Thank You. All of You.

by Bridget on October 8, 2011

I have only ONE more chemotherapy treatment left!! Wednesday, October 12…..

I pushed through breast surgery and four months (eight treatments) of preventative chemo treatments with the help of a top-notch medical team, two very strong and loving mothers/father, an adoring husband, two sunshiny children, a loyal chemo-attending best friend, gift-bearing-support-offering-visiting-besties, warm-my-spirit visits/coffee dates with other dear friends, dozens of  spontaneous pick-ups/drop-offs/playdates for the boys, surprise gifts in the mail, weeks and weeks worth of delicious and nutritious meals delivered to our door, dozens and dozens of notes-emails-&-greeting cards of encouragement, and prayers/positive thoughts from so many friends, acquaintances, and even people I may not have ever met. I am still overwhelmed five months later. 

I could not have managed ANY of this disease without help from many, many people. My personal strength was truly fortified externally. I have been humbled and overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of others. Often from places I least expected. Thank you. All of you for your piece in my healing process. I have never been alone in my fight. 

I look forward to completing this  journey. After a brief treatment reprieve, I will begin radiation (November). Five days a week for six weeks, which should get me through the holidays. The ultimate Christmas gift being my heath and my life. And, a fresh new year – cancer free. 

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3rd Time is the Charm Once Again….

by Bridget on October 8, 2011

The first two Taxol chemo treatments (overall treatment numbers 5 & 6) were a cakewalk compared to the first two months of drugs. Unfortunately, by Taxol treatment number three (lucky number 7), the drug had accumulated enough to give me a run for my money.

I have had a little neuropathy in my hands and feet. Mostly numbness (no tingling or burning sensation) for short amounts of time, usually in the morning. After the first week of Taxol, I found out that similarly to my experience post-surgery, my body is not overly receptive to pain medications. So, my brilliant chemo nurse suggested adding back the steroid I had been using for nausea to kick the pain meds up a notch. It made all the difference in the pain management! Unfortunately, one must taper off of the steroids after 4 days, and up to this point, I had been fine by the Tuesday following my Wednesday chemo injection.

I was fine over the weekend. Not overly lethargic. I rested when I needed to and laid low on Sunday, so I could be fresh for the school week. I had tapered off my steroid and pain meds on Sunday.

By Tuesday morning, my entire body ached like I had the flu. Every single joint in my body felt sore and tender. I took some over-the-counter pain pills thinking it would nip it in the bud, but the discomfort got progressively worse as the day wore on. By the time Gary got home at dinner, I had scrounged something up for the kids to eat and was in bed. I took some of my prescription pain pills, but they did not make a dent in my discomfort and the entire night was one achy toss-n-turn.

By Wednesday morning (one week post-chemo treatment) I had no feeling in my hands and feet or lips. It felt like novacaine had been injected directly into my lips like collagen. I called my chemo nurse, Lora, first thing with a cry for help. I needed more steroids and she mercifully called them into the pharmacy and renewed my pain meds, too. Even arranged for them to be delivered.

I must have looked as shitty as I felt because while dropping off my little guy at school three different mom friends asked if I was ok. My dear sweet johnny-on-the-spot-friend, Dawn, offered to bring Declan home to me after school so I could get a nap in – which I did. Made me much more civilized. And, by Wednesday night some semblance of my old self had returned.

Still fighting some fatigue and have not bounced back quite as effortlessly as the the previous two weeks, but I still believe that Taxol is the kinder of the three drugs I have had to receive. And, my reaction has been milder than in many people, so again, I will count my blessings. And, push though to my very last treatment……

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Mac

by Bridget on September 26, 2011

This past Friday was my youngest brother’s birthday. If he were still alive, he would have been 32. This coming Friday will be the 5 year anniversary of his death.

