Surviving Cancer — and Its Side Effects

Oncology: a branch of medicine that deals with tumors (cancer).
Oncology: a branch of medicine that deals with tumors (cancer).

I went for another cancer check-up this morning, the first since my 5-year cancerversary. Mostly, everything is A-OK — so well, in fact, that I now get to see my favorite doctor once a year instead of every six months.

But with the happy hooplah of surviving cancer for a good amount of time comes the fact that I need to start thinking about surviving the side effects of cancer for a good amount of time. There are certain issues that come with life after cancer. For me, it’s mostly heart stuff.

Three things that might affect my heart: the chemo drug Adriamycin (I had four doses), radiation (it was delivered right on top of my heart) and Herceptin (the wonder drug I received for one year). All three of these life-savers can compromise heart function over time. “You should be so lucky to get heart disease in 20 years,” someone once told me, “because it means you will have survived cancer for 20 years.” Yea, that doesn’t make me feel so relieved. In fact, it’s apparently cause for a consultation.

Someone is going to contact me soon to discuss survivorship issues, says my doc, and this person will notify my primary physician of potential concerns, too, so he can monitor me appropriately. I’m not overly concerned about this, really. I’m basically just thankful to be alive, with a heart that today is very strong. For now, that’s just enough.

Comfort From a Boy

Writer Abigail Thomas offers in her book “Thinking About Memoir” the following writing exercise: Write two pages (one post) in which a child comforts an adult.

That’s easy.

The child was Joey. The adult was me. And it happened in February, 2005, one day after I realized my hair was shedding from my scalp faster than I could say chemotherapy. It had been 13 days since my second treatment with the toxic breast cancer drugs Adriamycin and Cytoxan, and not a rubber band nor a hat could hold my wisps in place. My scalp was sore, each hair still attached to my head hung with a weight that was nearly unbearable, and it had become abundantly clear that the moment had arrived: It was time to shave my head.

“Don’t worry, mom, you’re not going to die,” announced my almost 4-year-old boy, who was taking his turn shaving away the last of my chemo-stricken hair. “It’s only a haircut,” he assured me.

Whether he knew it or not, Joey was absolutely right. It was only a haircut. I didn’t die. And while some of his comments during my years fighting breast cancer weren’t as comforting — “You look like an alien,” he revealed while visiting me in the hospital in March of that same year — this is the one that still brings tears to my eyes, because, well, it was innocent, it was real and most of all, it was damn comforting.


The child, almost 4 years old

The adult, 34 years old

This post can also be found at Braving Boys.