The C Word – Part 12

The C Word – Part 12

Round Five– DING!!!!

With each round of chemo, it feels as if you’re a boxer going into the ring. You train. You feed your body with nutritious fuel. You psych yourself up. And then you walk through those doors armed for bear, fists up, ready to fight this thing with all you’ve got.

This round, I started working with a different oncologist. Remember me mentioning that I’d fired my last one? Ok, “fired” isn’t really accurate, but I did ask if I could switch. And I’m so glad I did. I already feel a better rapport with my new oncologist, Dr. J. We met, and he’d gone through my whole chart really thoroughly to get a picture of my “story”.  My next scans are the second week of November, but as far as my blood work indicates, the cancer is responding to chemo now. He says he things it probably was responding in those first two rounds of the previous chemo cocktail, but the scan was ordered too early for the changes to have shown up at that point.

One of the blood tests they do each round is a cancer “marker”. There are different proteins they look for in association with different cancers. For me, the marker is called CEA. I remember my mom’s marker being CA125. These markers monitor the activity of cancer cells in our body. A number correlates to the amount of activity. So, a lower number is good – it means less growth and activity. And ALL of us have some cancer cells in our bodies from time to time. They can come and go throughout our lives without our knowledge. It’s just when they congregate in one place and decide to wreak havoc that we have a problem that needs intervening care.

Apparently, my CEA number was around 59 prior to my chemo treatments, but over the summer it jumped way up to 168, which I was not aware of. Meaning the cancer was being aggressive during that time (thankful I didn’t know – I would never have gotten any sleep if I had). But my most recent blood work shows that it dropped drastically to a mere 70, indicating that the growth has been arrested and is (hopefully) in the process of shrinking. Hallelujah.

Dr. J. agrees that we should fight aggressively since I’m healthy and relatively young. He started me on Grasofil injections – that’s the stuff the nurses were trying to get me set up on when my white counts had dropped so low, but it was the weekend and we had been unable to reach the oncologist on call to make arrangements. My naturopathic treatments stepped in and saved the day, but let’s face it, I can’t afford to get off schedule with treatments again. We need to hammer away at this beast. So, I’ve been trained on how to give myself these little injections into my stomach. It’s pretty idiot-proof, but it’s the first time I’ve INTENTIONALLY stuck a needle into myself. Sewing needles notwithstanding.

Doctor J. says if we need more response from the growth, we could add the oxaliplatin back into the chemo cocktail. That’s the stuff that gave me the severe side effects so it’s not ideal, but it’s a tool at our disposal. Another weapon in our arsenal. But for now, we’re sticking with the current chemo regiment and we can re-evaluate after we see the next scans.

And through all of this, I’ve been feeling GREAT Which makes no sense to me. Good energy, good focus (ok, I did find the can opener in the fridge the other day), and my positivity is holding steady. Everyone who sees me tells me I look great. And I have to say, I do!

How can I be sick when I feel so well????

Round Five went smoothly. It was the same dose as the previous cycle, which was reduced from the first cycle of the new cocktail due to my compromised immunity. (Next round we’re topping me back up to the full doses with the help of those Grasofil injections.) But this was the first round delivered through my snazzy new PORT! It was finally installed, under my skin on my right upper chest. Which means I can now shower and bathe without wrapping myself in saran wrap. The Infusor bottle delivers one of my meds slowly over two days in each cycle. Next round they’ll teach me how to detach myself so I don’t have to come back to the lab each round. Now I just need to train all my friends to hug me on the opposite side. One of my friends always does so anyway – she insists on hugging “heart to heart”. It’s a darn good policy, try it!

Making chemo SEXY! Don’t hug my port!

The same week, I was producing and performing in a show. Two back-to-back sold-out shows to be precise. And thankfully, I had the strength and energy to do it – with the help of Doug and the other performers, of course.

All though this journey, I’ve been doing a lot of energy work. In the interest of using all the weapons in my arsenal to fight this thing, I resolved to leave no stone left un-turned.  Part of that is turning over those stones and clearing out the accumulated debris of 52 years on this planet. Cutting cords that no longer serve my highest good. Releasing anger and accepting love. The pandemic already presented a big re-set button to many of us. A major mid-life moment. What’s next? Where do we go from here? How do we best serve our planet and find our true calling? Big questions. Made even more weighty for me with my diagnosis.

All my life, my greatest joy has been in bringing joy to others. That’s all I know how to do, really. I do it in myriad ways, but the core principle is the same. I love making people laugh, or smile. Giving them an experience; a memory. Hoping to find common resonances in our lives.

One of my earliest and fondest memories is when I was five years old, in first grade, doing my impression of Edith Bunker for my teacher, and her getting such a kick out of it that she paraded me around to the other teachers as I made all of them genuinely belly laugh. I can still feel the glow of accomplishment that washed over me at that moment. Giving and receiving joy. What could be a more noble pursuit than that?

Our last Kitty Nights Burlesque show was held on Sunday, October 24th at The Biltmore Cabaret in Vancouver, BC.

Bringing life full circle, I used my Edith Bunker voice as we opened the show with a parody of “Those Were The Days”.

“Those Were The Days” photo by Greg McKinnon

I’d created a new burlesque act for the final show. It was set to “All Tomorrow’s Parties” by The Velvet Underground and Nico. I entered the stage as if I were at a masquerade ball, covering my face with a pointed-nose plague masque. Under that masque was a non-surgical mask which I’d made to look like a skeleton’s grin. The masquerade ball gown peeled off to reveal skeleton bones, which peeled off to reveal a ghostly shroud as I danced with tattered silk veil fans. The shroud dropped to reveal bare skin –  the skin we are all born in – although more sparkly and transcendent – mine newly decorated with my battle scars.

Some of the many layers of my “All Tomorrow’s Parties” act. Photos by Greg McKinnon

After curtain call, we wrapped the show with me singing “We’ll Meet Again”, accompanied on piano. Mid song, I spoke to the audience. This was a room filled – twice in one night – with love. And seeing as the love of all of my friends and family is what has been sustaining me and protecting me through this experience, I decided to let the cat fully out of the bag and go public with my cancer journey. Up until now, I’d only been sharing my experience with my actual friends and family – not with the public or my fan base. Ugh, that sounds so weird and pompous to say “fan base” but hey, I do have fans – people I don’t know personally, but who know my work. I’d felt really vulnerable when I got my diagnosis and didn’t want the whole world up in my grill. I just didn’t have the energy.  I gradually began to let my friends know, one by one, until I started this blog series. So, speaking the words onstage was momentous for me. And the avalanche of love I felt in return was my rich reward.

Closing the doors on my show – the enterprise which garnered so much success for me and those I employed: the entity which succeeded in giving so much joy to so many for so long – well, it wasn’t easy. But it was time. I imagine it’s what some parents feel like when they send their baby off to college. Because this show was my baby. For thirteen years.

I am eternally grateful for the success of the show; for the years of joy and laughter it brought to thousands of audience members and performers alike. But having the courage to let go of what no longer serves our goals and making space for new things to grow is of such vital importance in our lives. Otherwise, we’re left living with the dusty bones of our past rather than living in the vibrancy of today and planning for the brilliance of our future. So, I cut those cords. I closed that chapter. And now I open my heart fully to the possibilities of tomorrow.

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