my head warm and stick in in my windowsill.  That way, when the hot flash had passed and I was cold again, I could reach for it and grab it in the dark.  But managing them during the day got a little tricky.  I have so many lovely bulky sweaters.  They didn’t get much wear this winter.  It was a lot of cardigans and blazers for me this winter so that I could shed a layer when I got hot.  I’m sure a bald chick with a scarf on her head and a wearing a tank top with jeans looked totally normal in December.

My oncologist asked about the hot flashes, and I was reluctant to take any more meds, I thought I was managing fine.  But when she asked how I was sleeping, I had to admit that between the hot flashes and whatever else was going on with me, it wasn’t great.  She gave me something to take at bedtime that would control the hot flashes but might make me sleepy, and it made a HUGE difference.  It’s not a drug without side effects, but it really didn’t bother me.  By the time I finished chemo, I was taking a different medication in the morning to keep the daytime hot flashes at bay, and I could actually start wearing something other than the tank top/cardigan combination.  I’m so thankful for the support meds that have been developed– there’s no reason to avoid them and be a martyr.  Quality of life is so important, and they made a huge difference in mine.  So worth it.

Before I had a great handle on them, I was at chemo and was fanning myself through yet another hot flash.  The French girl mentioned that she was usually cold at chemo, she couldn’t believe that I was hot.  I told her it was just a hot flash, that if she wasn’t having them, she probably would be soon, she was just a couple of cycles behind me.  Apparently, she’d missed the part of chemo camp where they’d said to expect hot flashes.  She was actually planning to call her landlord that afternoon because she thought her heater was broken– kicking on super high randomly through the night!

This Too Shall Pass

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It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost two years since I read Ashley’s post entitled "This Too Shall Pass."  That’s a phrase people use a lot.  In fact, I found myself using it last fall as I realized that my school year would be filled with trips to the doctor, chemo, surgery, recovery.  At the onset of all that, I took a deep breath, and took comfort in the fact that when school finished up for the year, I’d be pretty much finished with all that cancer stuff.  This too shall pass, I’d tell myself.

And it has!  As I prepare to send my littles off to school one last time this year, I realize that I’ve been thinking of that phrase often, but in a completely different way.  More in the way Ashley talked about it.  And it makes me a little misty-eyed.  Through everything this year, we’ve always headed to the bus stop a little earlier than necessary.  The kids play and the moms (and a few dads, too!) drink coffee and chat.  After school each day through the heat, the cold, even a light rain, we stay, usually an hour or more.  The kids have come up with the most elaborate games– first there was the Olympics, the ever popular natural disaster scenarios, fairies, city government, mud puddles, and now warrior cats.  They’re like siblings and sometimes there are fights, but mostly this group, aged two to nine, has great fun together.  For the parents who sit on beach towels in the grass while the kids play, this is valuable time.  Some days, it may be the only adult conversation we get until after the kids are in bed.  And yet, the last few weeks as I’ve watched the kids, I wonder how long it will last.  Emma Clare is the eldest of the brood, and she’s started asking to walk home early or sit with me and read instead of play.  I feel like it’s a bit of a golden time, one that I know I will look back on so fondly.  I always seem to get a little contemplative at this time of year.  But it’s so funny to me that I genuinely believe that I’ll be looking back on this year with a misty-eyed smile.  In spite of the cancer, maybe even because of it, this has been a precious year to me.

But for now, there’s no more looking back.  I have just under four and a half hours to enjoy the kids’ school time before we head to frozen yogurt with the crew and then come back for bus stop night.  And I will enjoy every second of those four and a half hours.  Because I am certain of it, this too shall pass.

Finally a Haircut

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I was so excited last week to head back to Georgetown for my first haircut since the “big cut” last fall. Since I didn’t take along my photographer, the picture’s not so hot. I wasn’t sure I wanted to pay so much for cutting such a little bit of hair, but it was so worth it. Dragan did a great job and I really love how it turned out.

Warrior Spirit

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The day I had my head shaved, it was cool, so I wore this leather jacket. When I donned my soon to be favorite scarf, I realized that I had a bit of a bad-girl biker chick look going on.  And I liked it!  As soon as I put the scarf on, Sally and I knew that we’d need pictures of that look!

