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Post Final Chemo

I had my final infusion of chemotherapy on November 17. I wanted so badly to celebrate and get excited like everyone else was doing for me, but I wasn’t excited. I was dreading it. Dreading another three weeks afterwards of shedding hair, intermittent nausea, diarrhea, headaches, fatigue, dark circles, and general misery. Also, UCSF (understandably and commendably) does not allow people to ring a bell after their final chemo, since so many are there for chronic cancer and will never get to ring a bell. I appreciate that and completely respect that, but it did mean I wasn’t going to have a photo-op or specific moment to celebrate the final chemo. So in general, I wasn’t excited. I didn’t feel quite ready to celebrate. Especially because I still have to go in for infusions of targeted therapy every 3 weeks until August and still have what I feel is the most intimidating thing to come: bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction surgery.

We’re now a week and a half out from my final chemo - and I’m ready to celebrate. I feel like me again, and this time feeling like me is not weighted with the doom of knowing I’ll be smacked back off my feet in another week and a half. Even though I’m still weak and I have massive bald spots, this time it’s about waiting and working for both of those things to change, not questioning how much worse it’ll be in another day and another week. Finally, I’m thrilled to be done with chemo. I hated the whole experience (shocker), and now I’m free. I’m so unbelievably excited to have the energy to be excited. The week right after infusion can be incredibly difficult - you’re getting through each day by counting the hours until the next one, sleeping on and off and keeled over on your bed just waiting to feel normal. Now, I can get excited for a trip to Target or a walk in the park instead of dreading them and waiting for them to end.

It’s the little things, you know?

But it’s still a complicated feeling. I’m still immunocompromised, I can’t drink, my heart function is lower because of the drugs I still have to be on (which makes me more easily fatigued), and I’m still preparing for the thing I fear the most. People want to think that when someone has finished their chemo, they’re completely done and out of the woods. In reality, that’s almost never the case. Even if that last chemo infusion is the final part of treatment, most people still have years of therapy ahead of them, not to mention years of minor treatment to keep everything in check. Unfortunately for everyone else’s comfort, cancer and its treatment are never over and done with. They sit with you and your body and affect you forever, and likely permanently change the kind of person you are while you’re at it.

I’m terrified to get a bilateral mastectomy. I’m worried I’ll regret the surgeons I chose, even though it took me weeks and hours of discussions with basically everyone I know to decide that they were the best ones for me. I’m worried that the expanders they’ll put in (temporary implants that will be filled weekly before yet another surgery to switch them out for the real thing) will be horribly uncomfortable for months. I’m worried I’ll get an infection. I’m worried my foobs will be ugly, or foreign. I’m worried people will be able to tell they’re fake and judge me for having fake boobs (which, no one has to tell me, I know is dumber than dumb). The concerns go on.

This surgery is basically what I see as the final straw; the moment I can never, ever come back from. I’ve had my body change permanently in the past (an unfortunate bout with Bell’s Palsy when I was 19), and let’s just say I did not handle it well. Granted, I was 19, and I was just a fragile shell of the person I am now (no offense, 19-year-old me), but it was still an incredibly difficult experience and one that can occasionally still upset me today, 6 years on. It’s a permanent change to a face and a body that you expect to know by heart - to always know by heart. It’s hard. And I think I would do just about anything to avoid going through that kind of pain again. Except here I am choosing to. I was a candidate for a lumpectomy if I wanted one - but it’s the pesky BRCA2 and CHEK2 mutations that got in the way (and probably caused all the problems in the first place).

I’m scared, I don’t want to do it, I want to manifest another option, but I also know I’m not alone. I’m not the first person to make the choices I’m making, and I’m not by myself on the island I thought I was when I was 19. I’m still working through my feelings, but I know whatever happens, I can face it.

I’m just not finished yet. I can’t celebrate having no evidence of disease until I get this rather annoying surgery out of the way. But once I (hopefully) can, I’m going to throw a hell of a party.


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