The Sonia Show

Writer. Mocker. Beer drinker. Old movie watcher. Mother. Goober.

Happy chemo-versary to me!

12 Comments

Yeah, so, a year ago today I finished chemo. I guess it’s my chemo-versary. What do you get yourself for a chemo-versary? Being cancer-free, a full head of hear and the knowledge that you don’t have to do chemo anymore? That’s a pretty great gift.

chemo-curls

(Left) Chemo curls a few months ago. (Right) A year after chemo, the chemo curls are starting to grow out.

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One year after chemo with a few trims to give it style.

Of course, chemotherapy is finished, but I’m still getting treatment. I go to Kaiser every three months for a Lupron injection, which is putting me in menopause, because I had an estrogen-positive cancer. I’m also taking Tamoxifen every night. The side effects have been pretty minimal – mainly hot flashes, which are not that big of a deal. They can be kinda intense, but I try to dress in layers and keep some water with me. I’m kinda addicted to lemon-flavored La Croix sparkling water. Often I have a can of it in my bag, because who doesn’t carry around a can of sparkling water in their purse? Am I right, ladies?

The main side effect I’m dealing with isn’t even from these drugs. I haven’t written about it in a while, but I have continued to have terrible anxiety and panic attacks. I wrote about it back in January. Basically, I have post traumatic stress disorder from having cancer twice. I mean, if you lose body parts due to cancer twice it’s going to fuck with your head, right?

The truth is since the panic attacks in December and January I’ve been struggling to manage my anxiety. I saw a counselor a few times, but after that I started feeling like I could deal it myself. The counselor and my oncologist both recommended that I could try an anti-anxiety med, but I was determined to handle my anxiety the old fashioned way … with beer. Just kidding. I tried to handle it by pretending like everything was fine.

But I wasn’t fine. I really haven’t been fine since the second breast cancer diagnosis in December 2014. I’ve been walking around since then thinking that my body is trying to kill me, and that I’m going to die young. Shortly after I started chemo last year I had a panic attack when I was in the hospital for a fever. It was awful. After that, I was just dealing with it. I just accepted it as the new normal. I had a few more panic attacks, and my level of anxiety was just high all the time.

Then last month, I had another panic attack. It was really bad; really, really bad. I started hyperventilating. My hands, feet and face went numb. My hands actually seized up. It’s hard to describe but a woman actually filmed her hands clenching up during a panic attack, which you can see riiight here. It was the scariest thing ever. Luckily, I was with my mighty, mighty good man David at the time, and he was able to give me an Ativan from my purse. He was so sweet and thoughtful. He was so calm. “This is a panic attack. You’re going to be OK,” he repeated. I couldn’t move my hands. He had to put the pill in my mouth and give me water. He opened my hands and rubbed them for me, and he talked me through it, because he’s a goddamn saint.

After that panic attack, I started having panic attacks about having another panic attack, because I’m so meta. “What if it happens when I’m alone? What if it’s just me and Calvin? What if I’m at work?”

It was just too much to carry around all the time. I’ve never taken any kind of anti-depressant or anti-anxiety med, other than the Ativan, which was prescribed to me during chemo. I took it during panic attacks on an as-needed basis. I just let the anxiety and panic attacks go on for so long, because I hate taking prescription drugs if I don’t have to. You take a prescription drug, which has side effects, and then you have to take another drug for the side effects, and that drug has side effects, and so on and so on. The next thing you know you’re taking 10 different pills, and you still feel like shit.

I also let it go on for so long, because I’m just so hard on myself. “Deal with your shit, Mansfield” is what I would say to myself. “You don’t even have cancer anymore. People have it much harder than you. Rub some dirt on it and walk it off.” This is the kind of assy shit I’ll say to myself. I would never say such awful things to a friend, but I will say the most terrible things to myself. Even though I can be so hard on myself I was never depressed. I truly love my life. I think it’s because I love it so much that I’m worried so much about losing it.

Finally, I reached out to my doctor and said, “I need help. I’m tired of dealing with this all the time.” So, yeah, I’m taking Lexapro now. I’m on a super-low dose: 5 mg. In other words, I’m just like everyone else you know. I’m on a mood-altering medication.

