cancer · pregnancy

Remission – an update

So I have not written a blog in several weeks – it seems that life with a newborn baby takes a little bit more adjusting than I probably anticipated 🙂 But I just wanted to let you all know we are doing okay.

4 weeks after I had my last chemo, I was scheduled for a PET/CT to check whether the six rounds of poison had actually been sufficient to get rid of the tumor. I was so nervous, and so anxious, and to top it all off I had to stay away from my baby boy for 12 hours after the scan because of the radioactive contrast fluid they give you for the scan. Perfectly harmless amounts of radiation for an adult, but possibly not so much for a tiny baby body.

I had the scan on friday, and then spent the weekend with my husband and baby trying not to think about it. The haematologist was due to call me on tuesday. So imagine my surprise when she rang me monday morning! Clever doctor, she was very quick to deliver the news so I had no time to freak out – my scan was completely clear! The cancer was gone!

I have never been so relieved in my life. I was crying and laughing, immediately called my husband who was also crying and who came home from work with champagne. Called my parents, who were over the moon, and my friends who immediately brought over another bottle of champagne to celebrate. It felt like I was finally able to breathe fully, after months of just barely getting enough air.

Of course, we are not fully done now. The cancer could come back, and the chance of it coming back is highest in the coming 2 years. But the chances of it never coming back are still a lot higher, and I will be checked every 3 months so we are keeping an eye on it. But I am finally getting a little room in my head to process what has happened, and also am finally able to focus more fully on being a new mom, which is tough but wonderful.

It’s going to take some time to be fully okay again, I still have a lot to process, but I think I will get there.

cancer · pregnancy

On what was hopefully my last chemo…

It’s already been 2.5 weeks since I was at the hospital, to get the very last of my R-CHOP cycle. 6 rounds, it does not seem like a lot but they start to wear on you! Blood counts were thankfully very good again, my haematologist even questioned how I got my Hb as high as it was-  also taking into account that I had just given birth 2 weeks before this last one…

So I went through the whole cycle again. Getting hooked up to the IV, getting the antihistamine, the steroids, the paracetamol and then starting with the Rituximab before getting to the cyostatica. Walking out of the hospital a couple of hours later, and a couple of shades paler. The only difference between this one and the five before was that I was not pregnant anymore; my mother was watching the baby back at home and sending me pictures every 30 minutes or so.

And yeah, it was hard again, especially with a new baby who has absolutely no concern for the lack of energy you have the first couple of days after chemo. My husband did a lot, and was thankfully off of work. It’s just weird, being sick is such an introverted process. It forces you to really just focus on yourself and getting better. And having a baby is the complete opposite in that it requires you to focus completely on this new tiny human being. It’s been really tough doing both at the same time, but somehow, I am still standing. And for that I am so grateful.

Physically I am thankfully also doing much better already. Now I am just normal new parent tired, which honestly is tired enough 🙂 And it really is such a special time. I am determined not to let cancer spoil it.

In another 2.5 weeks, I hope to have the outcome of the scan. Apparently I have a 90 percent chance of the chemo having kicked cancer’s ass – pretty good odds, so I am determined to stay positive. But we will have a little more waiting to do, still. Fingers crossed.

cancer · pregnancy

Boy meets world

Just a quick update to let you know that our baby arrived, pink and screaming, on the 21th of December. He is in perfect health (10 out of 10 on his APGAR, ha!) and he is such a sweetheart. I am exhausted and overwhelmed but really happy to have him in my arms finally, and me and my husband are enjoying every moment of getting to know him and getting to be a family.

If my blood counts are ok again, I will get my final chemo on the 5th of January. I so hope this will have been enough, but after the chemo we will have to wait a few more weeks to find out. Any positive vibes are much appreciated!

 

cancer · pregnancy

The last mile

Chemo 5 out of 6 is a week behind me, and I am now almost 39 weeks pregnant! I am just so ready to meet this baby, and so so ready to then also finish with treatment and try to just be a normal mom with a normal family – dealing with all the newborn things just like any other new mom!

