Goodbye 2016 and Hello 2017. They are numbers however, just as our birthdays are numbers that try to “define” us. But the New Year, new number, is something that people have always held onto, almost count on, for newness, for a clean slate, and for a new “you.” And amongst the news, amongst friends and acquaintances, even amongst my self and my family, I too am grasping for that 2017 of NEW. What the hell happened to the end of 2016?
It’s been a while since I have written. After all, the beginning of December marked 10 years that I have been dealing with breast cancer. 10 years…my whole 30’s…never imagined it. I thought I would write about this 10 year anniversary/ordeal a month ago, but being a mom of 2 young busy children ages 2 and 4, undergoing chemo on a weekly basis, is probably quite the biggest reason I didn’t. I’m exhausted and I have found my nights after the kids to go to bed, the most precious part of the day for my body to sink into bed and fade into sleep. No more late nights of binge watching Netflix series, and catching up on all my Marvel and DC comic shows on CW and ABC. I need sleep.
The year 2016 was an overall bumpy one. There were clinical trials that worked for me, and then there were the ones that were duds and sucked my life’s energy out. It became apparent that in September, clinical trials were no longer a fit for me as things started to progress in my liver. So by the end of the month, I started my first standard chemotherapy ever. I had a port now, which would be easy access and no pain in my left arm veins. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but knew I was going to handle whatever it threw at me. The schedule of it was most overwhelming at the start. I had to be in Boston every Tuesday for 3 weeks, followed by a week off. The biggest part was getting used to the pre meds: steroids and Benadryl. Knocked me for a loop! I was never good with benadryl and now to be getting it at a high dose through iv, I would sleep for the day. It was also a tough transition, as I was staying in Boston every Monday night leaving my little loves at home. At first, my daughter had a tough time with me being gone from Monday until Tuesday afternoon, but like anything, we all adjusted. I was in a routine and Meghan and I were making the best of it, and it just became another part of our schedule. The chemo itself was rough for a day or 2, but I did well and was still somewhat active the rest of the week, picking up the kids from school, doing errands, and having weekend family fun time. The schedule went smoothly, and by the end of October, I got news that it was working and the tumors in my liver were shrinking. It was phenomenal news for me, as the last 3 sets of scans kept showing growth. So it gave me an extra pep, and I knew I could keep going with this.
But, like we’ve all seen in the news as of late, this was the closing of 2016, and it seems so much was happening in our world and in our lives that were tragic, heartbreaking, sad, and scary. And it hit me, it hit my family. Meghan, the kids, and I were lucky enough to board a plane mid November and go visit my parents in Florida. A trip we had tried to do all year, but I was never healthy enough. We had the tickets since February, and I was finally in a good place and we had an amazing week, swimming, beaching, playgrounds, and family time. My parents were ecstatic to have us there. The end of the week came and it was time to say goodbye. The kids were in the car with Meghan, and my mom was heading out the door to drive us. I stood in the kitchen with my dad, hugging and saying goodbye, with tears in our eyes. I walked out the door, but ran back in and squeezed him one last big hug. I had this awful pit in my stomach that I didn’t know if I would ever make it back down here, or that something was pressing, and I just didn’t know what it was. But the feeling was not a good one, so I stayed in his arms an extra moment before hopping in the car. 2 days later, I was in Boston getting my chemo, and as usual, groggy and passed out in the back of my sister’s VW bug as we drove home to NH, the phone rang. It was my mum. My dad had taken a bad fall. He was in the hospital and awaiting all sorts of tests. I was so numb with fear, and so drugged out myself, I couldn’t quite grasp this. It was hours later, when I realized how severe, and how serious this was. That night as I cried to Meghan, she knew where I wanted to be and gave me the strength to get ready for an early morning flight back to Florida. I woke at 5am, still feeling the effects of the chemo and drugs, and boarded a plane. I spent the week with my mum, driving back and forth from the hospital, spending anywhere from 7-12 hour days there. We watched my dad suffer through pain, while waiting 4 days for him to finally have a plan and be transferred to a trauma center that could specialize in hip socket surgery. It was an emotional week, a scary week, an exhausting week as I fought off the chemo side effects to be strong and present for both my mum and dad. My mum and I bonded in a whole new way. We were depending on each other, and holding each other up. And finally the day came for my dad’s surgery, and by this time, my sister and her husband had made it down. The 4 of us sat in this tiny room all day awaiting to hear how he did. They warned us, it was a very difficult surgery for any person to encounter, never mind an 85-year-old. Finally we were able to see him around 7pm that night. He was