In April 2001, I was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer. I was a news anchor for WESH-TV, and there was no way I’d be able to hide the soon-to-be bald head, freakishly pale skin, and weight loss of chemotherapy…. or the repeated multiple days I’d miss from work. I also didn’t want to push my autobiography on the 6 pm news. So to share may story and try to dispel rumors and fear, I wrote this diary. These days it would be called a blog. I was ahead of my time. 🙂 I am republishing them, mostly unedited, in hopes of inspiring and informing a new decade of cancer patients and their families. Here’s June, 2001.
Hello, Chemo (I Didn’t Make This Sound Nearly as Heinous as it Was)
June 1, 2001
I had my first chemotherapy treatment Tuesday, and it was a doozy. The actual medical procedure was a piece of cake.. The nurse gave me an anti-nausea drug through an IV, then Adriamycin and Cytoxin, the two chemo drugs. I felt great and even planned to go to work Tuesday night. Silly me. I think I missed the window of opportunity to take the anti-nausea drugs I had at home, because I felt awful. You may have noticed I wasn’t at work this week. It has been like the worst hangover you’ve ever had. (Of course, I don’t know what that feels like, ha, ha). But today, I am beginning to feel better.
One down, three to go of the A-C cycles. I did get some good news this week. I got into a clinical study of two other chemotherapy drugs, Taxol and Taxotere. They are testing the drugs and the frequency of dosages. I got on the schedule I wanted. Taxetere at lower doses, once a week. The doses will be less toxic and my hair may even grow back in! Bonus! That part of my treatment doesn’t start until August. On other fronts, I got my permanent make-up on Sunday, so when my eyebrow hairs fall out (if they do), I’ll know where to draw them back on. Left to my own devices, there’s no telling what I’d do with an eyebrow pencil. I need guidelines! My hairdresser and I got a wig, and he’s going to cut and highlight it so it looks like my real hair in the next couple of days. That will be an adventure, too. I plan to return to work soon, and things will be a little different, not just for me, but for my coworkers, too. The chemo drugs destroy healthy cells as well as sick cells. That means my white blood cell count drops, and I could get very, very sick if I’m around sick people. And if I get sick, it’ll delay my chemo treatments. That means I’ll be working with anti-bacterial wipes and Lysol. I won’t even share a phone — lots of germs there. Right about now, I feel exhausted and a little stiff from lying around my house for two days, but things are looking up. It was a two-Smoothie day!! How could it be all bad?
Thanks for your continued prayers and support.
The First In-Between Week, Doping, and Hair
June 8, 2001
It’s been a very good week. I’ve been feeling stronger every day, and am doing all I can to return to whatever “normal” is. Ever since the nausea from the chemo treatment waned, it’s been fatigue that’s gotten me. But this week, I got on my bike (on a bike trainer) and ran (on a treadmill) and lifted a few weights with my personal trainer, Jason. That felt great. It is discouraging, though, not to be able to go gung-ho at training, like I always have. This is a good lesson in patience and pacing. I know I’m going to treasure my “in-between” weeks for the next few months. I never realized how much I’d come to value every day life — nothing special or exciting — just being able to do normal things like see a movie or shop or swim, and not be totally wiped out by them. During those in-between weeks, though, there’s a danger of getting sick, because the white blood cell count drops. I have to get a Nuepegen shot every day. That makes the bone marrow produce white blood cells. One side effect is lower back pain, which I have, so once again, I’m taking Advil to treat the side effect of a drug that’s treating a side effect. Hmmm… As the week closes, I still have my hair, which is another thing I’ve always taken for granted. At the first sign of it falling out, from the chemo, I plan to shave my head. Erykah Badu did it, and she looks great! The docs say the hair falls out in 12 to 16 days. Friday, June 9 is day 11. My wig is done and waiting for me to use at work. The jury’s still out on how often I’ll wear it off the air. Usually, I wear bandannas around my head during running and other stuff and I’ll probably continue to do that. The hair thing is what bothers me most this week. After it’s gone, I’ll choose something else to obsess about. I got the best “thank you” this week for “coming out” about my breast cancer. A cancer doc told me that several of his new patients aren’t so scared about what they’re going through because of this journal and stories we’re running on Newschannel 2. There are those out there saying all of this is a ratings ploy, but they just don’t get it, do they? If I can make this life change easier for someone, why wouldn’t I do it? You would do the same thing.Right now, I am feeling great and strong and normal. And isn’t that something?
Hair, and Hair We Go Again
June 15, 2001
This week brought the day I’d been dreading since the cancer diagnosis: the dreaded hair starting to fall out. You always hear that it comes out in clumps and chunks, but that’s not really what happened to me. On day 15 after chemo, it started falling out a strand at time, then a few more, and a few more. I tried to put it off, but it was getting to be annoying. So, Tuesday morning I called my friend and hairdresser, Michael, and we shaved it all off. I have to say, it was sort of a relief, after stressing about it. My feeling is that I wasn’t about to let it happen (my hair falling out). Instead, I took it off, took action. It was very empowering. I asked somebody if I looked like Demi Moore (in “G.I. Jane,” but was told I look more like Sinead O’Conner. Oh well. The wig looks pretty good. Maybe you were fooled? This was still a good week. I woke up feeling well every day, and the fatigue was just about gone. I rode my bike (still on the trainer) and finally got back on the road, running. I ran 3 miles on some hills in Winter Park (they really exist!). It was hard — very, very hard! It’s amazing and somewhat discouraging how quickly the body loses its edge. Luckily, it’ll come back. It’ll just take a while. This week, a crew from Lifetime Real Women network came to shoot a mini-documentary on me. They’re doing feature stories on regular women across the country, and for whatever reason, they chose me. I don’t know yet when it’ll run. It’s very, very strange to be the subject of a story, though. I prefer asking the questions. I now only have a few days until the next chemo treatment. I’ll be checked into the hospital this time, in an effort to avoid the problems I had with dehydration last time. Hopefully, getting IVs immediately will stave off the nausea, etc. I’m hoping I’ll be able to recover much more quickly this time. I am readier than I ever have been to enjoy this weekend. I’ll see old friends at a wedding, and do a lot of just hanging out. Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there.
