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 November, 2001.
Side Effect Detective
November 2, 2001
Seven down. Five to go. Still no sign of any side effects, but I am vigilant about looking for them. Sometimes, though, information plus imagination equals exaggeration. Yesterday, I was pretty sure I was starting to suffer from the watery eyes from blocked tear ducts. It was really bugging me, so I called the doctor, trying to get in for an early re-check. But then, the symptoms went away, just like that. All in my head, I suppose.
As for the rest of the potential side effects, I feel like I’m so close to the end of my chemo treatment now that even if I got them all, I’d be OK. I could stand it for five weeks. It’s like when I ran my first marathon: My running partner, at one point said, “It’s only an hour more. You can do anything for an hour.” I asked Melinda, the clinical trial nurse, about when Tamoxifen is supposed to begin. She said within about three weeks after chemo ends. That would be around the end of the year. She knows I’m shaky on taking it, but says my data probably won’t make it in to the clinical trial study if I don’t. That would be disappointing to me. But would it be disappointing enough for me to take it? The jury’s still out. Here’s what I’ve found out about side effects of Tamoxifen, so far: The most profound side effect is knocking you in to menopause with the accompanying hot flashes. They sound awful, and I am told the hot flashes could last for the entire five years of Tamoxifen. Also, there could be weight gain :-(, cataracts, and an increased chance of uterine cancer. On the flip side: Tamoxifen is supposed to drop your breast cancer recurrence rate up to 42 percent. Maybe the conservative approach would be to take it and see if I’m one of the unlucky ones who get terrible side effects. I have talked to a couple of women who took it, then got off of it. More debate on this subject to come. I made my public debut as G.I. Jane at the Shepherd’s Hope Famous Faces Ball this weekend. I took Michael, wonderful friend and hairdresser, as my date, since Kelly was busy. The hair is now a half inch long. I don’t think people really realized I didn’t have long hair under that hat! I can’t wait until the wig is not a mandatory accessory to my outfits. I don’t know if it’s temporary or not, but it seems like I am finally starting to build some endurance in my workouts. My times for my runs and swims dropped this week for the first time in months. And the workouts seemed easier. That’s good news, because the Disney Half-Marathon is coming up in eight short weeks! I want it to be a good race; I don’t want to just survive it.
I got to make the big announcement this week that I get to run with the Olympic torch for the Salt Lake City games. The torch comes through Orlando on Dec. 7. I got to run with the torch for the Atlanta summer games in 1996, too, and it was an unbelievable experience. I can’t believe I get to do it twice in a lifetime. On top of that, I get to cover the Olympics for the Hearst television stations, including, of course, Channel 2. I have a great life. It took an unexpected detour for a few months, but I wouldn’t trade any of it.
The Finish Line is in Sight
November 9, 2001
In less than a month (25 days from today, but who’s counting?), I will have my last chemotherapy treatment. On one hand, it seems like I’ve been doing this forever. On the other, I don’t know where the summer went. It stretched out so long before me when I knew I had two rounds of chemo to endure. Then, all of a sudden, I’m in the home stretch. In less than a month, I’ll be able to answer, “yes,” when people ask if I’m done with treatment. I can’t wait for that. It’s not that this treatment is bad, it’s just, well, inconvenient. I’ll feel I’m finally moving on toward true health when I’m done. But speaking of that, I got a minor shock this week. I was trying to get additional life insurance, and I got turned down. I was really taken aback at first, but I suppose it’s not a surprise. I’m apparently considered uninsurable for five years after the cancer diagnosis. It’s incongruous to me, because I feel fine, totally uncompromised. I guess the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily agree. What a strange way to see myself. For the first time since I shaved my hair off in May, I went out without my wig or a bandanna wrapped around my head this weekend. I had a baseball hat, but my new (3/4″ long) hair was sticking out underneath. It was a WONDERFUL feeling. I’ll try never to take it for granted again. We went to see a movie (“Monsters Inc.,” very good), and not one person stared or asked questions, or even noticed for that matter. In fact, my friend, Mike, didn’t notice, and he was in the car with us. I can see the demise of the wig coming in a matter of weeks. I still am planning to do something funky with my very short hair (for weekends) before losing the wig on-the-air, but I may be running out of time. My hair may be ready for unveiling, in a fun, short, cut on TV sooner that I’d planned. 🙂 I have been doing lots of digging about Tamoxifen, and lots of info has found its way to me, too. I got a couple dozen e-mails from women who are taking, or have taken, Tamoxifen, after last week’s diary entry. Thanks for that. There are lots of potential side effects, some worse than others. (One woman said she gained 60 pounds!) I also heard from a few women who never had a single side effect. The most conservative option may be to take Tamoxifen until or unless I get an intolerable side effect, but I’m not committing to that yet. I will continue to poll everyone I can. I asked Melinda, the clinical trial nurse, why I haven’t been able to build much endurance over the last few months, and she said it’s the chemo. Even though it’s not making me sick or fatigued, it apparently is sapping some strength. Running races is tough. I’m going to try another one this weekend, the Track Shack 10k at Celebration. My goal is to run around nine-minute miles. That would be a good pace for me these days. It’s also going to be time to start planning and training for the Disney Half-Marathon, too, soon. That’s 13.1 miles. It’s going to be a great race. Last year, I set a personal best for half-marathon there, and this year, no matter how I do, it’ll be a personal best again. How do you like that?