I haven’t told my direct family, because they will worry their heads off, but we are going into the hospital on Wednesday, when I am exactly 39 weeks, to induce labour. This way the doctors can try to make sure that there is enough recovery time for me to get the last chemo (!) within the optimal time frame. And the baby is already at full term and estimated to weigh around 3200 grams so it is not harmful for him to enter the world just a little bit early. I am a little apprehensive though; hopefully my body is ready and the induction won’t be too hard. I have understood that especially with a first child it can take very long, but we will see.

Please send me positive vibes on Wednesday!

 

Uncategorized

On resilience

A couple of days ago, I was in the part of my chemo cycle where my immune system is at it weakest. As chemo attacks all fast-growing cells, it also takes a toll on your blood cells. The doctors wanted to measure how low my blood counts were for this round, so they could determine whether they could give me chemo 5 before the baby is due to arrive, or whether labour should be induced early.

It turns out that I am super resilient. All my values were still in the normal range, my hemoglobin levels are even high considering just how pregnant I am (almost 37 weeks now), I have plenty platelets and even my white blood cells, which take the biggest hit everytime (which is the idea, as one of the subtypes of white blood cells – the B-cells) were in fact somehow causing the cancer) are still good enough for me to fight of infections. All good news, as this means no interventions (yet) in the pregnancy and I will only have to do one more chemo when the baby arrives.

Apparently, or so my doctor tells me, pregnancy can make you more resilient to the side effects of the chemo. Somehow, maybe because of the hormones or the higher amount of blood you have or something else, you are more able to cope with the toxicity of the medicine, without reducing its effectiveness in battling the cancer. Amazing how the body works. And it’s true for me, I haven’t had that many side effect. I even haven’t lost all of my hair yet, it’s just gotten really thin.

On the other hand, I have had to cultivate a lot of mental resilience as well – perhaps more so because I am pregnant. This is a process you really only manage to get through by numbing yourself and not allowing yourself to be bothered by the many inconvenient, worrisome, painful or even scary moments that you will have. For me, it was having to bite down and go through the pain of an amniocentesis, a biopsy needle going through my lungs (unsedated), a bone marrow puncture, a collapsed lung, plus the endless needles still being stuck in me on a regular basis. But it’s also sitting in the oncology waiting room, sitting in the treatment room amongst people who really don’t look well and realising I am one of them now, watching the poison slowly going into my veins. It’s laying awake at night, either from worry or steroid-induced or both, and trying to listen to my breath and fall back asleep. It’s the feeling of being scrutinised by my family on how relatively well or unwell I still look. It’s the awkwardness of knowing that I am now a “topic of conversation” amongst my colleagues, my friends and even acquaintances of my parents who have heard it through the grapevine. It’s giving up on things I wanted to do before the baby arrived, both at work and at home. It’s giving up on having a “normal” maternity leave, and being able to breastfeed. And it is dealing with the horrible unfairness of having to worry whether I will see my son grow up, before he has even been born.

I have to suck it up and steel myself to get through this, because I cannot feel all of the above all of the time and still function as a human being. And I need to function as a human being, because I need to look after myself in order to be able to look after the tiny human being that is due to arrive in a couple of weeks. And as much as I would like to close my eyes, check out, and skip ahead to the happy ending, that is not how life works. I have to show up and do the work, every single day. I am beginning to discover just how strong I can be, and for that I am very thankful. But I do look forward to a quieter, happier time, when I can let go a little bit more. Soon, I hope. Chemo number 5 is on Friday, and after that I will only have one more left!

cancer · pregnancy

Fear of missing out

There is a picture of my mom and me just after she gave birth to me. She looks tired, but proud and happy and incredibly beautiful. (I of course look like a tiny little shrimp, but a cute one). It’s one of my favourite pictures of her.

Now I am 35 weeks pregnant, I find myself going back to that picture, and I wonder. Will I ever be able to look back at pictures of myself with my baby and just see the happiness and beauty of that moment? Or will it always be slightly tainted by all of the fear, and worry, and the fact that – even though I am not quite bald yet – I do not look like myself at the moment with short and very thin hair?

