Tuesday, February 1, 2011


So the Spence household has had a crazy couple of weeks, but the last three or four days have felt really normal! Last we spoke, I was digesting some awful, awful news and facing some new chemo treatments. First off, thank you so much for the incredible outpouring of support everyone shared via email and comments. To hear so many of you who have had Xeloda experience, it was just what the Big Man and I needed to hear. Entering this new chapter was so much less scary. Thank you!

With all of my readers and supporters by my side, I wasn't afraid of a single thing... until....

Saturday January 15th, I was one week into my new Tykerb regimen. The Good Doctor started me on Tykerb alone because I have my Swap Surgery scheduled in February. My swap surgery, for my non-cancer friends, is my final reconstructive surgery. My plastic surgeon opens up my old mastectomy scars, removes my tissue expanders, and puts in my permanent implants. While it may seem crazy to have a surgery in the midst of new chemo, the expanders are uncomfortable and I have been asking to have them removed for about five months now. Nothing is standing in between me and Swap Surgery. Come hell or high water, these things are coming out February 9th! The doctors wanted to hold off on giving me the full dose of my treatment until about a week after surgery because we don't want to compromise the ol' immune system.

So the point is, on Saturday January 15th, I am not afraid or worried at all. I have my biggest pair of Big Girl Pants on and I am being a brave little girl. Life is good. For now, I only have to take 5 pills a day as opposed to 11. The 5 I have to take aren't even chemo, they are "targetted therapy." Thousands of women have handled this very same regimen with no problem. I have the support of my family, friends, and blogger buddies. This whole Stage IV cancer thing is a bummer, but really its a cake walk. I was getting ready to blog about just how easy this whole new cancer chapter was shaping up to be.

It was Saturday night and I was in the bathroom preparing for a nice dinner out with the hubby and my in-laws.  Earlier that week was when I first noticed a little breakout on my face. Not attractive. I looked like a prime candidate for one of those Proactive commercials.

By Friday, the breakout had extended to my fake chest. Not attractive, but still not cause for alarm. I had maybe 15 small zits. Nothing that a heavy dose of foundation and a turtleneck couldn't remedy.

But that Saturday evening, January 15th, the rash started growing a rash of it's very own. I had hives on my back. I had hives on my bottom. I had hives on my scalp.

I itched. And when I itched my itch, the itch hurt. When the itch hurt I put on this soothing ointment my doctor prescribed. But to put on the ointment, I had to look in the mirror, and every time I looked in the mirror, I didn't see the allergic reaction for what it was. Instead, I saw Cancer staring me right in the face. I saw Cancer all over me like "stink on a skunk," as my grandmother would say.

My mind was going crazy focusing on these hives and on this cancer. For once I felt truly "stricken" with cancer.

I had it in my mind that the only thing that would make the itching stop was a nice, warm bath. I had visions of Mommy drawing an oatmeal bath when my baby brother and I both had chicken pox the same week. The vision of a homemade remedy empowered me. If I could just draw a bath, this whole rash situation would clear right up. Oatmeal would easily conquer a powerful chemo drug! I had my oatmeal in hand and was ready to take a long bath before my in-laws arrived. The Oatmeal would fix everything just in time for their arrival. I had two hours. Plenty of time.

I had visions of me opening the door wearing my best cashmere turtleneck sweater and a smile. I would hide the rash on my face with multiple layers of perfectly applied foundation. I would hand them a nice glass of Cabernet. I would have white wine and beer chilled. A tray of fine cheese would be waiting on the coffee table. Candles would be burning. Jazz music would be playing in the background. Our Christmas decorations were still up. "Please, come in! Yes, mother-in-law, see how well your son chose? I am taking care of him. Cancer? What do you mean cancer? Cancer hasn't got me down! No way, no how. I'm taking care of him ya see? He isn't a caregiver! Who needs a caregiver?"  I was going to be like a duck when I opened the door for the in-laws, calm on top but paddling like the dickens underneath.

And then, I turned on the bath and found to my dismay....

We were out of hot water.

No big deal, perhaps a slightly chilly bath would be just fine for my hives.

No, an ice cold bath actually makes the hives worse. It turned on every nerve in my entire body.

That was when the crazy came out.

In an attempt to "help" in my time of need, the Big Man had apparently thrown in a load of laundry and had also loaded the dishwasher inadvertently draining our condo of hot water. In a normal state, I would thank the Big Man for helping me clean up before his parents' arrival. I should have just shrugged my shoulders at the inconvenience of not being able to prep appropriately for their arrival, but I was not in a normal state of mind. The hives were talking here.