sound asleep, still drugged up from anesthesia and some post meds. And I sat in the room and watched his breathing, up and down, in and out, and I cried. The weeks stress and emotions were finally pouring out of me. I could not catch my breath, and my mum held onto me, as I poured it all out. But this wasn’t the end of this scary part, the surgery. All of a sudden we noticed his vitals dropping extremely fast and they could not wake him. Within seconds, doctors and nurses were running in and out of the room, pushing us out, calling a code blue. The 4 of us shuffled down to the nurses desk and listened and watched in horror as machines, voices, code blue flashing, “is that his family,” “does he have a pulse…” rang through the hallway. My mum and I stood holding each other up. I was physically at the end of anything else I could endure. The chemo, the stress, the emotions of everything, was tearing my body apart. Was he dying in there? Would I see my dads eyes again looking back at me? Would I be able to get a hug from him? It was the most traumatic out-of-body experience I have ever felt. I could feel my mum trembling in every part of her body. This woman, married for 52 years to this man, and waiting and watching to see if she would still have her man by her side. And then, there was a nurse, slowly approaching, and quietly spoke, he is stable, the doctor will be over in a minute. I fell to the floor and sat with my head on my knees and listened as the doctor said it was probably too much pre and post medications, but he is going to be ok. They did a stat brain ct to check for a stroke, which was negative. We were finally allowed in the room, and were able to see his beautiful blue eyes flutter open here and there. And at midnight, I kissed him goodnight, and we made our way home. For this was a Monday night, which meant I had chemo in the morning up in Boston. As I lay down for bed that night, my body would not, could not relax. My heart was pounding through my whole body, my eyes burned so bad they hurt to shut, and my head was spinning. But I managed to hop on a 7am flight, land in Boston and get my chemo. Upon arriving home, I fell into Meg’s arms, the kids arms and just needed to be held. The following day, I was able to speak with my dad on the phone, and it was magical, quite honestly, a miracle. He was doing well, and was going to be moved to a rehab facility for 2-3 weeks by the end of the week. I promised him I would be back down on my chemo week off. I could breathe a little lighter, and I knew, that was where I was supposed to be, and felt blessed that I was able to be there amongst all my treatments. I felt awakened in a new way, like I could surpass this chemo and keep going strong, for what I had just endured, physically, mentally, and emotionally, down there.
As I promised, I had one more week of chemo and then it was my week off, and I headed down to Florida a 3rd time. When I walked into the rehab and saw my dad sitting there, we hugged and shared tears of joy. He was making it, he was the superman I have always know him to be. And for the next 5 days, we drove to and from, morning and afternoon, hanging out, talking, even getting him outside for fresh air. He gave me a newfound strength, to think what he at his age was going through. He in turn, grabbed my hand one day, and told me, it was all from me, his inspiration and his fight, because I was the strongest and bravest person he’s ever known.
So maybe the end of 2016 wasn’t so bad after all. My dad was doing well and getting better each day. Yes, my mum and dad had a lot of new planning to do for the house, and were grieving in their own way of a life they once knew, was no longer. My dad will not be able to walk until at least the end of February, and my mum, will be getting big strong muscles maneuvering him all around. And by the end of the week there, I felt complete again. I felt like I could now go home to my family and resume our lives and routines. But, I started to get these funny nerve pains down the left side of my body and called my doc before I left Florida. So they set up some scans, hoping to rule anything out, and blame it on stress and anxiety. For we know stress can physically incapacitate you. When I flew home, I went and did the scans, and showed up to Boston a few days later for my Tuesday chemo. And as Meghan and I sat there, that feeling, that pit in my stomach was warning me. I couldn’t shake it. And when I saw my doctor walk in the room, and sit down, she asked how I was feeling. My heart stopped. I said I was very tired. To which she replied, “Andrea, the cancer has spread to your brain. I am so sorry. I am so shocked, because usually your type of breast cancer doesn’t go to the brain. But you have 12-15 lesions in there.” I looked away from her eyes, and looked over to Meghan. I dropped my head, and cried, as did my doctor, as Meghan sat in total shock. “This is serious and we have to do whole brain radiation because of the number of spots. It’s a one shot deal. If it works, we are just dealing with a bump in the road, but I promise you that I will be upfront and honest when the time comes that there is nothing else we can do.” My head was spinning and my thoughts were scattered everywhere, my babies, Amelia and Myles, Meghan, my parents, wtf, this can’t be true, I need to get out of here now.
Meghan and I walked out with the harsh reality beating in our chests. What is going to happen? What the hell happened to the end of 2016?