As an Engineer (yeah, I only toss that title out when it’s convenient :)), I was taught to think through most equations in the context of constants and variables. As a result or more by default, I always thought about life’s challenges in terms of constants and variables.
No matter what the situation is, as long as I can identify what the constants are, I can manipulate the variables to come up with a solution. This has always worked well for me until stage IV cancer came knocking.
I was having a chat with a friend earlier and it dawned on me how stage IV cancer and most of the decisions that come with it living with it are pretty much buckets and buckets of variables.
Case in point:
At the appointment where we found out the second hormonal therapy combo (afinitor and exemestane) wasn’t working, the oncologist offered me two chemo options: variable 1 (Xeloda), variable 2 (Taxol). The arguments for both options were even made up of more variables. So treatment variable 1 could present X number of symptoms but we can’t know the likelihood or severity until they start occurring. Variable 2 presented its own Y number of symptoms, some similar to variable 1 but others completely different; similar to variable 1, there’s no way to predict outcomes until time took its course. What you then learn to apply to these equations is what I wasn’t taught throughout my Engineering degree – hope! You hope you go with the option that offers the most benefits with very minimal side effects.
Sadly, that hasn’t been the case with my current treatment. I have been plagued by the worst possible myriad of chest pains. I have used words like “intense pressure”,”dull pain”, “heaviness in my chest”, “feeling like my chest is going to explode”, “extreme tightness” and a whole lot more phrases to describe the pain. I have been up for way too many nights than I count (it’s 1:23am right now for instance) because of difficulty sleeping from the pain. And every now and then, I have some hip and bone pain pain thrown into the mix!
Don’t get me started on pain meds! I have gone from not needing them daily at the start of this treatment to swallowing more than 25 pills a day (fine! 6 chemo and 2 vitamin D tablets are thrown in there as well), if only they helped with the pain! Oh and don’t forget the patch I wear to provide a long acting pain relief. I feel in spite of all the pain meds, I probably get an hour every four hours on average where I am not reminded of the pain. I have learnt to go through most activities and smile through most conversations often experiencing pain that is at about a 5/10.
At my last appointment, my oncologist was concerned about all the pain and he suggested bringing my CT scan forward so we can at least assess whether all these is pain due to the cancer cells dying off or if the pain from the last couple of months have been futile. On the one hand, I really hope it’s the former but on the other hand, my quality of life has been greatly reduced on this treatment. I have stopped working and can barely stand on my feet for an hour (which makes basic grocery shopping almost impossible) before I’m all fatigued and bending over my trolley cos of the pain in my chest.
My appointments (CT scan, ECG and Echo and my appointment with the oncologist) are all booked for the last week in March. I can’t wait for the appointment and I am dreading it at the same time. I know I am going to be presented with more variables but I am praying for a constant this time – that the cancer is at least stable. With that one constant, my decision on way forward would be so much easier to make. Unfortunately, I feel irrespective of how this next appointment goes, I need to brush up my skills on making health or otherwise life decisions based on mostly variables! What a skill to start learning a decade after graduating as an Engineer!!! Wish me luck!
As miserable as I have been the last few weeks (partly why I haven’t updated my blog in a while), I am constantly reminded by how much love and support we have. My friend/daughter’s godmother flew from Germany to be us for a few days at the end of January and she helped kickstart my “healthy eating” habits – ‘A’ you need to come back as I think I am losing some of the motivation 🙂
We’ve got our lovely friends and my hubby’s godson flying in from the UK today to spend a few days with us. I have no doubt our spirits would be lifted just because they are here. As soon as they leave, my cousin and her family are flying in from the UK for a couple of weeks. This will be my cousin’s third trip to Calgary since I found out about the recurrence, her show of love melts my heart time and time again.
In addition to our guests visiting from Europe, we have the most amazing friends in Calgary who keep stopping by with gifts, food, their company and time. We have made friends that I have no doubt would be in our lives forever and we do not take any of that for granted!
I have learnt to be appreciative of the many blessings in my life and as always I am grateful that no matter what life sends, the one constant we can count on is the unwavering support of friends and family. That will keep me going even in the toughest of times when I feel like giving up. Thanks everyone for the sacrifice of love, it means the world to us 🙂