What recovering from chemo looks like

Jun 08

How am I feeling?  I’m getting that question a lot these days as I am out and about so I thought I would answer it here.  Summertime is fun: everyone emerges from the winter hibernation.  We no longer scurry from our warm cars to our warm homes; we meander and stroll and turn our faces to the sun and to each other.

Per my latest scan (March 2014), I have No Evidence of Disease.  (Never gets old — I LOVE NED!)  My treatment protocol is that I get two biological drugs in my port every 3 weeks (Herceptin + Perjeta), and I get an estrogen-suppressing shot every 4 weeks (Faslodex).

Dr. Wonderful ran a few blood tests on me and we got the results back: they are as good as I could have hoped for.  Two tests, both indicating that my cancer is minimal and/or under control.  (I’m not totally sure on the explanation because I just got the call from the nurse about the results.  I’ll meet with Dr. Wonderful on my next infusion day to discuss what the tests mean in greater detail.)  But having test results that fall in the “as good as it gets” column is a happy day around here.

Physically I’m feeling stronger and stronger.  I did a lot of hiking and swimming in Hawaii with Brad, but went back to square one after spending all of May with a chest/head cold.  I’ve done four five six walk/jog/run exercise efforts in the past week plus, and each one feels better than the previous.  I am, however, still in at the fitness point where it is more painful and hard than fun and relaxing.  I keep telling myself it will be worth it to get to my running happy place, and meanwhile I’m plodding along.

My nails are about halfway grown out.  Close to the cuticle they look healthy and pinkish; the top half is mottled, weak and flakey.  I lost the toenail on my big toe on my left foot for the third time in two years.  I’m wondering if I’ll ever have a toenail on that toe again–it’s weird what you get used to.  I now keep bandaids in with my nail polish so I can paint nine toes and cover the tenth.

The chemo-induced numbness and tingling in my fingertips and toes is gone.

My lymphedema (swelling in my left arm due to my lymph node removal during my mastectomy) is under control.  I don’t know what made it flair up during my flight home from New York City, but I haven’t had any more acute swelling episodes.  Even the (long-ish) flights to/from Hawaii went well–though I did wear my Lymphediva compression sleeves on my travel days so maybe that is enough to keep it from flaring.

My hair is coming back; it’s a half-inch long, and looks like the same red color I’ve always had.  Yay!  I dream (DREAM) of the day that I’ll be able to ponytail it or put it in braids.  Ponytails and braids will mean that I’ve been healthy for a really, really long time.  Today I’ve got it in a mini mohawk.  Because why not?

Since I had my ovaries taken out in December (due to my cancer being estrogen positive), I was jerked into instant menopause.  Oy.  I don’t have nice things to say about hot flashes, acne (seriously, the acne is terrible), itchy skin and suddenly hobbling like I’m eighty when I get up in the morning or have been sitting down for more than twenty minutes.  It’s been a marked change, but one I’m happy to deal with for the next 47+ years.

I gained quite a lot of weight for me on this last chemo cycle, as most of Dr. Wonderful’s patients do; it’s another annoyance, but again– not fatal — so put it in context and roll with it.  My strategy is to be the fun mom at the pool and to keep my chin up.  Literally.  If my eyes focused up rather than evaluating my flaws I’ll both be more fun and have more fun.  I refuse shame because I fear regret.

In April Dr. Wonderful and I agreed to stop my low-dose antibiotic I’ve been on for most of the past two years and re-evaluate in the fall.  It helps keep my hangnail infections under control while I’m on chemo (not necessary now), and also helps my skin (acne).  However, HOWEVER, it also makes me photo-sensitive (my skin hurts in the sun, and causes sun rash/poisoning and burn).  So I’m choosing to be Fun Pool Mom and say acne schmacne.  Can you sense that theme in my life?  Fun trumps beauty every time.

