Let the Healing Begin/Let The Sunshine In

On Thursday afternoon, June 24th, I drove home from my final radiation treatment with the sunroof down, the song “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” blasting from the CD player and my vocals working hard to keep up with Marilyn McCoo’s high notes.  A few weeks ago I couldn’t belt out much more than a squeak.  Cancer treatments even wore out my vocal cords in addition to every other muscle and organ in my body. I was emotionally and mentally drained at this point, but overjoyed with relief after having just completed the last of thirty-six radiation treatments over the past seven weeks.  I was done with having cancer and enduring chemo, surgery and radiation.  My only duty now was to heal from all that, which would take probably just as much patience as it did to undergo those harsh treatments.

As I approached Laguna Beach, while inhaling the salty sea aroma and watching giant waves crash against a lofty cliff jutting out into the ocean, it occurred to me that it was almost eight months ago to the day that I’d been diagnosed with endometrial cancer, which ended up being stage IIIC—fairly advanced.  On that day, I had driven down Pacific Coast Highway on the way home from Hoag Hospital shaking with uncontrollable sobs and mental chatter driven by fear, which drowned out the sound of crashing waves and whatever song was playing on the radio.

As my drive home from my final radiation treatment continued, I reflected back to what has transpired over the past year since cancer made itself known with it sneaky symptoms that I initially thought were stress or a hormonal imbalance.

I’ve gone through varying types and phases of physical, emotional and mental torture beyond anything that my imagination could have concocted.   And this went on for seemingly so long, it’s hard to believe that the curtain finally closed on the debilitating dance that cancer and treatments choreographed in my body.  But the overwhelming sense of joy I felt as I made my way towards home was proof that the real-life nightmare was over.  The only thing missing from my celebratory drive home from Hoag Hospital was my long hair blowing in the wind.

Heather, one of the radiation therapists, all of whom were so inspirational and kept me coming back during those days when I almost quit. They were such a joy to work with.

Ringing the bell after my last radiation treatment.

Just a few days before my last zap of radiation, I awoke feeling so beat-up, I was questioning if I could even get myself to Hoag for my thirty-third radiation treatment.  I have to move, I thought to myself.  I rolled out my yoga mat and after several Sun Salutations, Warrior poses and overall body stretches, I truly felt better.  I got up to make breakfast and in the meantime, Samantha took advantage of the yoga mat still on the floor and showed-off some of her own feline style yoga poses.

Let the healing begin—and let the sunshine in!

Alisa and Kurtis who were part of my kick cancer team!

To my “Help Cat Lady Kick Cancer” team of precious family members, friends and my supportive blogger and social media follower friends, THANK YOU with all my heart for your undying support and love.  I could not have been a cancer-fighting warrior without you!

And I have such gratitude for my loving Bobcat (RIP) and new feline sweetie-pie, Samantha, who are true testaments to the healing power of animals.

Bobcat…I miss you so much!

Samantha Jo, my new feline healer…you are so adorable!

XOXO

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The Reality of Radiation

Friday, May 28th marked my eighteenth radiation treatment, a milestone reaching the halfway point.  A week ago, I didn’t think I could go much further down the radiation road.  Because of what is getting radiated—my pelvic area, colon and the para-aortic lymph node, the side effects have been, at times, worse than chemo.  Initially, my radiologist told me that I’d receive twenty-five to twenty-eight treatments.  I could not get an answer on why the radiation treatments increased to thirty-six other than my treatment plan included thirty-six from the get-go.  I chalked it up to miscommunication, but was not comfortable with getting such a high dose of radiation.  I got a second opinion from a radiologist with a different medical group who put me at ease with a reasonable explanation for how the number of treatments are decided based on standards that are calculated from studies done over the years. Different cancers have different treatment schedules.  Basically, the number of treatments administered is enough to kill remaining undetectable cancer cells without causing permanent damage to the organs being impacted by the radiation. Long-term side effects are still a possibility, but are slim to none.  He further explained that I need more treatments to the lymph node than the pelvic area because the tumor that formed in the node was about the size of a sugar cube and contained about a billion cancer cells, and odds are, about a million undetectable cancer cells could still remain in the node. Yikes!