MacKenzie had a wicked sense of humor and was incredibly good natured. Kind and fun, albeit very opinionated and ridiculously stubborn. He had worked in masonry. He was good at it, but he hated having no money and no insurance. So, he decided that selling real estate would be his new career and he worked hard to earn his real estate license. Mac took out a loan to get his business started. But, his timing could not have been worse. The housing market bottomed out leaving him financially stressed and still uninsured. Always proud and fiercely independent, he just wanted more for himself without a handout.

Complicating matters, Mac suffered from severe anxiety, and he self-medicated with alcohol. As his financial pressures grew, so did his anxiety and drinking. Without insurance, he had few options for care. He refused to accept money from my parents, my other brother and his wife, or Gary and me. Doctors and therapists would not offer services without cash upfront or insurance. He looked into free county services but they were so overburdened that he had to wait weeks and weeks in between appointments, which he ultimately did. He couldn’t get enough help fast enough.

Late one night, in his own home, Mac fell on his way to the bathroom and hit his head. By morning, he had suffered a massive brain hemorrhage and there was nothing the doctors could do for him. That day, my life and the lives of my family members changed forever.

It was years of inadequate preventative medical care followed by months of low-grade/non-existent mental health care that were the precursors to his death. The saddest part to me is that if the care exists, then why does the type/existence of insurance determine who gets it? I just do not understand how two people from the same family have entirely different chances for survival based on income and insurance.

We as individuals are obligated to take our health into our own hands – getting annual check-ups, getting recommended screenings (PAPs, mammograms, colonoscopy, cholesterol checks, etc.), not postponing visits because it’s “probably nothing” or because we’re busy.  But, I also understand all-too-well the catch-22 with not having something covered under your policy or not having the cash to pay out-of-pocket at all. It is a slippery slope.  I do not take for granted that I will survive/thrive because I have had the best possible care every step of the way. I am so fortunate.

I am also fortunate to have known and to love Mac. So for him, as fragile as life may seem at times, I will remain resilient.

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Ten

by Bridget on September 26, 2011

Last Wednesday was Gary’s and my ten year wedding anniversary. Thinking about the blur that has been the past ten years makes benchmarks like 25 and 50 seem a stones-throw away. For our honeymoon, we went to Portugal. It was a beautiful adventure, soaking up the local culture. We traveled through lush hilly wine country and arid terrain covered with cork and almond trees, rocky coastlines and historic tiny towns. My favorite vacation. The best part is that we had never traveled together before that trip (other than to visit family) and we could have been disastrous travel companions. But, it was a magical trip.

On our first anniversary we travelled to Oregon (one of our favorite states) and did Portland, the coastal towns, and Crater Lake. Another magical trip. We decided we’d try to get away for every anniversary to spend special time together. Our second anniversary was in Boston. American history, marinas, eclectic neighborhoods, Fenway Park. I was pregnant with Gavin on that trip, making it special on a whole other level. Our 3rd anniversary was in Madison. We chose that one because we considered moving there. Liberal, artistic, educated city with a more manageable population. Love the city, but we decided we love Chicago more. The 4th anniversary I was pregnant with Declan. In fact, because I was 35 weeks pregnant, I was not allowed to travel far from home. So, we went to Milwaukee. Another great city, although, at this point it was starting to feel like our trips were getting much less exciting and a bit anticlimactic.

Cut to two kids and another 6 anniversaries later. Some of those years were celebrated with trips while others kind of got pushed aside by life. This year, breast cancer pushed aside an anniversary trip. At least for now 😉

Rather than an extravagant getaway to celebrate our time together, we decided to just play hooky together. One day, on the actual anniversary. No work, no carting kids around. Right here in Chicago. The weather was sunny and 70 degrees. Perfection! We walked by the lake for hours, ate leisurely meals together, perused a farmer’s market, and just talked. It was one of the loveliest days I can remember. No exotic locales, no super-fancy restaurants, or plane trips. Just a beautiful day with my friend and partner in our own neighborhood.

Thanks, breast cancer, for forcing us to distill the essence of our marriage into the simplest, but most rewarding celebration.  And, reminding us how really lucky we both are.

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