All of the above are the aftermath, the side effects, the scarring from cancer and it’s treatment.  And, whilst a lot of you are kind and wanting to know how I’m doing with these various things, I’m pretty  nonchalant about all of it because none of these things are going to kill me.  I tell you these details and answer the questions and think It’s so kind of you to ask.  On my own, however I don’t think about this stuff: I wear a sunhat out of habit now, not because I think about how relatively hair-less I am.  The scars all over my chest and abdomen are the same as my pregnancy stretch marks; they are the lines that earned me life.  The accommodations I make are part of my routine.  Thoughts of beauty are centered around gratitude, hope, and fun; gone are the days that beauty is about a silhouette, a tone, or a number on the scale.  I have perspective.  I try to be grateful for that perspective.

For those of you that pray, please keep praying for cancer-free.  This No Evidence of Disease/Remission status is one I’d like to maintain for a very, very, very long time.


  1. kim /

    I always love your perspective on things Jen. You do life well.

  2. Nikki /

    🙂 I am so glad for your perspective. So glad for so many things. 🙂 And I just want to hug you. So consider yourself hugged, all the way from Oregon. 🙂

  3. Lisa Smith /

    Dear Sweet Jen. You are so very beautiful. I shutter at the thought that I could sound cliche or glib because I know I will fall short trying to express my enormous pride and honor to know you and call you friend. Thank you for sharing these details with us. Many of us readers would not know what post-chemo looks like without your humble transparency. To say that you are beautiful, inside and out, feels disappointing, inaccurate and just plain boring. YOU. RADIATE. LOVE, BEAUTY, GRACE, GRATITUDE… and the list goes on. Who and what can shake you? You are a rock of self-loving, God-praising, perspective-rich fricken GOODNESS. If I can exude one of your mohawk hair’s worth of your wisdom and gratefulness, I will be so fortunate. God bless you sweet woman. You are rocking NED. Happy Summer to you. THANK YOU for the profound inspiration of life and what it is to DO TODAY WELL. xoxo

  4. Lori6NV /

    One tough mama. This one choked me up. Sending some desert sun and fun your way. Continued prayers.

  5. Susan /

    I admire your perspective on body “flaws” which we all have. Those of us that have never been through what you’ve been through frequently complain about our bodies. No one ever seems to be satisfied with what they have. You help to put that issue into a good perspective and I thank you for that. Enjoy your summer and stay happy!

  6. Kay /


  7. Rebecca /

    I just want to reach through my phone and hug you! You are just beyond awesome! Sister on!

  8. Tiffany /

    You are most definitely beautiful on the inside and outside and praise God for continued NED!!!!

  9. Bonnie J /

    Great perspective Jen, loved seeing you last week by the way 🙂 May it be that we are Always learning and accepting our own skin – the way the Lord has created us to be or transforms us into. Have a beautiful NED day, everyday !!

  10. You have such an amazing attitude, sweet Jen! I will try to forge a bit of your perspective into my achy post-partum body. 🙂 I’m happy to share the news with you, stranger friend, that Baby Rory joined our family on June 3rd at 9:06pm. We are over the moon with our new little princess, and I am SO excited to finally have a little girl complete with cute clothes and more pink than I know what to do with!!

  11. Newbyfriend /

    You continue to teach us how to live better, thank you. Glad for your summer pool days, I always loved summer vacation with the kids home. Andrea and Tim had a baby boy last week, Isaac Timothy! He is precious and they are so happy. Life is great:)

  12. jennifer /

    i wish I could put thsi entry on a plaque and hang it. it is inspirational! I love how you frame things, and have perspective. I know its not always, but your blog always reminds me of what is important. You and I got sick at the same time about 2 years ago now. I was ill for a year, very sick (not cancer) and finally after one relapse around christmas this last year, i am stable. The medications I take and all that illness has left me with 30 pounds. It has been very hard to lose and causing NEW problems. I have been down about it. So after reading this today, I am inspired to keep my chin up, remember it s not going to KILL Me, and keep going. Thank you

  13. Beautiful post! And an important reminder to all of us that health & happiness trumps vanity any day.

    Best wishes for a fun summer with your girls!