Wow, what a difference a year makes, Summer of 2020.
If you ask anyone, 2020 was the year of craziness with the Corona virus pandemic. Well, anyone but me. Every time someone talks about how awful 2020 is, I just think back to the Summer of 2019 and think, well, this isn’t all that bad at all. I had clean scans (all quiet on the bone front) and for the most part, was feeling pretty strong with the exception of some low days and days that I am just flat fatigued! I am on a new medicine called Kisqali. I was originally going to start on Ibrance but this is even a newer drug with strong clinical trial data showing longer time between progressions, or further spread to bones or other organs. That’s the goal! People do not understand that Metastatic Breast Cancer is not curable but it is treatable. The stats aren’t particularly good for the long haul but there are outliers to most every data set. That’s going to be me! I get to answer questions all the time like “When are you done with treatment?”, “Aren’t you glad it’s over?”, and “Why didn’t you use a cooling cap to save your hair?” Well, the answers are, never, not over, and I wanted to be bald….no just kidding but that’s how I want to answer though.
All three boys were home starting mid March-I am so glad I had this time with them. I feel like I really missed a lot (well sort of) the months I was on chemo treatments. We were lucky during the quarantine time – as the weather got warmer, we would spend more and more time on the boat and on the sand island. I feel such a release when I take my chair down and put my feet in the sand. I have a pre-packed beach bag with several different reading options ranging from cookbooks for cancer to cookbooks for boys (two very different sets of recipes) to People magazines to a mindless fiction novel to a deep reflective devotional or self help type book on thoughts on cancer. Depending on my mood, I have whatever I want to pull out of that bag. I spent hours watching the boys pull each other behind the boat perfecting the size of the boat wake and therefore their skills jumping the wake on their skim boards. I watched Will go out at sunset in the kayak fishing but really I think he was just enjoying the open air. Jake took off morning, noon, and night hunting for the big trout bite. Drew baited the crab pots and every couple of weeks we would have a feast on crabs and steamed shrimp right from our back yard. Drew caught the biggest mullet I have ever seen in his cast net and beat Will in Connect Four! We took boat rides to the inlet and docked at nearby restaurants to order takeout and listened to music anchored up by Banana Island with Anna and her family, socially distanced of course. I put 4-5 miles on my tennis shoes a day walking and met Jenn on our walking path more times than I can remember; this was our little secret escape time. In the beginning, she was a true sport coming over to “walk” me almost daily. Last August after my surgery and during chemo, I literally could only walk to the mailbox and back. Each day we would go a little bit further and we would actually push to go longer just so we could keep talking! Some of my most treasured moments are my special “twalks” with my special friend! Kenneth and Will were on a crazy whirlwind of charters. They were able to return to fishing mid-May and were booked solid, Dad as the captain and son as his mate. Our county closed the bridges to tourists to prevent the spread of Covid so our charter boat stayed at the dock until the middle of May. After that, I think I counted 4 days total they had off all summer. Leaving at 4 am and getting back after 7 is a long day.
Susan and Jenn both took me to appointments in Greenville while Kenneth fished; these are still the only two appointments or treatments that Kenneth missed of mine the entire year. Susan helped me wrap my mind around packing up my classroom and we blasted “Kind and generous” by Natalie Merchant. When it came on, I quietly had tears running down my face as I reflected on the words and how precious my friendship with Susan has always been; she truly is the one who will drop everything to help a friend. Jenn and I laughed as we talked of running away together listening to “our song”, “Islands in the Stream” by Kenny and Dolly! Classic! She even planned a picnic with all of my favorites on our big day complete with a red and white checkered tablecloth and of course, Pringles.
We have miles and miles of beautiful beaches on the Outer Banks (shhh, don’t tell anyone) and locals know just where to go – most of the time – to avoid the big crowds. We had plenty of room to space out keeping exactly 6 feet between beach chairs. Our Beach Babe group consisted of a group of us that all started teaching together over 20 years ago! We have three of us who are/were math teachers, an English teacher, and a Spanish teacher who meet regularly with fun others jumping in to join us. Out there, with the sun beating down on us and enjoying the sound of crash of the waves, we saved the world more than once and solved all of the problems the educational system is facing today. I mean three of us are math teachers so we like problems!
I had started my Kisqali in June of 2020 – my first maintenance medication. As I said before, I felt great on this. I took 600 mg once a day at night along with Letrozole, an aromatase inhibitor given for people who are diagnosed hormonally-responsive aka Estrogen and Progesterone positive. I remember once specific day on the beach when I was waiting for Dr. White’s nurse to call me about my labs. The protocol is to get labs done each month and see my oncologist. If labs look good, we continue to take the same meds and schedule a next appointment in a month. Lately my favorite words are “see you in four weeks”; however, my first set of labs upon starting Kisqali was showing a drop in my white blood counts and my neutrophils; the lower the numbers, the easier it was for me to pick up an infection and not be able to fend it off, definitely not Covid friendly! In the office, the week prior, Dr. White told me to wait another week before starting my next pack so we could get labs again. The next week, I had my labs done again, fully expecting my numbers to have leveled off. I got the call at the beach and her nurse said I was going to have to wait two more weeks because my labs just were not rebounding fast enough. I remember taking that phone call and being stunned because all I have heard is how we want to stay on different medications (treatments) as long as we can. I sat there, beach chairs in the circle on the beach, just trying to listening to everyone’s stories but not hearing them at all. Tears were welling up in my eyes behind my big “bug” sunglasses, as Drew calls them – boys have no sense of style. I didn’t want the girls to notice or to bring anyone down because it was just that kind of gorgeous day by the sea and no one wants to wreck that party. I slipped back to my car giving a random excuse to leave early. I couldn’t help but think I was going to end up checking this one (medication) off the list. When there is a finite number of treatments, it really makes you think when you blow through one so quickly. As I shared this fear with Dr. White, of course, I shared it as a math equation — number of treatments remaining on the left side of the equation = my life. If we deduct from the left we must deduct time from the right. It only made sense to me. Right then, Dr. White started speaking my language. She so eloquently corrected me saying that every day researchers and doctors are out there coming out with more and more treatments so as they add more medications to the left side of the equation, we can add time to the “life” side of the equation. I immediately jumped on board with that logic. Luckily, when the labs came in, my numbers looked good and I got the coveted “see you in 4 weeks!”
Because of the crazy Coronavirus, we had not been any where or had any visitors until it was time to drop Jake off for his first semester of college at N. C. State. With masks in tow, we moved him into Bragaw, the same dorm his dad was in during the 1994-1995 school year. Thank goodness for renovations. As he was unpacking I got to go to Will’s apartment and help clean it up so it was ready for the boys’ return. We enjoyed the music of my favorite couple, Shelley and Jason, that night and then Shelley and I stayed up into the wee hours of the night reminiscing about our college days together. For that weekend, cancer did not exist and I was anonymous in Raleigh. Sometimes it is just nice to be a nobody where ever you are. You don’t get the side ways head tilts with the quiet “So how are you doing?” Sometimes I just need a break from it all and Raleigh gave me that break. We went to lunch at Amedeo’s and found an isolated booth, my one and only meal at a restaurant since March. When it was time to go, I gave Jake a hug and left a special note and a gift card to our favorite place, Grand Slam; batting cages are the best. It was my job to play mom this weekend, that’s it, and it felt so good. On the ride home, Drew and I jammed to the radio. He’s the DJ always playing all of my favorite songs. It is fun going to Raleigh for the weekend but once we cross the bridge going east, it feels like home…..and our home has the best most caring community anyone could ask for, side way head tilts and all.