Friday, August 26, 2011

Finding Reasons to Celebrate ... Cancer Status - Maintaining!

(This article shares portions of my cancer journey from early 2003.)
Happy New Year! It’s January 1, 2003 and like most individuals, I’m writing down a New Year’s resolution. For me, the top priority is finding ways “to get better and stronger” and thus, becoming healthier. 
I start this new year at home. The weather on New Year’s Eve was less than pleasant.  It rained; actually, it poured! A huge thunderstorm rolled through the Orlando area that night and the massive storm made traveling dangerous. I was concerned about Adrienne and her friends, who had gone off to enjoy a party at a local bowling alley.  I sat at home with Edward and Brian, watching TV and munching snacks. We spent the evening watching funny movies -- so that was a good way to spend an otherwise gloomy night. I had great expectations for this new year. Not only did I want to improve my physical and mental health, I was hoping for prosperity. A financial “windfall” would certainly make life easier.  A segment of my New Year’s Eve and “day” were spent pondering my future ... and how I wanted 2003 to be a great year.
Well, on the morning of January 1, I woke up late, around 12:45 p.m. After eating breakfast, I tried to deal with the stiffness in my knees. I dealt with this by talking a walk with Ed. But, no sooner did we get outside and begin our stroll, I realized I was having difficulty breathing. I was short of breath and dealing with that “damn” pain in my chest. The “rock  like pain I felt 24/7 was sharp now ... at times, it felt like a knife cutting into me. I began crying. All I wanted was to feel good - no pain. Instead, I had to head back upstairs. I was too exhausted to continue walking.
During the first few weeks of 2003, I did get out and even traveled to the West Coast of Florida to visit relatives. I also was able to enjoy dinner at some nearby restaurants. A big moment for me was starting a mosaic art class at the local community college. This weekly night class became a favorite of mine. I found a creative outlet, other than writing. Since I found writing so difficult (a major case of writer’s block) this artistic class was perfect for me. During these classes, I was able to complete two projects. My passion for mosaic art was thriving. And, I discovered (while talking with my mental health counselor) that this type of activity was healthy. 
At last, I had found something for which I had a passion. I had begun to think I had lost all desire to do anything, other than my usual routine. The art classes were fun and challenging. I learned a lot during those weeks not only about mosaic art, but about me. I discovered I had a “knack” for doing this type of art. I also realized that I had re-discovered a “childlike” interest in something ... there was this sudden interest in being silly and having fun making a mess. I could throw a piece of china (a plate or other item) onto the floor of the class, and then break it up with a hammer. The “thrill” of this physical act (that otherwise would be considered inappropriate behavior) was such a “high.”   I pounded on the plate (tossed inside of a newspaper on the floor) until I had the right size pieces for my “masterpiece.” (If you’ve never tried mosaic art -- I highly recommend it.) My instructor informed us that unlike other types of art, where you may need to have some innate ability to do the work, with mosaic art, anyone can do it. There is no prerequisite skills necessary. 
During these same weeks, my pain specialist reviewed my growing list of medications. Dr. Kollas and his nurse, Susan, spoke with me about my osteoarthritis. I was given a script for a higher dose of medicine, hopefully, this would do the trick and ease the pain. I was also having difficulties with my insurance company. They were refusing to allow certain medications, stating they were not formulary drugs. My request for renewals, etc. were being denied. Ellen, Dr. Shah’s nurse, had her hand’s full while dealing with this “mess.” “I hate insurance companies,” I said to Ellen during one of our conversations. How in the world was I supposed to get better if I could not get the medications I needed? 
However, despite the insurance problems and my never-ending levels of pain, I did get some wonderful news on January 11, 2003.  My medical oncologist, Dr. Shah, said that my CT Scan (done on January 10) was clear, no signs of cancer. My recent bone scan was also good, showing much smaller areas of cancer cells. “We are maintaining,” Dr. Shah said with a smile. “Remission is not a word usually used with breast cancer,” she said. “We would be continuing treatments as already indicated.” For me, this meant I would continue to have my Herceptin and Zometa treatments and I would continue taking my daily Femara. My continuing saga with cancer had entered into a new level -- “maintaining” became my favorite word. 

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