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  • Writer's pictureOC Warrior Queen

An Unpredictable Storm

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

94 days ago, on March 28th, I got the dreaded call that no one wants from their family doctor:

"We got your MRI results and need to see you today. Please come accompanied."

Even to this day, the words "come accompanied" send shivers down my spine.


It's been 3 months but at times it feels like I got that call yesterday, and sometimes it feels like it's been a year.


So much has happened over this short time, and I have learned so much about myself: what I am made of, my strengths, my emotions, my being as a whole. It has been a process of self-discovery, and will continue to be, I am sure.


A gift in some ways.


How often do we get to pause life and focus solely on our health for 94 days? It's too bad that it's a result of a cancer diagnosis!


Round 2 of 6

I was scheduled to have my 2nd round of Chemotherapy on June 21st.


Prior to each round, we are called in for bloodwork and to meet with our oncologist. I went in on the 19th of June to get my blood test and saw Dr. Kevin Gagné, a colleague of my oncologist. Both are equally human and brilliant. The kind of people you know were born to be doing this work.


After examining my blood work, he explained that my white blood cell count and platelets were too low to have my 2nd treatment. I was, what oncologists call, neutropenic.


If you're going to read the blog of a science buff, you're going to get some science! So here it is!


Chemotherapy can suppress our bone marrow's ability to produce white blood cells, specifically neutrophils, which are important for fighting off infections. This causes Neutropenia, a condition characterized by low levels of neutrophils, which can increase the risk of developing serious infections.


Dr. Gagné decided to give my body a week off and a chance to rebuild it's neutrophil army. I was quite surprised to hear this because I felt pretty good and didn't feel the effects of these "low counts".


Once a project manager, always a project manager. I did not like hearing that the timeline was slipping. It made me realize that the end date I had in mind for this project was not set in stone, and that there would be setbacks and delays, just like any other project! My desire to plan a celebration and a vacation after all of this is over will have to wait until I am closer to the finish line.


Once I got over the shock of the news, I shifted my focus on what I could control in the present, and that was to decide how I would spend this extra week! I chose to see it as a gift instead of a setback, by making the best of it, by eating well, sleeping more, relaxing and enjoying it. Essentially, to mentally and physically prepare myself for round 2.


At the moment of writing this, it is day 2 after round 2 of chemotherapy. And starting today, I will need to inject myself with Grastofil for seven days with the help of my dear and amazing husband, who's now also playing the role of my nurse! This is now something we'll have to do after each round of chemotherapy.


More science... sorry, I can't help it! It's stronger than me!


Grastofil contains the active ingredient filgrastim. Filgrastim is a synthetic form of a natural protein called granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF), which stimulates the production of white blood cells in the body.


It works by binding to specific receptors on cells in the bone marrow, which then signal the bone marrow to produce and release more white blood cells, particularly neutrophils.


Cue the bone pain! Oof! What an adventure!


It's not JUST HAIR...

The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. There’s no particular order in which one feels or passes through the gates of each phase.


In the early days after my 1st chemo, I used to tell myself that I will be fine when my hair will fall, because it's just hair. (By the way, I would never say that to someone else, but felt okay saying it to myself.)


But, I have come to realize that, no, even for me, it is absolutely NOT just hair.


It’s just hair when we willingly go get a haircut because we feel like it, and want it.


It’s NOT just hair when we don’t have a CHOICE, when it is taken from us.

The word choice is what makes all the difference between losing something and giving away something .

I am on carboplatin and taxol for chemotherapy. Most people lose their hair with this combination, but there is a 5-15% chance of not experiencing significant hair-loss.


Up until day 14 after chemotherapy began, a hopeful lingering thought, a.k.a. denial, would whisper: "Maybe I’m lucky because it hasn’t fallen!"


And then BOOM! Like a bomb waiting for its signal, something clicked in my scalp and it was raining hair more and more everyday.


After debating and going back and forth on whether or not I should buzz it, on June 17th, I finally woke up from to face reality, and told myself:

“That’s enough of my delusion!”

I buzzed it! There is still some length left because I was not ready to be completely bald just yet.



It took me a few weeks to process this loss of a part of myself, but I have accepted that this is part of the journey I am on. And if I am completely honest, I actually feel a sense of being liberated.


Liberated from…

…the dread and fear of waiting for it to fall,

…the painful scalp,

…the hair EVERYWHERE,

…the talk I needed to have with my kids,

…the itching from the fallen hair hiding in my clothes and irritating my skin.


I walked through it and it wasn’t so bad after all.

It’s funny how fear works.

Sometimes fear itself is more agonizing than the very thing we fear!

I still have a few strands hanging on for their dear life, which will probably fall in this round, but that's ok, and I'm ok with that.


On Being Strong

When one has cancer, we often hear these two words: BE STRONG.


After hearing them quite a few times over the last few months, I started to ask myself:

What does that even mean?

Are we talking about brute force? The kind an olympic hurdler needs to propel themself over each obstacle?


I think that our vocabulary in these situations needs a little boost, because LIFE is not to be confused with the Olympics.


We are not running some race to JUMP OVER neatly placed hurdles.


Life is random. The challenges are random. There is no strength training in the world that will allow you to skip over the obstacles.


Nope, sorry, it’s more like a storm, we have no choice but to GO THROUGH it and the challenges that it throws at us. We have to experience them, and live them.


It’s the only way to overcome them!

What if we replaced “be strong” with “be what you need to be in this moment”?

Because here’s the thing, sometimes we don’t need be strong, we need to be vulnerable, to cry, to scream, and to be helped or hugged.


Or sometimes we need to jump, to sing, to dance, to laugh, to make light of it all and laugh at the absurdity of what’s happening.


You see, as humans, we are equipped with so much more than our “brute force”, we are equipped with a spectrum of emotions, that have great depth and nuance.


We are equipped to survive and thrive, but that requires us to leverage our full spectrum of emotions.


They are there for a reason!


So, forget being strong, instead be brave enough to allow yourself to feel it all.


Be what you need to be in this moment, to overcome, to survive and thrive! No matter what the challenge may be.



Thanks for reading!


Talk soon,

Alvina

OC Warrior Queen

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