I started the drug about two weeks ago, and shortly after I started the drug, my anxiety actually increased, which is a really shitty side effect for an anti-anxiety med. The doctor assured me that I needed to give the meds time to get into my system and work. I needed to ride it out a bit. It sucked. But then I got a great idea: Acupuncture. It helped me with nausea during chemo. Maybe it could help me with this. And guess what? It totally did. I went three times in a week. After the first treatment, I felt better. After the second treatment, I felt even better. After the third treatment, I felt the best I’ve felt since, well, the second the diagnosis. I’m going to continue taking the drug and going to acupuncture once a week.

I’m feeling so much better, you guys!

So, yeah, that’s what’s been going on with me. It turns out I’m a human being who can handle only so much crap before I need something to help me shoulder my burden. Weird, right? I’m writing about it because I feel like some people think this should be a dirty, little secret. I’m not ashamed. I went through some shit, and I need help dealing with it. Some of my awesome friends have shared their stories with me to let me know that I’m not alone. So, I’m sharing my story, so if someone else is reading this blog post, and they’re going through some shit, they can see that they are not alone, too.

 

 

 

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Author: The Sonia Show

I'm a writer/mocker/goober/mother in San Francisco who likes to drink beer, shop, laugh and make other people laugh, podcast, watch old movies, feed my unhealthy obsession with pop culture, kick breast cancer's ass, wear orange and root for the San Francisco Giants, participate in general jackass-ery, talk about TV, eavesdrop on strangers' conversations, make nerdy “Star Wars” and “Simpsons” references, and post personal things about myself on the web for all to read, which makes me some sort of literary exhibitionist.

12 thoughts on “Happy chemo-versary to me!

  1. Thank you for writing this. Working on my anxiety has been pretty much the theme of my summer.

    Anxiety and Panic attacks are a lot like the dementors in Harry Potter, soul sucking. Two things that have been helping me; I have started mediation after a beautiful friend who has been dealing with panic for many years suggested it. Right now I’m using Headspace to help me stay on track. A study just came out that meditation can be as effective as medication for depression and anxiety. I have better days when I pull it off.
    Two three books, “The body keeps the score” about trauma is an intense read but awesome. Anything by Brene’ Brown – watch her TED talks if nothing else- she is my hero. Third the book “Waking the Tiger.” All about anxiety and panic.
    Enough librarian already, sending light and love across the blogosphere – so glad you are getting some support, acupuncture rocks! I have not tried prescription help yet, but know many it has helped to get through some s#*t. And yes congratulations too on marking the end of chemo- may you celebrate its success for decades to come.
    Xo Iris

    • Thank you so much for sharing all those recommendations. I will definitely give meditation a try. Now that I’m feeling like the panic attacks are under control I can return to yoga, too. And I will definitely check out those books! Thank you for reading and for commenting!

  2. Ah man, I’m sorry. And glad to hear you’re finding something that helps. I have also been resistant to taking medication when my anxiety starts causing problems, so I totally get it. Fwiw, and you’ve probably already thought of this, but I have found my anxiety is very closely linked to hormonal fluctuations, and was especially bad in the year or so after childbirth when they were really out if whack. So I wonder if it may not just be trauma, although that is undoubtedly a big part if it, but also a direct result of taking meds that screw with your hormones?

    That might not be helpful, since you can’t stop taking those, but I always find it oddly reassuring to understand exactly what is happening in my body when I start to panic.

    Did Kaiser send you to cognitive behavioral therapy? I found that helpful, along with their mindfulness meditation class and yoga.

    And happy chemoversary!

    • Yeah, there’s nothing I can do about the hormone stuff. I mean, I could stop taking Tamoxifen, and I could stop the Lupron injections. But then I would have panic attacks about getting cancer again, because I wasn’t doing everything I could to prevent it. It is helpful to know that there is something behind it, not just PTSD.

      Kaiser didn’t recommend cognitive behavioral therapy. They did recommend a cancer survivor support group, which I’m resistant to, because I’m not really much of a joiner. I should just get over that crap and go. I did meet with a counselor a few times, and she recommended meditation, and suggested a guided meditation app, which I tried and liked. I need to do it more often. And, of course, I need to go back to yoga. Now that I’m feeling more confident that the attacks are under control, I can go back to yoga.

      Thanks for sharing, Sara!

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this. I am so glad you’re cancer-free and getting help and taking care of yourself. Self-love and self-care is the best thing you can do for you and your sweet family. Major big hugs. ❤

  4. Thanks for sharing this, Sonia. I’ve had panic attacks recently and am figuring out the best way to deal with them. Your story helps.

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