Drugs, Hugs and Losing My Jugs: A Breast Cancer Journal - May 23, 2015 - Round One


This is the eighth 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.

Day 1

Today was chemo session number one. It happens to be exactly one month from the day of my bilateral mastectomy.

My chemo partner in crime, Kyle, and I arrived at the breast center at 10:30 a.m. We took the train up the west side, exiting at West 96th Street and walking across the park so I could get more Fitbit steps. Unfortunately, Fitbit is being a little bitch and is not properly calculating my steps, so I continue to lose and this is exceedingly frustrating to me.

Can’t I win at something right now?

Jessica Sliwerskin Pre Chemo Selfie
Kyle and me outside of the hospital: Obligatory pre-chemo selfie.

Upon arrival they checked me in, wrapping an admittance bracelet around my wrist so I couldn’t escape. We went down to the infusion area where they ran a battery of blood tests and then back upstairs to meet with my oncologist.

I love my doctor. She complimented me on my badass new ‘do and after we caught up on our separate analyses of the series finale of “Mad Men,” she double checked that I was feeling good and ready to rock.

Thanks to the two drugs I’d dissolved beneath my tongue twenty minutes earlier, I felt like I could conquer the world.

“OK,” she said. “Let’s do this,” and gave me a hug.

Kyle and I collected our things and headed back downstairs to the infusion area. They brought us to our private room and my nurse, Ashley, prepped my veins and inserted the needle.

Jessica Sliwerski Finding Vein
Me and Nurse Ashley: It takes at least three tries to find a good vein, if I’m lucky. I probably should’ve gotten a port…

Kyle complained about how small our private room was and it’s a damn good thing I brought that fancy box of chocolates because two minutes later we were in the biggest room there was. As Jessie told me when we were texting that morning, “Chocolates are a great idea. All my nurses loved me because I brought them goodies. I always got the nicer infusion rooms.”

I responded, “Yeah, I know how to work the system. I’d do really well in prison, especially now with my butch cut that screams, ‘Don’t fuck with me.'”

Settled in our new room, they hooked me up to the IV, at which point I decided I really needed to pee. So they unhooked me, let me run to the bathroom, and upon my return we got down to business.

First, they gave me a gift bag! Right? It was full of lovely posh, all-natural lavender-scented products — face wash, face serum, foot salve and chapstick. I love love love cancer swag (chemo swag?), and lavender is one of my favorite scents.

Then Ashley pumped saline into the IV.

Then a steroid.

Then another drug.

Then another.

Each one took a while and during that time a massage therapist came to my room and gently rubbed my feet. The steroids made me hyper so I was quite the manic Chatty Cathy. She and I discussed restaurants in Brooklyn and good books to read. It was heaven — having my feet rubbed and discussing two of my favorite things (the third being education, the fourth being babies, the fifth being fashion, the sixth being anything sexual or bathroom-humor related).

Kyle had the foresight to pack a lunch. Of all the shit I packed, I didn’t pack a lunch. But lucky for me, there were free lunch boxes. Ashley brought me a tomato, mozzarella, and spicy basil pesto sandwich on a brioche bun. Brioche is the shit. There was also a water bottle and an apple. The sandwich was perfect and I ate it while the drugs pulsed through my veins. Then I hydrated some more.

Ashley returned to the room and gave me some good shit. Within seconds I was out. Like mid conversation, I just totally passed out. By the time I was ready for the chemo, I was pretty dead to the world.

I vaguely remember Ashley explaining to Kyle what was going to happen. I felt her playing with the IV and then I felt the cool rush of the drug pulsing through my right arm, climbing up to my shoulder, around to my breast and then I don’t know where because I was passed the fuck out — cozy beneath my blanket and relaxed as shit.

Everything I’d read and heard had me so worried and anxious, but it really wasn’t that bad and I’m not sure if it’s because of the foot massage, the bedside manner of the nurses, the drugs or the fact that I have a tendency to build things up so much in my mind and create so much anxiety for myself they are never nearly as bad as I imagine.

