Learning you have cancer is a tough pill to swallow. There are so many questions about the unknown future. Will you have surgery or not? What about treatments? Chemotherapy is a likely option, along with radiation. Many types of cancer require different combinations of these treatments, with or without surgery.
When I was diagnosed with small intestine cancer, I was 32 years old. Happily married with three young kids, it literally rocked my world. Within two weeks I was having major surgery to remove the tumor.
The purpose of this post is two-fold. First, to share the story of my six months of chemotherapy treatments. And second, to increase awareness of the depression that afflicts many who are in the middle of cancer treatments.
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Let’s get to it…
After my Whipple surgery, I spent 10 days in the hospital before I went home. Freedom, finally!!! I was SO thrilled to be at home! I’d missed my family (and my own bed) like crazy. But I was also impatient for what was to come.
When my oncologist first met me in the hospital, he was not set on doing chemotherapy. Since the surgeon had removed everything, he felt chemo wasn’t necessary. However, since I was only 32 at the time (that’s literally ½ the age of the average Whipple patient) my surgeon felt that chemo was the best plan.
A Busy Homecoming
My first month home was a busy one! First, we celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. The original plan was a trip to Las Vegas, which had to be canceled for obvious reasons. But being out of the hospital to celebrate with my husband and family was definitely a blessing!
Then, on April 19th, our forever family became complete. This was the day our son Keith became an official member of the family. We all felt blessed and thankful to officially become a family of five!
In late April, I had a followup with my oncologist. I guess my surgeon had talked with him before because he began the visit explaining the type of chemo we would be using. He wanted to use a drug that was very successful with intestinal cancer, and it usually didn’t cause nausea or hair loss, which I counted as a good thing!
So, we started chemo that day. The schedule was 3 weekly doses, a week off, and then repeat again for six months.
After two weeks of IV chemo (which is murder on your veins), I was scheduled for a port-a-cath insert before my next treatment. Following that short surgery, I was ready to go through the rest of my chemo visits: 3 weeks in a row, then one week off, and repeat again 5 times.
Taking a Leave from Work
It was almost summer, so I was already going to be out of school. But we were concerned about what I should do when school started back in August. I asked the nurses what they suggested. At first, they talked about how a lot of people continue working as much as they can during treatments. But, when I told them I taught 3rd grade, their reactions immediately changed.
After a talk with the doctor, we decided it was in my best interest for me to take a medical leave for the fall semester. The hope was that I would avoid illness for most of my treatments. Plus, I could rest and recuperate for a few weeks before starting back in January.
During treatments, I never felt as horrible as some chemo patients describe physically, but I also never felt “well”. I would have 3 not so great weeks when I had treatments, severe headaches the day of each chemo and 2-3 days of just feeling blah. I would almost feel better by the following Wednesday, and then Thursday would be another treatment day.
The weeks I had off were the best! I would almost feel like myself for about 5-6 days, and then chemo would start again.
Depression Can Happen
If you don’t already know, chemo not only affects your body but your mind as well. I could feel my self sinking into depression, and at first, I had no idea that chemo could be causing it. I was exhausted, didn’t feel good, had a husband working nights, and 3 kids under the age of 7 at home with me for the summer!
Most summers, I can’t wait to have my kids home with me. With this one, it was May 31st and I was ready for school to start again. I was miserable and sad and scared all the time!
After thinking those kinds of thoughts, I would beat myself up inside. How could I be such a horrible mom? Why am I such a horrible person? I just couldn’t shake it…
Asking for Help
Talking to Chris, he told me I needed to tell my doctor. But at my next visit, the words wouldn’t come out. So I didn’t say anything about the sadness surrounding me. This made me even more disappointed with myself, but I didn’t know what to do. Plus, I LOATHED the thought of taking another medicine!
A day or 2 later, I was on the phone with my mom, and I finally lost it! Through a flood of tears, I let it all out… When I finally took a breath, she simply asked me, “Wouldn’t you take Tylenol for a headache? There is nothing wrong with taking something to help you not feel so sad.”
I hated to admit she was right, but her words finally broke my stubbornness! I called the office and talked to a nurse right away. They had me on a low dose of antidepressants within a couple of days.
It took a couple of weeks, but my mood was soooo much better! I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Relying on Others
I don’t want to forget the remarkable friends and family who helped us during this difficult season. Tons of amazing people from church brought food to our house. There were these 2 little old ladies, who have since passed, that would bring a meatloaf or a casserole every 2-3 weeks. Knowing that we had young children, they also brought with them a grocery bag full of cereal and snacks, because, “little kids really don’t like casseroles.” Love their hearts!
Check out these wonderful faith resources at The Daily Grace!
Since Chris was on nights at the time, several people stepped up to take me to chemo treatments. Others, like the kid’s grandparents, offered to take them on outings to allow me some rest.
Two of my best friends would pick up the kids for school on treatment days, giving us one less worry. Another great friend would bring dinner at least one night a week, usually something the kids would enjoy. She would also insist on helping with housework before leaving.
What I Learned
The main thing I want to share with everyone is this: there are ups and downs during a fight with cancer. Sometimes, the low points outweigh the highs by a LOT! And sometimes, you need outside help to overcome these lows.
That doesn’t make you any less of a person. It doesn’t make you any less strong. What it does make you is 100% human. It shows you are willing to fight, and it shows you how many people care enough to build you up along the way.
Until next time,