I’m at a turning point in the anti-breast-cancer process. It was 23 degrees this morning when I dropped Liam off at school. I have a delivery today that shouldn’t freeze: 3.75 mg of Lupron, so I’m writing at home, waiting for the delivery of this tiny bottle of medicine that I have injected monthly. It shuts down hormones that fed the type of breast cancer I had. It’s an intramuscular injection which translates to a big needle, but after near six years and 72 injections, I barely feel a twinge.
For five years I was part of a study at MGH (Massachusetts General Hospital). I took an aromatase inhibitor orally every day and an injection of Triptorelin every month. The aromatase inhibitor shut down hormones produced throughout my body from various glands and fat cells. The Triptorelin, basically the same as Lupron, shut down hormone production in the ovaries.
Post-study, I still take the aromatase inhibitor and now the Lupron. When I started the study, research showed a 5-year anti-hormone regimen, like Tamoxifen, was effective. By the end of the 5-year study, research had proven that 10 years of post-cancer hormone treatment was more effective and strongly recommended.
The monthly injections have meant a drive into Boston every month. For the first 60 injections, I returned to the infusion suite every month. It was a 30-second appointment that could cost two to six hours round-trip. I spent much of the time convincing myself I could spend the rest of the day in Boston and enjoy the city. That never happened. Ever.
Sometimes I kept the appointment as just that. Walk in, get jabbed, walk out. I was always greeted with a smile and asked how my boys were doing, for the receptionists knew them from the summer injections. The nurse or volunteer would lead me back to the infusion suite with a warm blanket and a bottle of water. “I don’t need those; I’m just hear for a quick injection,” I started to explain. Eventually, I just said thanks and put both aside.
If I could help it in those 76 visits, I did not sit down in the Captain Chemo chair. The over-sized, comfy recliners I had used during my infusion stint. Perhaps in the summer months, when the boys were with me, I rested on the front edge of the chair like a bird perched on the edge of a nest, ready to fly. With every piece of me, I resist sinking back into that chair. Ever.
When I was done with the study, I broke down in my oncologist’s office. He saw the tire tracks on me that the trek to the infusion suite had left. Honestly, I didn’t realize how much they had been imprinting on me until no more trips to the infusion suite were necessary. Being done with the study, I could just go to the doctor’s office at MGH for the injection, and I did that for a little over a year.
A few months ago, my oncologist and I started working on a plan for getting the injection locally. Strangers with bald heads, ports, wigs – they were at my doctor’s office as well. And, generally, I was OK with that. Until my oncologist asked me how I was doing. He’s one of those few people who, apparently, holds truth serum in his voice. “We need to help you get a better quality of life” was his response to my sobbing.
What a strange statement. I have an amazing life. First, I am alive! I have a wonderful family and great people around me. I’m writing. However, the old calendar interpretation snagged me on this one. In my wisdom from age, I now know that just because there is white space on the calendar, I shouldn’t fill it all in; in fact, I put squares around some of that white space and write "Free" in them. Our family needs white space. Down time at home. Spontaneous time to go for a ride with friends to the beach. That little appointment I kept on a strict four-week rotation filled more white space on those days than I realized. White space that I needed – more on some days than others.
I flew to Iowa for a wedding last weekend and sat next to a woman who was a child in Finland during World War II; for safety, she was sent away from her family at the age of five. She was reunited with her mother when she was ten. She said she can’t remember much of her childhood but really "that is OK." I didn’t live through that war, but I do understand what she means. Some memories just aren’t worth holding onto. At some point, you draw a line in the sand and say, “Enough.” Step over the line and move forward.
My UPS man is my line in the sand today. He will deliver the medication and Thursday I will take it to my local doctor, five minutes away. In this one little-big area of my life, I’m looking forward to moving forward… and catching up with my curls. For this is history...
Mind you, while the above is a very personal, raw account of an emotional journey, please know that I would have done this study again in a heartbeat. Thus far, the study has proven that this regimen for pre-menopausal women has a better outcome than the traditional Tamoxifen regimen.
So now, I shall pull on my big girl pants and get on with it. A greater good was served, and that’s what I hold onto moving forward.
Happy Hump Day... The UPS man just pulled up! Honest to Pete!