Floating on Air
The night still young yet the windows already steamy at the Milange dance studio. Underneath glamorous chandeliers, dancers enter a world beyond the ordinary. It’s the dead of winter so underneath many layers they dress to impress, heart’s set upon cutting a rug. This is the smile of a girl feeling an abundance of energy and ready to celebrate, donning her suede bottomed dance shoes, music urging her feet to the dance floor.
I could not have been happier to finally be allowed to dance again after enduring almost a year of cancer treatments and suffering from a fractured fibula. Talk about a double whammy. How do I celebrate moving past this? By going ballroom dancing for my birthday of course! I love my handsome sweet guy- he was such a trooper. He kept his complaints down to a manageable minimum (this is not his idea of fun.) He lovingly and jokingly calls me his old lady, all in good fun as he points out the much more “mature” looking clientele present. I have long ago learned to cast aside his judgements upon this sport. It doesn’t bother me, I know it is still a very lively sport. I am a former instructor (15 yrs ago and just like riding a bicycle, you never forget!) Some of my best dance partners, being older, can easily put any 20 year old to shame. Proof that skill here is a hard earned accomplishment, not limited by age. There is such culture, beauty, drama, and elegance to ballroom. The man confidently leading the patterns; the woman responding with a blindly trusting follow while adding her own stylish embellishments (usually in high heels and walking backwards, it ain’t easy!) I am Ginger Rogers, gracefully letting the music guide me. It never gets old. And bonus, it’s a great mental and physical workout.
We got to hang out with friends that I haven’t seen since before cancer. Some of them didn’t even know what I’ve been going through as I just haven’t been able to keep up with everyone. An old friend that I used to teach with (we began by going through training together) had no idea what I’ve been going through and didn’t recognize me across the room. When I got close he was shocked. At first he thought I had this haircut by choice, slightly wounding my pride by exclaiming, “Bald?” (I swear I see some hair upon my head!) And then me, getting to share my happy news of no longer having cancer. They all agreed that I need to go to a karaoke bar and sing Sinnead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares to You.” (of course I’ve lip synced to it in the mirror many times!)
Thankfully, being 2 months out from surgery, I was able to move my arms without any stiffness as I flew around the dance floor, spinning and fast stepping my way through song after song, nor did my ankle feel any pain.
It was such a great birthday. No words can describe the feeling of having a birthday and looking back over the past year knowing without a shadow of a doubt that I beat cancer. As I begin my 37th trip around the sun I know it’s going to be an incredible one. I’ve gotten back to doing many things that I love: painting, cooking, feeling creative and vibrant once again.
More Bday fun: got to go with my daughter on her class field trip to the Kansas State Capital. The kids sung me Happy birthday! They are so sweet!
I’ve begun training for my next triathlon, an Olympic distance (roughly a 0.9 miles swimming, 24.8 of cycling and 6.2 miles of running.) And guess why this one is going to be so special? My sister Catherine in CA and brother Nathan in TX are both going to come in town and give the KC Tri their very best with me! It’s going to be Nathan’s first triathlon. The triathlon will be the one year mark from when I was told by the radiologist that I had cancer but I didn’t have the biopsy report back to confirm it yet. I also hadn’t made it public yet. It was on Mother’s Day last year. It was an emotional day. This is why my sister and brother want to do it with me. How exciting is that? It is once again being held on Mother’s Day.
Now for some rough reality. The beginning of this post was written while I was still riding the happy train immediately after my birthday. Several days later, the ride has come to a screeching halt (I suppose I should be grateful for that little break from the cancer world.) The thing is, I was fooling myself that I was done with all the cruddy effects from cancer. Newsflash to myself, I am still a cancer patient. When all I want to be is on the other side.
I have 12 sessions done out of 20 total radiation treatments. Yay for that! It’s going fast. I can’t feel anything during the treatments themselves. They are not painful. But my skin is getting a very itchy rash. It feels like burning fire. Because, well, in a manner of speaking, I am being set on fire.
I went in today for my regular 3 week routine dose of Herceptin (which significantly helps prevent my type of tumor from returning but last time it made me sick, so I was not looking forward to returning today.) Going back into the infusion center, having my port accessed once again, just the whole routine, it’s emotionally hard for me. I am trying to regain my normally optimistic positive nature during this regimen. But it is not coming easily. Such a test of endurance here. The first step during these visits is to have my blood drawn and check my levels. Today my white blood cells were too low to receive the Herceptin. This was surprising because even though I’ve been in crowds recently and there is so much crud going around, I haven’t gotten sick. I have been sleeping well, feeling energetic, and have been eating healthy. However, my oncologist wasn’t worried about my low wbc count. She said it’s probably due to the radiation so we’ll just do the next treatment 3 weeks from now. Even though I haven’t noticed my energy effected from radiation, this is a reminder that it is taking it’s toll.
Now for the big kahuna of my current problems. I met with the orthopedic doctor yesterday. He felt my ankle and assessed that I can start running again, gradually starting with a short half mile at a time. He was ready to let me go home with this advice. (Wait, so that’s it? Are we just guessing here? So excuse me but in your opinion, I’m okay now? As much as I wanted to believe his words, the last thing I want is to set myself back.) I insisted on another x-ray. He said if it would make me feel better than he would allow me to have it. So I did and drum roll please… Unfortunately it revealed the fracture is still not fully healed. Aargh! I am so frustrated. Why is it taking longer to heal than normal? I am so ready to be done with this. We scheduled a DEXA scan for next week to look at my bone density. Throughout this process they have measured my vitamin D and found me to be in the upper normal range. I will also have a different scan just to be sure there is no cancer in my bones. I hate even writing those words. Anytime I have a new scan coming, I feel anxiety and I combat terrifying thoughts. Cue the old childhood memory verse, still applicable to this day: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.”
So I wait for these scans, wondering what the results will show and in the meantime, I’m pool running several times a week. And boy is that about as much fun as banging your head against a brick wall. But this allows for good weight bearing impact which should strengthen my bones. So during these partially humiliating and incredibly boring pool running sessions, beware if you’re swimming laps in the lane next to me. You can be sure of the fact that I am noticing your technique, counting your stroke rate, observing your breathing pattern, because thank you very much for being my only source of entertainment.
Now I know I could tell myself, “come on, this is small potatoes, look at how far you’ve come, you’re so close, don’t let these little things get you down, you’re almost there.” But in all honesty, those words are echoing pretty empty in my mind. Right now I feel disappointment. Radiation’s itchy rash, my low wbc count, my ankle, could these things possibly be the last hill before the soon-to-come finish line? I thought I would be running again by now. I’ve got races on the calendar, I’ve got training to begin. There it is. The desire to run. Please my friends, pray for me because every new set back disturbs the delicate balance and sends me crumbling to a tearful mess. I know I need to regain the proper perspective. I’m sorry to finish on that note but fighting in the ugly trenches is just where I am right now. C’mon lucky #37.