While the poison coursed through my veins and I slept like a baby, Kyle watched porn. Kidding. He watched Louis CK.

After the drug, Ashley returned and it was time for another. Again, she explained to Kyle what was happening and again I heard words, but none of them registered. They ran both the drugs slower than usual in order to make sure I could handle both without an adverse reaction.

Next time they will go faster because I took that shit like a pro.

Again, I vaguely remember feeling something, but the sweet drugged sleepy stupor was too overpowering.

And then it was over around 5:15 p.m. Kyle and I packed up our stuff, I peed again (because I am the queen of hydration, obviously) and we got the fuck out of dodge. We walked back across Central Park because I wanted to let the drugs metabolize and it’s my tradition to leave the hospital and decompress in the park.

The whole way I looked at the trees. My friend Lauren shared a story with me shortly after my mastectomy, saying, “May sound silly, but in my family when someone is going through something we ask, ‘How do the trees look?’ It’s always been a way to ask how the person was doing; if you notice the trees and all their colors it’s a good day, if you could give a fuck about the trees it was a shitty day.”

Ever since Lauren shared this with me, I walk around acutely aware of the trees (and the flowers, even though those weren’t part of the story). And you know what? The trees (and flowers) look pretty fuckin’ good despite breast cancer.

Day 2

I don’t really remember what I did when we got home last night apart from cuddle with Penelope and answer work emails and write.

I slept damn well with the help of a little bit of medication and Kyle’s willingness to bear the burden of Poppy’s night feedings. I woke up this morning feeling good. Mostly, I’m just really cold. Kyle keeps giving me shit, telling me it’s because I’m too skinny. This is partially true, as I’ve lost about ten pounds due to a primarily vegetable-based diet and a fuck ton of anxiety and stress.

But I’m also prone to being cold and don’t have much hair on my head right now. I’ve been wearing a blue knit hat my grandma made me this winter and lots of layers.

We walked to Trader Joe’s this morning and I looked like a moron in my winter coat, scarf, hat and hood while everyone else was in tee shirts … but whatever. Then we went to Target because I had enough energy and wanted to get all my steps.

Also, I’m convinced that If I force myself to remain active I will somehow keep all the poison circulating so it will kill those cancer cells dead. And, I love Target. Like, love it.

I’m chasing the nausea with meds every six hours, hydrating and eating prunes. My diet is primarily liquid right now  — smoothies, magic mineral broth, cucumber gazpacho, more magic mineral broth, coconut water, regular water, green tea — because I am so worried about constipation, which I always get from anti-nausea drugs.

When I was pregnant and nauseous out of my mind for the entire fucking pregnancy my doctor prescribed a certaind rug. It made me so constipated I actually had to cancel morning meetings because I could not get off the toilet. Disgusting and painful. So I’m trying to be proactive this time around, starting with an anti-nausea drug that is not that drug.

This afternoon Kyle had to give me a shot of a bone marrow stimulant. This shot helps my body make white blood cells (which are killed by chemo and thus make me prone to infection). He gave it to me in my thigh. It sucked, but I didn’t cry. Then I took an antihistamine, which is supposed to help with the bone and muscle pain that the other drug can cause. My butt is hurting and I’m convinced it’s from the first said drug.

The other exciting thing is after every meal I have to rinse my mouth with a cup of warm water with baking soda and salt in order to (hopefully) prevent mouth sores. And I need to brush my teeth very, very softly.

This is something I am not good at, so I think tonight I will need to use a Q-tip instead of a toothbrush. I will still floss, though, because the thought of not flossing grosses me out to no end. And people who don’t floss also gross me out. (I used to be one of these people and then I saw the light and am mortified for so long I avoided flossing. Sick.)

Kyle went for a run this afternoon and then to the gym. My dear friend Alecia is here watching Poppy so I can “rest.” But I’m quite convinced I need a constant antithistamine drip if this is ever going to actually happen.

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All photos courtesy of Jessica Sliwerski


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