December 16, 2019 - Ringing the Bell
Today, Mason and I rang the bell.
Today I had the last chemotherapy infusion session of my prescribed treatment plan. It is traditional, albeit controversial, to ring a bell upon completion of your chemotherapy treatment.
For many, it may be the last chemotherapy session they will ever have to endure. However, for countless others, chemotherapy will not end. Those courageous people have metastatic cancer (breast or otherwise) that has metastasized and will continue to spread to other parts of their body, such as their liver, bones, or even brain. They may never have the opportunity to ring the bell.
So, today, when I had my last infusion of chemotherapy, I made the thoughtful decision to ring the bell. I consider it a great milestone. I completed a very difficult 16 weeks of chemotherapy. It was not only physically and mentally difficult for me, but it was difficult for my family. It was especially difficult for Jamie and Mason
. We do not know if I am “cancer free”. The upcoming PET Scan will confirm if any active cancer cells are present in my body. But it is important to understand how insidious and tenacious cancer cells are. Many doctors will not consider a patient “cancer free” until they have 5 years of clear scans. This simply means that people who have been diagnosed with cancer, must be vigilant on the testing. Early detection equals additional years of life. Ringing the bell signifies the completion of a great milestone.
Wow! I really don’t mean to sound so macabre! This post is about celebration, not about depression. It just weighs so heavy on my heart. I think about the many people who have a much more ominous diagnosis than I have received. So, with a little patience from you for my rambling, I will get back to the day the Kranking’s Rang the Cancer Bell!
Buckle up, it is chemo insomnia night after all. We all know that I am “enjoying” a night without a wink of sleep. I have all the time in the world to spew my words. I will try to remain entertaining and informative, with an overdose of oversharing. Oversharing is my trademark, after all! The Brilliant Massage Of course, in true Renee fashion, the last two days did not go off without a hitch. I had the brilliant, not so brilliant plan to have a massage on Sunday. The neuropathy (tingling, numbness, pain) has not subsided. A massage sounded heavenly. So, I booked a massage for Sunday afternoon – the day before my LAST chemo session. Did I consult with anyone with a medical degree? Of course not, that would be so sensible!
As I checked into the spa, changed into my robe and slippers, and sat in the Relaxation and Meditation room, I was full of joyful thoughts of having my legs and feet massaged. I really wasn’t thinking this whole massage thing through. I must say, the massage therapist was very accommodating. As we discussed my history, it became quite obvious that a person with a double mastectomy with bad necrotic results (you can look it up, but necrotic or necrosis means “dead tissue”) is not a good candidate for a deep massage where you lay on your stomach or your boobs!
So, we quickly pivoted to the “Baby Bump Massage”. We agreed that laying on my side would probably be best. Wow! My only thought was, “Why on earth did I not get this massage when I was pregnant with Mason!!”. I certainly missed out. I digress… The body pillow certainly alleviated the pressure off of my chest as I laid on my side. But then, I thought about my left side where I had 7 lymph nodes removed. When I mentioned it to the massage therapist, my left arm became a casualty to the massage. “Let’s not mess with that. We will focus on other areas.” Sorry left side.
As I was listening to the SPA relaxation music (you know, the light rain falling on the tree leaves dripping into the pond) I remembered my Port! My pesky port! I had forgotten to mention my port. I quickly told her that she had to be careful about the port protruding from my chest. It was easy to see and avoid.
Not so fast! That Port has a catheter that runs up my neck and then connects to a vein in my heart. We didn’t really discuss the catheter part, the most important part. I was more focused on showing her how my port protruded from my chest. Because I didn’t mention the catheter, it resulted in some deep massage in my neck area, the catheter area! It happened so fast, too fast, before I could tell her to stop. Needless to say, I spent more time worrying about the stupidity of having a massage the day before my last chemo than I did enjoy the massage itself. I did have pain in the area around my port that night, but it is a high probability is was psychological. Sigh… On A Brighter Note After my massage, Jamie, Mason, and I had dinner with a dear friend that we met in Napa many years ago. She was actually born in Georgia, so it was kismet that we met in the first place. Jamie and I met Jen around 2004 and have been friends ever since. Ironically, she is battling cancer herself and has relocated back to Atlanta to be close to family. It was a wonderful evening. There is nothing better than spending time with a friend who has a true, pure, loving heart. It was the perfect Sunday night before my last chemo. Last Chemo Day
Today was special in many ways. It was the END of chemo. Mason was with us. I had a few dear friends visit with me during chemo. It was the END of chemo.
The infusion nurse who accesses my port every other week (the only one who has ever accessed it), assured me that the massage did not hurt the port. She did take the time for a loving lecture on how the massage was probably not a good idea. Her mantra, “Protect your Port”. I do love her. I wouldn’t want anyone else to Access my Port. (You can click on the link for information regarding Ports. There is much to learn.)
Mason was not allowed in the Infusion Suite (the room with 27+ chairs filled with cancer patients). You must be 12 or older to come into the Infusion room. In addition, each patient is allowed only ONE visitor in the Infusion Suite at a time. Jamie and Mason spent most of the day in the waiting room until I was done. Until it was time to ring the bell.
However, I was not alone. My heart is full of gratitude. My friends Suzanne, Mark, and Annie all took turns sitting with me during my last infusion. I have shared a few pics from today. (Mark, we didn’t get a selfie...next time). The day couldn’t have been more perfect. Because they came and sat with me, it made it easier for Jamie to sit with Mason in the waiting room. No one was alone. I received the last chemo cocktail infusion of Pepcid, Steroids, Benadryl, and Taxol. The entire process began at 9:30 and ended around 3pm. It was a day for visiting, sharing stories, electronics not needed.
We did learn that my white blood cell count took a significant dip. It went from around 5.8 to 1.2. My oncologist prescribed the Neulasta Patch again (remember it from the Red Devil days). After the final Taxol infusion, they attached the Neulasta patch to the back of my arm. The medicine will be auto administered to me 27 hours after chemo ends. The purpose is to boost my white blood cells and help my immune system. And, joy, oh joy, the big side effect of Neulasta is bone pain!! Yea me! It will be interesting to see how the rest of the week plays out when it comes to the side effects of Taxol and Neulasta together. This is something that I have not experienced. I hope it is not compounded bone pain! I only love the phenomena of compounding when it comes to money, but not bone pain!
The rest of the week ahead of me will be filled with battling the side effects of chemo. It is my last battle, and I will win! I am armed with the best love, support, medicines, and the promise of a beautiful Christmas Holiday. Ringing of the Bell
Controversy or not, the Bell Ringing was truly special and something that I will never forget. I am so glad that Mason and Jamie were by my side. It was a very emotional day for me.
This may sound very odd, but the last day of chemo is very conflicting emotionally. I have spent the last 16 weeks with these very caring, loving nurses taking care of me. I have really gotten to know them and love them. I will miss these ladies at Atlanta Cancer Care. I am very happy to be finished with chemo, but I am a little sad to say goodbye to these wonderful nurses. They truly are a gift from God.
Jamie took pictures and videoed the bell ringing. Mason stood by my side and supported his Mommy. The bell is attached to a plaque. The tradition is to read the plaque and then ring the bell three times. I became so choked up with emotion that I couldn’t speak. My little Mason man spoke for me. And then, we rang that bell together.
Click below to see Mason and I ringing the bell together!