In one of those blind rages that happen when you are frustrated and need to lash out, you can only lash out at the people you love the most because those are the people who won't ever leave you. I flew into a rage and cursed the Big Man and his helpfulness.

How dare he do the laundry!
How thoughtless of him to reload the dishwasher!
Doesn't he know that I run the show around here?
Doesn't he know I need a tub full of warm water!
Now it will be an hour before the water's warm again, and his parents are coming.
Your parents are coming!
What am I going to do?

The wheels came off. I cried. I screamed. I threw some pillows around. I may have thrown other things, I can't remember.

My in-laws did come, God love them, in the middle of this whole fiasco. I was running around in my robe (the only piece of clothing that didn't itch) and screaming bloody murder about:

our stupid water heater needs to be replaced. Maybe tonight. You think a plumber can come tonight?
Why on earth did we buy this hole in the wall condo in the first place? Huh?
YOU, Big Man, YOU were the one who first came to the stupid Open House.
YOU were the one who found this condo and it's stupid broken water heater.
We never should have bought this place.
What a waste!
Nice job you house-buying, laundry and dish-cleaning, worthless excuse for a husband!

It was a Kelly Bensimon in the Virgin Islands kind of a night!
Needless to say, I looked not at all like a duck, I was nowhere close to looking like Martha Stewart. Jazz was not playing in the background. Cheese was not out on the coffee table. Frankly, if I had greeted the in-laws at the door with a glass of wine, it would have made me look even worse! With a glass of wine in my hand, they could have confused my hive-induced rage with the ravings of a drunk!

I looked not at all like a duck. I looked not at all like Martha Stewart. I looked instead like one of those Real Housewives. The ones who scream nonsense obscenenities at anything that moves for no real clear reason.

It was an ugly day in the Spence household, and I'm not talking about the zits on my face.

It was a good thing the in-laws showed up when they did. Even though I wanted to crawl into the hardwood floor and die of embarrassment right then and there, their arrival calmed me down long enough to catch my breath and allowed the Big Family to actually talk through the situation in a somewhat civilized manner.

Big Man suggested I call the doctor to see if we couldn't stop taking the Tykerb and get some stronger treatment for the hives. I refused. No way in hell was I going to call my doctor! What a crazy idea! It was a Saturday afternoon and Dr. P is a married woman with three little girls at home. How could the Big Man not realize this? I monopolize her time enough during the week. No way was I interrupting what was surely a beautiful Saturday with the family. I was going to wait this out until 9am on Monday!

I was being such a typical woman, or maybe I was just being exactly like my mother? My mother never wants to bother anyone. It is one of her most admirable, but also most infuriating qualities. Why are we so reluctant to ask for help? Are we confusing this trait with actual strength? In this case, my "strength" was more like stupidity.

Big Man ended up paging the doctor. He ripped the phone out of my shaking, hive covered hands and paged her.

Turns out, Dr. P was at the hospital doing rounds anyway. She said it was a pleasure to hear from me because she was wondering how I had been doing on the new treatment. When she heard about the hives arrival, she was mad I hadn't called sooner because apparently they "get worse before they get better." I was in for a long week. She told me to stop the Tykerb immediately. She faxed a strong antibiotic order to my pharmacy. She told me not to take a bath, I would only make the hives worse.  So much for my oatmeal bath that had started this whole rampage.

To say I had a tail between my hive covered legs is an understatement.

Big Man had never been prouder of himself! Big Man was right, I was wrong. You heard it here first. I'm saying it publicly. He can save this blog post and refer to it forty years from now if the Real Housewives-style crazy ever makes another appearance in his house.

Two weeks worth of antibiotics later, the antibiotics are working wonders. I can take the Tykerb now and I don't break out anymore. I am feeling much more confident about this treatment plan.

More importantly,my face is my own again. I am no longer ashamed to leave the house, although I'm still wearing cashmere turtlenecks (but only because it's winter in Boston.) I no longer think of cancer every time I catch a glimpse of my reflection.

The wheels are back on. The train that is Bridget Kicking Cancer Butt shall continue

Although, I will never live down the in-law embarrassment and I promise my in-laws a more civilized visit next time (and every time thereafter).

Last night was our typical Sunday dinner of roast chicken and "60 Minutes," Big Man poured himself a glass of wine and smiled at me as I was sitting down to the dinner table. He said, "You look pretty. You look like yourself. We're so lucky. I'm so lucky. I love you, Little"

Wow, what a difference a week makes!

And even bigger wow:
Wow, I'm a lucky woman!

Please, kind reader, tell me: Has anyone else had a Cancer-meltdown? I hope I'm not the only person who has allowed Cancer to make her a little ugly to the ones she loves, if only for a moment?