People often ask me if I am still enjoying my pregnancy, despite all the hospitals and worry and other cancer stuff. And I am, truly. It’s great to feel my baby move, to prepare for his arrival (buying tiny socks) and to wonder what kind of a person he will become. Leaving out the minor complication of getting cancer, my pregnancy has been going relatively easy, also, which helps a lot as physically I feel pretty good most of the time.

But it’s hard to realise I might not be getting the full joyful worry-free experience other people seem to be getting, where the biggest concern is a little stress or how to lose the baby weight. And I don’t know for certain that I will be able to conceive again, so this might be the only pregnancy experience I get. I am determined to make the best of it, but sometimes I worry that I am missing out.

Focusing on what you cannot have has never made anyone feel better though. And really, who cares about hair or appearance in the long term. If I could make a deal with the universe right now that this temporary hair loss is the worst that will happen to me and my loved ones, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second. This baby surely won’t care that I have thin hair or even no hair at all, he just wants me there. And that’s the end goal that we are working towards.

In the meantime, I am going to go and find more tiny socks.

cancer · pregnancy

Hospital prepping

Good news, we had another ultrasound today and the baby is growing very well! We did have some discussion already about whether or not they will have to induce labour to optimise the birth of the baby with my chemo schedule, but I am actually still quite positive about that as I seem to bounce back from each chemo quite well still. SO tomorrow, the official first day of my maternity leave, I am scheduled for chemo number four – which will put me at 2/3 of the way done!

I am familiar with the routine by now. We go in early, get my bloodwork done, and go for a drink at the Starbucks in the hospital – tea or green juice for me, a coffee for my husband. About 50 minutes later we go back up to wait for our appointment with the haematologist. If my bloodwork is ok, she will then ok me for the chemo and the meds will be ordered. A little more waiting, and then I am hooked up to the IV which is always fun. Antihistamine first, along with paracetamol and steroid tablets, and then after 30 minutes they give me the immunotherapy (rituximab) first which takes about 90 minutes. Then the three different chemo-meds, with flushing of the line in between, totalling about another hour and forty minutes. And then I get back out of there as fast as I can, because seriously, being hooked to an IV sucks and really all I want at that point is my own bed in my own house.

To make the whole experience a little bit more easy to bear I do prep a bit the day before, and I bring a ton of stuff (mostly healthy-ish snacks, because I am hungry ALL the time – forget about chemo making you thin. Also, hospital food is rather meh). So here is what I put in my chemo bag;

– Something baked with a lot of fibre, like granola bars or wholegrain banana muffins (i currently like these https://www.loveandzest.com/healthy-banana-bread-muffins-with-walnuts/)

– A green juice, because it makes me feel healthy and helps keeping me hydrated. Currently I really like one with celery, cucumber, coconut water and lime.

– An assortment of herbal tea bags (again, hydration). I like camomile, mint, ginger, or something cinnamon-y.

– Some fruits and veggies for snacks (carrots, clementines, apples)

– A good (perfume-free) handcream and some lip balm (did I mention hydration?)

– A bunch of magazines, as the chemo room tends to be quite chatty and busy I usually do not have enough concentration for a book.

– My tablet, with some Netflix series downloaded onto it. Again, usually I pick something that does not require a massive amount of concentration.

I have read that some people bring their own blankets or pillows, but have not felt the need for that as the chemo room in our hospital is quite warm and they provide comfy pillows for in the chairs. But everyone is different I guess! If someone has some good suggestions, please do leave me a comment below. I also make sure I have food in the house that is nourishing and that I will feel like eating. Did I mention chemo is dehydrating? I have a really dry icky feeling after a day in hospital, so prefer to have a lot of saucy foods like soups or very mildly spiced stews or curries.

Feeling hopeful about tomorrow, looking forward to getting yet another session behind me and fingers crossed that the side effects won’t be too bad this time around either!