Excuse me, how many cancer cells?

Even though radiation targets only the cancer cells, good cells get damaged in the surrounding target area, mostly to the GI system in my case.  The good cells kick into healing mode after each treatment so I’m very fatigued most of the time, and the GI issues, well, let’s just say I’ve been miserable.  I’ve lost a couple pounds in the midst of still working on gaining weight.  My stamina is weak again and my nerves fragile.  But—the second opinion doctor assured me my body would indeed heal despite the draining short-term side effects. Being in excellent health for most of my adult life will support my healing and will help to sidestep the potential long-term side effects of radiation.  So there is something to be said about a healthy lifestyle despite getting cancer.  It will help the odds of me coming back strong and never seeing a cancerous tumor in my body again.  The second opinion radiologist ended our Zoom meeting by asking me if having peace of mind knowing that I did everything I could do to kill cancer cells would be worth living through the short term side effects.

I’ve read several Dean Koontz novels over the years, even sat next to him at a BIA dinner meeting and chatted with him about my favorite book of his, Watchers.

You betcha it would be worth it.

And how, you ask, do I manage the bad days?  Lots of naps and a recent prescription of Lomotil to quell the GI distress has been a godsend, but the best medicine is Samantha.

Sweet peas from my dad’s garden.

Samantha helping me select a channel.

 

Samantha “reading” a beautiful picture book by artist/author Amy Grimes, And The Light Comes In

My amusing, sweet girl.

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The Manifestation of Cat Mom

After I sold my condo three years ago and started packing-up all my stuff in preparation to move, I came across a journal from my high school days.  One entry stated that I didn’t want kids, that I didn’t like kids much and that I didn’t want to be married.  Well, that explains things!  At the age of fifteen, I set an intention that stuck.  I’ve never been married and never had children.  In my late 30s the desire to have a baby finally kicked-in, but my boyfriend at the time who I eventually became engaged to did not want kids.  It was either stay in the relationship or break it off with the hopes of finding the right match and someone who wanted kids.  I loved this guy and my desire to be in a romantic partnership was stronger than my need to have a child. After four years it turned out that we weren’t very compatible and despite the engagement, he was very trepidatious about marriage, which at the time was something I wanted.  Turns out my views on marriage had changed since that teenage journal entry.

When I purchased a condo in my mid-forties, I thought about adopting a child.  I had the room to raise a kid and a well-paying paralegal job.  But the job was demanding and my workdays long.  Between work, taking care of two cats, and myself I knew that I would not be able to dedicate the time, and would not have the energy it took to properly raise a child on my own.  Instead…I rescued another cat, Topper.

Topper and Froggie

I loved having three kitties in the house.  Lexington, Punkie and Topper.  When Punkie passed away at the age of 20, I rescued another kitty, Bella.  I wanted a kitten at the time, but at the age of eight, Bella had twice been relinquished to shelters. By the time I met her, she’d been with a rescue group for several months (older cats are often overlooked for adoption).  Besides feeling an instant connection with Bella, my heart hurt for her.  I wanted to give her the best home ever and all the love she deserved, and I succeeded.  I witnessed Bella blossom from guarded and scared to loving and confident.  Three years after I adopted Bella she died from lung cancer, which was devastating and took a long time to overcome.  But then another cat, Bobcat sauntered into my life and once again I had another feline to love and care for.

Bella

Bobcat

Bobcat, Topper and Lexington have all passed, and now I have a new kitty, Samantha.  Once again, my maternal instincts have resurfaced and are being put to good use.  It didn’t occur to my fifteen-year-old self that I could have kids that didn’t involve human children, that I could adopt children of the feline sort.

Samantha and “Bobcat”

I’ve been a proud cat mama for thirty-three years. And although I actually adore children unlike my younger self, I have no regrets for not having children of my own.

Happy Mother’s Day to mothers of humans, cats, dogs, bunnies, goats, horses or whatever  your child happens to be.

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