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Upon seeing the pictures from that day, one friend commented that I looked like a warrior, ready to head into battle.  I liked that analogy, and somehow “warrior” got attached to this photo in my mind, too.  More than one friend who’s gone through breast cancer has commented that she never wanted to go out without her wig, fearing that she would look weak, sick.  That people would pity her.  I’m sure some people pitied me, but they never treated me like that.  I told these friends that I always felt like it showed strength to put on a scarf, some good lipstick, and a smile.  And now with more hair and little air of “sickness” to me, I think I’ve never looked stronger than in these pictures.  (Many thanks again to Sally for capturing such lasting images of strength.)

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Photography by Sally Brewer Photography

Lipstick: Dubbonet by MAC

More medical forms

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I had a regular, non-cancer doctor visit today. I couldn’t help but giggle when I saw the first line on this section. And I couldn’t resist drawing a smiley face. Yes, there have been some changes…

In a Bit of a fog…

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This is a blurry look at my life line lately.  My calendar is filled with appointments, school activities, after school events, and a few fun things too.  I’m constantly referring to this just to be sure I haven’t forgotten something.  Notice all the scratch outs?  And then there are the things that are circled so that I won’t over look them.  Lately, I’ve been having a hard time keeping my schedule straight.  Some things I’ve written down wrong, some things are written down right but stuck in my head on the wrong day.  Luckily I haven’t totally missed anything (that I know of!), but it’s been close.

After coming home from the hospital, Clay gave me our copy of Scientific American to check out—the whole issue was on cancer.  The most interesting article was actually on a phenomenon called “chemo fog.”  (They blogged about the same topic here.)  Chemotherapy drugs actually don’t usually cross the blood-brain barrier well, but somehow cognitive deficits are well documented in chemotherapy patients, some for months and years after treatment.  It’s a phenomenon that’s hard to study in people, you can’t really do a trial of cognitive abilities before and after chemo (who isn’t rattled just after finding out they have cancer?) and you can’t withhold chemo from some patients to see if they remember things better than those who got the drugs.  The study they referenced in the article used mice and established memory and concentration problems with chemo treatment.  Interestingly, they found that exercise helped exacerbate** the cognition problems, so I’d hate to see what I’d be like if I hadn’t run all through chemo!

All that is to say that I feel like my calendar is sometimes fuzzy in my mind just like it is on this screen.  Of course, it could be harder to keep straight just because it’s so full!  The end of the school year gets pretty crazy.  But just in case I forget something that’s important to you, please forgive me!  I’m blaming the chemo.

**oops, that’s not the right word! In fact, it’s completely opposite from the right word! I’ll leave it, it illustrates the point well. What I meant to say is that exercise helps combat  the cognitive deficits from chemo.

To scarf or not to scarf?

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So many decisions…  Wig?  Hat?  Scarf?  On my very first visit to the oncologist, I sat in the lab to have blood drawn with another young woman.  She was so stylish—skinny jeans, tall boots, and a long scarf tied around her bald head.  Somehow, at that moment, I knew that I’d spend most of my time in a scarf.  Just about two weeks before, I’d headed to Zoe Boutique to hang out for Fashion’s Night Out in Alexandria.  I love a good swag bag, and that night was no exception—the pebbled Velvet scarf on the far left was part of Zoe’s swag for the night.  It turned out to be the perfect “neutral” and I wore it more than any other scarf, with just about everything.  It’s a jersey (t-shirt) knit, and so comfy, and I liked having the long “tail” hanging behind me.  Maybe I was missing my pony tail. Second from the left was my second favorite—a silk scarf that I picked up at Amalgamated Classics Clothing and Dry Goods—a fun little vintage shop in Del Ray, I wore it with a few of my favorite bulky brown sweaters—it was a square scarf and tied more like a kerchief without the long tail.  The rest actually got more wear around my neck, when I was looking to hide the straps and bulkiness of the post-surgical compression gear.  I looked for more scarves, but came up with few options, in the fall, most of the scarves were too bulky.  Now that it’s spring, I feel like I see scarves I’d like to wear on my head all the time! (I have to fight the urge to hoard them!) I’ve also noticed that there is quite a good selection of scarves at consignment and thrift shops, which is great not only because they’re not as spendy, but it’s easier to pick up a pretty unique selection at a place like that.  Wish I’d been looking there last fall!