Monday, March 25, 2013

Zoladex blues

I have been annoyed lately.  I think it is the zoladex.  My first injection was over a week ago, but I am just now noticing how it is impacting my body.  This is not just any ordinary injection - they place a pellet under the skin in your belly which slowly releases medication that overstimulates the body's own production of certain hormones, which causes that production to shut down temporarily.  The side effects?  They began with the hot flashes.  I dealt with the hot flashes that came with chemotherapy.  They were difficult, but manageable.  These new hot flashes feel all together different.  I feel as if I am melting from the inside.  And they hit me with extreme frequency- especially when I am trying to fall asleep.  It is challenging enough to find a comfortable position in my recliner so that I might fall asleep - and to be awoken every hour unable to regulate my body temperature is disheartening to say the least. 

A secondary side effect is the body and muscle aches.  I awake every morning with my fingers in an almost claw like position.  It takes several moments to release the joints so that I can find a way to get myself out of the recliner.  And then I wobble my way across the room.  My partner knows how difficult it has become for me to walk when I first stand up and will quickly walk close by to catch me in case I fall.  I feel like I am a hundred years old.  

But it is the last side effect that has been the most worrisome.  The hormonal roller coaster has felt emotionally debilitating.  The sadness has been slowly building and hit an all time high last week on Friday.  I felt paralyzed.  I lacked the motivation to eat, move, or even make eye contact with those I love.  My head felt heavy and cloudy.  I tried to watch television- but even that felt as if it would take too much effort.  I tried to rally but couldn't.  My toolbox of coping strategies felt empty and I felt desperate.  Luckily, I recognized that this had to be a medicinal side effect- I made it through chemotherapy with my sense of humor intact for the most part... This was outside of my control.  I immediately wrote to my doctor and someone from the office called me this weekend to make an appointment to see me on Monday.   By Saturday morning, I also realized that I was probably suffering from some anemia and made some quick dietary changes.  Luckily, today I felt a great deal better.

As a therapist, I often work with people who have intense depressive episodes.  If I asked them to describe what it felt like, they would give me a very similar description to what I have described above - and although I tried hard to empathize, in reality I couldn't.  Sadness has always been something that I have understood how to shake.  I make art, I read, I joke, call a friend, I make music, I find ways to distract myself from whatever emotional pain I am experiencing and then I feel better. Cognitive Behavioral Therapists talk a lot about changing your behaviors to change your emotions- but what if you just can't.  What if you don't have the energy to take off your pajamas and leave the safety of your recliner.  What if you can't shake it.  What if you feel a prisoner in that dark space in your mind- not able to leave of your own free will?  I felt that for the first time last week.  It was frightening.  And my heart is heavy for all of those who can't simply wait for a strange pellet to work its way out of their system so that they can rejoin the living.  

I remember people telling me how they refused important life saving drugs because of how it made them feel.  It was "a quality of life" issue.  I couldn't fathom saying no to anything that might extend the time that I have with my family.  On Friday, for the first time I understood.  

So, although this last week has been beyond difficult.  I am thankful for the opportunity to have my assumptions and beliefs challenged so that I might be more empathic to those around me.  I am growing and it is uncomfortable.  I think growing always is.   

Oh... I promise I will try very hard to be a bit more upbeat for my next post.  I really am not always so dour.  I just want to be real about what I am experiencing.  Thanks for bearing witness to these more difficult emotions.  Writing and sharing helps a ton.  I can put words to my experience as well as find a community to share this burden with.  So for that, I thank you.   And who knows, maybe someone will do a google search for depression and zoladex and realize they aren't alone.  


Wednesday, March 20, 2013


There was a goddess in ancient Mesopotamia named Inanna.  I first came into contact with the mythology of Inanna when I was working in the field of domestic violence.   I remember hearing the story - but at the time, it didn't have much resonance with me.  I was young and although I was working with a lot of trauma, I felt very much an outsider to her story.

