This won’t come as a surprise to most of you, but 2018 was my most challenging year on planet Earth. I’ve decided to briefly recap everything that happened last year so that I can finally (hopefully) set it aside and move on to writing more frequently about my experiences as a cancer patient, including the good stuff! Do you smell a new year’s resolution?
Here’s what the medical year looked like for me:
- I lost count, but I had somewhere around seven thoracenteses, where fluid is drained from one or both lungs. The first was performed in London when I was traveling for the holidays (it actually took place at the end of 2017, but I will include it because it was the onset of everything below)
- Surgery to remove more fluid and insert a catheter to perform drains at home
- Surgery to implant a port in my chest to administer chemotherapy and routinely draw blood
- Surgery to remove life-threatening fluid from my heart that was discovered during the port procedure
- Eight rounds of chemo, in addition to my oral chemotherapy. At the time, we didn’t know of any other person in the world undergoing this combined treatment
- Surgery to perform a pleurodesis, where talc is used to initiate a chemical reaction that closes off the area where fluid is produced. They also removed adhesions – the scar tissue that can result from puncturing the lung each time fluid is removed
These procedures punctuated the entire year – much like the giant needle used to drain fluid in my back. When I “recovered” from one, I was confronted with the next. Each was accompanied by a period of severe breathlessness, where I relied on supplemental oxygen for everything … sleeping, using the toilet, eating.
But even when I healed enough to ditch the oxygen, my lungs felt weak, and I was unable to do one less thing than the time before. I said goodbye to my previous active lifestyle, save a few brief periods of active yoga. When I saw my surgeon three weeks after the pleurodesis (in early December 2018), he asked me how far I could walk, and I was crushed to reveal, “half a block and that’s pushing it”.
With all the surgeries and fluid, my weight fluctuated weekly. I now own jeans for each phase of illness (I never said having cancer was economical!).
Like the whole of life, change is the only constant in this battle. But, as you can imagine, this level and frequency of change has immeasurably impacted my headspace and outlook on life – as it would for anyone. More to come on this in future posts. Stay tuned!