Recently, I was sitting in an emergency room with my cousin, Susan. She is going through chemo for the second time for breast cancer. While we sat there waiting I couldn’t help but relive the conversation we had two days prior about her experiences with treatment. What she told me was difficult, but it only further reinforced my understanding that women in this world are capable of so much strength and bravery.
Physically, a few changes did happen, not surprisingly. The chemo resulted in a chemically induced menopause, complete with sleep disturbances, horrible hot flashes, and a mean streak of brain/chemo fog. (All feisty women that I know can completely relate to most of those symptoms.) Susan is often so tired (chronic fatigue), so you do become a bit grumpy, she says. (Aren’t we all sometimes?) Avoiding those with a cold is “job #1” for her and any other chemo patients.(I do this as well.) Your veins are also filled “filled” with chemo “fire” when the infusions begin. Susan walks around with a t-shirt and a lightweight fleece on even the coldest winter days, (just as many of my feisty friends do at work.) However, her weight did not change at all.
We met over breakfast and so naturally, our conversation started with food, one of the better ways to start a conversation if you ask me. She now craves the foods her kids love: milkshakes, pasta, and all sorts of salty foods. Her mouth is always dry so she is always sipping something. McDonald’s Frappes seem to be her favorite. Ice cream also helps keep her cool. She tries to balance out the ice cream will healthier foods.
Physically, a few changes did occur. The chemo caused her to experience a chemically induced menopause, complete with sleep disturbances, horrendous hot flashes, and a mean streak of brain fog. (I’m sure my fellow middle aged Feisty Women can relate to these symptoms). Susan is often so tired with chronic fatigue, so she admits to being a bit grumpy. She also says her “number one job” is avoiding infections like the common cold which can be difficult as she has young children of her own and she is always in rooms with other patients. The chemo “fills” her veins with what feels like fire. Susan is usually dressed in a t-shirt and lightweight fleece even on the coldest winter days.
And then there is her hair. As clumps started falling out, Susan shaved her head. She thought that she might try out a wig. She received a wig from the ACS, but it was hot and too itchy to wear and because of how sensitive her skin had become during chemo. (She thought that maybe a new hair color and style might help her feel better.)
This wig has another interesting story. When she cut her long hair, she donated the hair to the ACS. Upon putting the wig on her head, she shuddered, because she felt that the wig was her own hair; the color and streaks were exactly the same. It was an odd moment for her. Trying to wear the wig became nearly impossible because the wig was still too hot and she returned this wig for someone to wear it. Susan hopes that they like her hair color and pink streaks.
As if the physical changes weren’t enough, the emotional changes became even tougher to deal with. Susan says that she felt so many emotions: fear, anger, sadness, depression, and had an uncertainty about her future. She decided to compile a few mantras to help her when things felt overwhelming.
You go, girl! After all, women are warriors, too. You don't have to look far to find a feisty woman that has her fair share of battles.
Susan actually has a tattoo of this as a physical reminder.
This takes some effort, but it's possible.
Truer words have never been spoken. Remind yourself of everything that really matters every day.
And before treatments, Susan, psyched herself up with these words:
“Be quiet and become calmer as you talk to yourself.” (A talk with yourself is always a good thing. We all know this to be true)
“You will be fine.”(You MUST stay positive. Look on the bright side no matter what.)
“You will feel okay.”(You can get through the chemo. Do not let it beat you.)
Her FB postings add these hashtags:
They all sound very appropriate, Susan. I totally agree with your words.
What caused her cancer? Why did she develop cancer? The BRAC1 factor contributed but research points to other causes. The number one cause why people develop cancer is STRESS. “Thanks to all of those who caused my stress,” she says. There are many people but Susan has one word for them: karma. Sad but true; time will tell. My comment: “once a cheater, always a cheater” describes some of the more deplorable people in her life.
People also look at you differently, she says. A woman who is bald, missing her eyebrows and eyelashes — she tends to get stares. Susan just smiles at them but they still stare. Maybe they wonder, she says, if this might be them some day. I suggested that they have empathy for her but she said that their expressions were not empathetic at all. Mostly people stare, she says, because they wonder how long she might be around. So sad, I think.
Susan always managed to be kind to the doctors, nurses, technicians, and all of the hospital staff. In addition to the chemo, the amount of tests that she endured were endless: EKG, blood work, biopsies, urine samples, nose swabs, antibiotic drips, poking and prodding, and yet another IV drip, just to name a few. Still, Susan kept on being positive, smiling, and letting everyone know that there are others far worse off than she is.
So what did I learn from this conversation? I now know much more about chemo than I ever did before. I learned how resilient and strong the female spirit can be.
I leaned how to treat a person with cancer when I see them. I still love the frozen yogurt and am so glad that it can keep cancer patients cool. Menopause can be a bit trying, Feisty Women, but cancer is far worse. I learned to count my blessings everyday. Being positive, no matter how bad you feel, can help you feel a bit better. I learned how important it is to be a fighter, and to stay strong even though you might be bone tired. Most of all, I learned that feisty women everywhere are fighting like mad to survive, to live life to the fullest, to love their families, and to be willing to participate in trials to help other fellow cancer patients.
When you see a feisty women with cancer, smile at her, hold the door open for her, and give her a “high five” to celebrate her spirit, her bravery, and her inner-warrior. Be there in any way you can, whether she is a family member, friend or simply a stranger.