Drugs, Hugs and Losing My Jugs: A Breast Cancer Journal - June 12, 2015 - I Am a Warrior
This is the twenty-second entry in a 31-day Breast Cancer Awareness Month exclusive series featuring the real journal entries of breast cancer survivor, Jessica Sliwerski. Read the previous entry here.
This morning I thought about the awe and respect I have for my little body-that-could.
Fifteen months ago my body created a perfect tiny human.
Seven months ago tomorrow my body brought this tiny human into the world. I delivered my daughter via c-section. Within two weeks my body was healed enough for me to exercise again. Within nine weeks I was back to my pre-pregnancy self.
A month and a half ago my body endured seven-and-a-half hours of major surgery. I gave my breast tissue and nipples because I wanted the cancer out. Expanders, temporary breasts, were placed beneath my chest muscles and drains wrapped around and out through my armpits. I endured two weeks of grueling recovery before all four drains were finally removed.
I still continue to recover from surgery each day.
Three weeks ago my body survived a hefty dose of poison. My steroid dose was too high. I didn’t need the anti-nausea medicine, but I didn’t know this. My system was shocked with the chemotherapy drug. I took too much of another.
I ate edible marijuana. The next day I thought I was dying as I laid on the bathroom floor in and out of consciousness, unable to speak or move. I have never been so terrified as I was that morning, looking at Kyle as he tried to wake me and being completely incapable of telling him (or myself) that I was OK.
I have given more of myself in the last fifteen months than some people will give in a lifetime. But my body and my spirit refuse to give up.
I lost my tastebuds, but they are back.
I had throat sores, but they are gone.
My blood counts dipped, but they are high again.
I lost weight, but I’ve gained some back.
My bones ached, but not anymore.
My head throbbed, I was weak and dizzy, I was battered and bruised. No longer.
My chest, neck, arms and back were tight from surgery and healing, but physical therapy has opened me and my range of motion is vastly improved. This week I will begin doing yoga again.
I was depleted of energy, but yesterday I did laundry, went grocery shopping, finalized logistics for Kyle’s surprise birthday weekend with his friends, conducted two work-related calls and made a small dent in the massive amount of thank you cards I owe all the people in my life who love me.
Despite everything I have endured, never once have I lost my optimism.
“I am a warrior,” I told myself as I dressed for chemotherapy this morning. “My body is devoted to living. I will fight to live. I will win.”
I told myself this despite my hair falling in clumps while I was in the shower.
I told myself this despite emerging from the shower with bald patches all over my head.
As I dressed for chemo I could feel more hair falling.
Pulling on my pink Keep Calm I’m a Ninja shirt, I knocked off more hair. Leaning over to pull on my skinny jeans, more. I placed a straw fedora on my head to hide the patches and protect my scalp from the hot summer sun.
“I am a warrior,” I reminded myself as I packed my chemo bag. Knowing that once they gave me meds I would be asleep for at least two hours, I packed very few things.
All I cared about today was comfort and necessity. For comfort I brought my blue beanie from my grandma, a cozy knit blanket from my friend’s mother, and my LightSail hoodie.
As a matter of necessity I brought chocolate for my nurses and the other staff at the hospital who would be caring for me today.
I also brought glass heart necklaces my aunt made for the nurses to thank them for their hard work and kindness.
I brought my phone and charger and headphones and healthy snacks and lavender flavored lip balm.
And that was it, save for the giant container of coconut jizz juice I chugged while walking to the train.
What was most important to me this morning was spending time with Penelope before Kyle and I left.
I read to her, I lifted her over my head and made her laugh, I ran my finger on her bottom gum and felt her first tooth poking through.
I talked to her.
I fed her a bottle.
When she fell asleep in my arms I held her.
I nuzzled against her warm neck.
I kissed her soft head.
I breathed in her delicious baby smell.
I listened to her rhythmic breathing.
I closed my eyes and focused upon my own breathing.
I thought about how her strength inspired me to be stronger, how grateful I am that I had cancer and not her, how she makes my life so wonderful and perfect and good.
She makes me brave. She makes me fight harder. She makes me happy in a way I never knew I could be happy.
“You are a warrior,” I whispered in her ear before giving her to Jules because it was time for me to leave.
The morning of my first chemo session I did a yoga pose in front of the hospital. I chose the Peaceful Warrior pose because despite all of my anxiety before that very first infusion, I was at peace. Today I posed again, this time choosing the Devotional Warrior pose to pay homage to my beautiful body.
When I returned home this evening more hair had fallen out. I took a shower and there were chunks of hair on my hands. I decided it was time to be bald. I was ready.
I spent a good hour in the shower massaging my head with my fancy Aveda shampoo. I got hair all over the shower curtain lining, the white subway tiles on the wall, the sides of the tub, the shampoo bottle, everywhere. I emerged from the shower with only a smattering of random stragglers.
I asked my mother-in-law to use Kyle’s clippers to get the rest. I wanted all of it gone. I could no longer bear the agony of watching my hair slowly fall away.
As she trimmed, June said, “You have a husband who loves you no matter what. You have a daughter who loves you no matter what. That is all that matters in this world.”
Tears streamed down my face, but they were not sad tears. They were hot tears of pride because I did it. I did the hardest thing after a c-section and a bilateral mastectomy and initial breast reconstruction — I lost my hair. And as I looked at my new bald head in the mirror I realized that just like everything else right now, my hair is also resilient.
It will return.
I am officially on the upswing; I have hit rock bottom and there is nowhere to go but up.
I am a warrior.
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All photos and videos courtesy of Jessica Sliwerski