When diagnosed with breast cancer, her name came to me in a dream.  I decided it was time to read her story once more.  There is one particular story that stood out.  It was the story of her descent into the underworld.

It is not always agreed upon as to why Inanna had to descend into the underworld- but many feel she had to go to see her sister.  One thing that is known about descending, is that one never returns.  Inanna dressed up for the journey, many feel as a way to protect herself.   As I read her story, I couldn't help but think about my own descent into disease.  I read her story looking for ways to protect myself.  Inanna dressed for her descent in a lapis lazuli necklace, turbans on her head, and in her finest clothes.   I decided that I needed to find a lapis necklace.  I purchased one on e-bay and wore it to every chemotherapy appointment that I had.  I also dressed up for each of my appointments.  It was my way of preparing for battle.

Through Inanna's descent, she is faced with seven gates.  At each gate, she had to give up something of herself in order to continue on her path.  With each loss came increased vulnerability until she had been stripped of all that had once defined her.  I thought about my own journey.  I marked the seven things I gave up along the way.   (I included links where I talk about these losses in other blog posts)
  1. My feelings of immortality - for the first time I was faced with the notion that I might not live to be the old lady I always dreamed I would be.
  2. My frenetic lifestyle - I went from a constant state of overwork to complete disability.  I had to learn to be still.
  3. My relationships- those who couldn't take the journey with me for one reason or another.  I had to take time to mourn the sadness that isolation brings. 
  4. My energy
  5. My hair 
  6. My fertility
  7. My breasts
Inanna is broken and near death, but she is able to ascend from the underworld with support - and once she does, she is more powerful than she ever was before.  In some ways there is truth in the notion that the person who descends can not return. Just after being diagnosed with cancer, I decorated my room with images of those things that make me happy.   I figured chemo would make me sick and I would spend a lot of time in my room, so I wanted it to be a healing and positive place.  

One of the pictures is of a trip to the zoo and I am laughing and holding my son.  The picture continues to make me happy, but I can't help but feel so changed from that woman in the picture.  That woman has been replaced with this new version of myself.  And although I may from time to time mourn the loss, I am also extremely proud of who I am becoming.  I am becoming more aware of my values.  I am aware of who I am supposed to be and who I am not. I am realizing that those times spent at the zoo laughing with my children are the truly important times.

Joseph Campbell interprets the myth of Inanna as the realization of an individual's strength through an episode of seeming powerlessness.  That feels pretty accurate.  I do not feel like I did anything that created my cancer- I know that each day I am battling it and getting stronger.  This is my heroes journey.  Some  days (like today) are full of pain and tragedy- and others are full of triumph, hope, and light.

Others have felt that Inanna's myth is connected to the seasons, with her descent occurring in the Fall and her return occurring on the Spring Equinox.  I was diagnosed in September and tomorrow will be the first day of Spring.  Of course, I still have more to endure on this journey,  but I can't help but look at the white popcorn blossoms growing in my front yard (as well as the short hairs sprouting all over my head) and feel hopeful.

Saturday, March 9, 2013


I can sometimes forget
that they are gone.
those mounds of flesh that were never good enough
had been scooped out and signed away
for genetic research
those bits of flesh that I cursed until the day
when I saw their magic
as they nursed my crying child to sleep
or when I learned that their milk can cure pink eye
did you know that?
some even say that their milk can cure cancer
valium helps me sleep and dream of
other things
but then I remember
when the hard cording
from the drains pull on my incisions
or when a strange piece of metal from
the expanders
protrude in such a way that I ache
or when my son or daughter needs
an embrace and I must hug with caution
my chest feels split open
and for now, I am one of the lucky ones
who was spared nipples and skin
and who found a lovely surgeon
who hid the scars under the breast
and the plastic surgeon who says,
“they will be bigger and perkier”
and isn’t life grand
but I want the old ones back
the ones that I could feel
under my shirt
the ones that fed my children
and danced with gravity
the ones that felt passion
the ones that were mine
the ones that I sacrificed
so that I might live.