Monday, July 30, 2012

A Girl and Her Tiara

Her highness of fuzzy, new hair growth.
Well, not so much a tiara as a sparkly head thing.  As long as the sparkles set off my hair, that's all I care about.  I want it to showcase the hair I get to keep. 

That's right, kids, my oncologist tells me that I don't need chemotherapy for a while, until we see a progression, which will hopefully be never. So my beautiful, fuzzy hair gets to grow and grow and grow.  And in honor of that news, I wear a sparkly headband.  I certainly don't need a headband, there's no hair to hold back.  But the sparkles say this virgin hair of grey and brown get to stay. Yippee!!!

The news about chemotherapy, along with the seven point drop in my CA2729 tumor marker from 33 to 26, and an x-ray and  scan that show no gaping holes in my bones, makes me a happy, happy woman. 

In the world of metastatic cancer, there are no guarantees.  But in spite of that fact, I am going to take this joyful, good news and relax.  I will wear my sparkly head band, watch bad movies, and order take out Chinese food every night, if I want to.  I am just so grateful to get positive news.

And frankly, it's about damn time I got some good news.  About damn time.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

I Used to Have Such Nice Hair

Ze baby ostrich look
And nails. I had nice nails. Oh, and let's not forget eyebrows and eyelashes. I liked those too. But thankfully, now that I am on chemo break from Taxol, I'm starting to get those things back, hair and nails. It's slow and I look like a baby ostrich, but things are growing back.  You need evidence?  Here I am in the baby ostrich mode.  I call this photo "Baldie". Can you see the slight outline of tiny wisps of eyebrow growing in? Notice the grayish tinge of the scalp hair peeking through? I hear from past chemo folks that the hair tends to come in gray at first, but then reverts to your original color.  We'll see.  Either way, I will be grateful to have hair, I don't care what color it is.  At this point I make jokes about using hair gel to slick things up into an Alfalfa impersonation.  The look may not be ideal, but with temperatures in Washington, DC reaching 105, I am sans scarf, hat or wig. No need to send myself into heat stroke.

And now the nails. There are so many wonderful side effects that come with chemotherapy. Taxol, my assigned drug for 20 weeks, is supposedly kinder to the body than many other chemotherapy drugs. However, the steroids I took to avoid allergic reactions, and Taxol, have left me with:

  • No hair, eyelashes, or eyebrows;
  • Neuropathy in the hands and feet (hopefully, this will fade);
  • Deadened nails, partially lifting off the nail beds, creating that coveted swamp thing look;
  • Acne scars from the encroyable amounts of steroid-induced acne that spread across my chest, sides, and face; and,
  • Swollen ankles I have affectionately dubbed my old Polish lady ankles, bringing questions from friends like, "Do you speak Polish or do only your ankles speak Polish" -- such clever friends.
While I hate these lingering gifts and hope they fade over time, I am certainly not stupid enough to not feel incredible gratitude toward Taxol. Taxol saved my life, knocking the cancer in my breast and liver back by over 90%.   I can deal with a little neuropathy, and suck it up when it comes to my ankles and slow-growing hair.

Still, the nails are gross looking, and the now disabled nails, combined with neuropathy of my fingers, makes it very hard for me to perform basic tasks such as opening a can of soda, pulling a credit card from a wallet, or taking out a pair of post earrings.  So I bring you a picture of the lovely little items, my lifting nails.

Was there a way to save the nails and hair, you say? Why, yes, there was. Some folks choose to wear what is called a cold cap and ice their nails during chemo, both uncomfortable procedures involving application of very cold ice to head and hands.

Here's the reason I chose not to do either of these things.  The goal of chemo is to kill fast growing cells, cancer being one of the fastest forms of those cells.  Unfortunately, other fast-growing cells, such as hair and nails, are hit by chemo too.  The theory of icing is to keep the chemo away from the fast-growing nail and hair cells. But what if cancer cells have moved towards the scalp or into the hands? What if while protecting your hair and nails, you protect some cancer too?  
Considering that I already had cancer on my liver when it should have damn well stayed in the breast, I didn't even want to accidentally let any cancer cells live while I was trying to save my hair and nails. So no icing for me.  I wanted Taxol to cover every millimeter of my body. I wanted it to bomb the hell out of cancer cells that might be hiding in my scalp, near my nails, or even, God forbid, on my butt.

So I knew what I was in for. I'd seen the pictures other chemo friends had posted. That doesn't make the nail, hair, neuropathy moments any easier. But it does put them into perspective.  Just call me Nuclear Meltdown Woman.  I practically shine in my decrepitude.  Hair be damned. Nails be damned. Ankles be damned. And most especially, cancer be damned. Because killing the cancer was my goal. The hair and nails were only collateral damage.