Foiled and Frustrated
June 22, 2001
Isn’t it funny how sometimes you dread and dread and dread something and then when it doesn’t happen you’re kind of disappointed? That’s kind of how I feel this week. I had psyched myself up to get my second chemotherapy treatment Tuesday, but it was a no-go. Chemo kills bad cells and good cells and the infection-fighting antibodies in my white blood cells hadn’t rebounded well enough for another round of chemo. My doctor rescheduled the chemo for Friday, June 22. The upside of it is that when it’s over, I’ll be halfway through the Adriamycin/Cytoxan phase, which is the worst part. There’s still a lot of uncertainty about the next chemo treatment, though. If my white blood cell antibodies aren’t back up by Friday, I’ll have to wait until the following Tuesday. That backs up the treatment schedule, and that’s kind of a bummer. I’m hoping this is all done by Christmas. It’s tough not knowing whether I’m dreading for nothing. I guess I’ll find out. I’m ending week one with my shaved head (and the wig), too, and it’s not half as bad as I’d anticipated that it would be. Here are the good parts: I don’t have to wash my hair. It takes me 20 minutes less to get ready to go out. I get to wear hats, and I figure I’m more aerodynamic when I run. I’ve also been able to experiment. My friend, Michael, and I went to the Magic Mall in Pine Hills in Orlando Sunday to buy a do-rag like the one Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers wears. It’s pretty cute. I think I’ll wear it to the doctor’s office Friday. Speaking of running, I got back on the road, running outside this week a couple of times. As I feared, my endurance has eroded, but I’m not too slow. It does feel great to get back to a “normal” routine and a “normal” training schedule. That is so helpful. I have even signed up to run the Track Shack’s Watermelon 5K on the Fourth of July. I’ll run it just for fun, with a friend who’ll be running his first 5K ever. This will probably sound odd, but if all goes well, I’ll spend the weekend recovering from my chemotherapy. I do have one event on my agenda, though. One thing I’ve found is that I’ve been getting to meet and getting to know really great people I might not have gotten to know if I hadn’t been diagnosed with cancer. On Sunday, Drew Garabo from Real Radio 104.1 is hosting a fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society. It’s bowling, darts, and karaoke, which is wacky and fun. It’s at the AMF Lanes in Altamonte Springs from 2 to 7 p.m. I am planning to make an appearance. A short one if I get the chemo, a longer one, if not. Overall, this has been a great week. I’m looking forward to many more of those!
Chemo Round Two: Wendy
June 29, 2001
I am exceedingly pleased to report to you that I am now halfway through the adriamycin-cytoxan phase of the chemo. Although my white blood cell antibody count was barely acceptable, I sad-eyed the nurses until they said they’d give me the chemo. I just couldn’t bear waiting more days — even if it was going to ruin my weekend! So, I was checked into the hospital Friday to get chemo and a 28-hour IV fluid drip. That seemed to do the trick.
The agonizing, lie-on-the-cold-tile-bathroom-floor nausea never reared its ugly head. There was nausea, but mostly, there was boredom, and I’ll take that any day.
I even got to eat in the hospital! Last time, it was a good four days until I could hold anything down. Since then, though, boy am I fatigued — yet I can’t sleep. They give you a steroid to help the anti-nausea drugs work. One side effect is that you can’t sleep for days. Or if you do sleep, it’s in blocks of two or three hours. And I’m a little spacy (spacier than normal, my friends would chime in here). I may have to break down and take sleeping pills to fight the side effects from the steroids which help the anti-nausea medication. Sometimes, I feel like a lab mouse. Here’s something else that changes during chemo: I’m not supposed to eat raw fruits or vegetables while my white blood cell count is low. That’s now. So, of course, I have never craved salads or lettuce in my sandwiches or peaches so much in my life. I don’t even like peaches! I am back on the Neupagen shots, though, with a blood test Friday. I’m hoping to gorge on lettuce this weekend, if I pass that test.
My college roommate, Diana, sent me the most incredible, funny, sad, honest book about living through cancer and chemo. It’s called “Bald in the Land of Big Hair.” Of course, it’s about a woman in Texas. A must-read if chemo or cancer have ever been part of your life. I laugh out loud and then wonder if I will get the same side effects author Joni Rodgers did! This week has been a struggle to get the usual energy up. I suppose this is normal, though not normal for me. My new good friend, Ann, who’s been here, done this, says it is. By the way, Ann is a great example of the blessings cancer has brought me. I’ve met wonderful, strong, funny, incredible women who will be my friends for the rest of my life and whom I never would have met them otherwise!