6 Months Post-Chemo: Stronger but Vulnerable

It’s been a little over six months since my last chemo treatment at the end of March 2011.  My oh my, how time has flown by.

Here are where things are for me:

  • I’m stronger. I started swimming about 5 weeks ago and my muscles are regrowing after being in hiding for the past year and a half!  I’m swimming three times a week, aided by my fantastic coach, Sandy Neilson Bell, and the Team Texas Masters program.
  • More oxygen is flowing around my body. After 2 weeks of swimming, my hemoglobin count shot up from below normal to healthy normal range.  Hemoglobin is the protein molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues and returns carbon dioxide from the tissues to the lungs.  So I am getting more oxygen to my brain and body which helps reduce fatigue.
  • I’m getting better at listening to my body.  If I’m tired, I take a nap.
  • My neuropathy is much better.  There’s only a tiny bit of numbness on the tips of my fingers.  My feet are improving. In fact, my toes have started tingling again (instead of just feeling dead) which makes me think that my nerves are coming back to life!
  • My hair has changed again.  After coming back wavy after chemo, it’s stick-straight now.  Straighter than before chemo, if that’s possible.
  • I feel mentally strong. Well, except for yesterday…

My toxic cereal-induced anxiety attack

Some days, I can’t believe I ever had cancer. But then the occasional fatigue or random thought reminds me of my vulnerability.  I can usually handle the concern/worry/anxiety with a little pep-talk.  But yesterday was not one of those days.

It all started when I opened a new box of muesli-type cereal  (all crunchy and good for you) for breakfast and was knocked over by a chemical smell emanating from the box. “Hmm… that’s weird.”  Here I am, buying organic stuff, only to have it packaged in a plastic bag that somehow created a toxic cocktail inside.  I tasted a flake of the cereal and it tasted just like the chemical smell. Not good.  Threw away the cereal but proceeded to chew on thoughts of all the unknown chemicals in our food.  Felt a little vulnerable.

…was followed by my toxic hair products-induced anxiety attack. 

After school, my daughters had appointments at a salon to get their fantastically curly hair seriously reconditioned and braided. I usually take care of their hair at home but I am terrible at braiding and twisting on the scalp so it was time to get it done professionally. When we walked into the salon, we were slammed with chemical odors and I started getting anxious.

Near the entrance, a woman was wearing a mask while doing someone’s acrylic nails.  Nice. I tried to ignore the intense chemical smells as we met the wonderful woman who was going to fix up the girls’ hair.  While the girls were deciding what kind of braids or twists to get, they were having their hair washed/conditioned/washed/conditioned/treated with products.  My anxiety level was ratcheting up since I did not exactly know what was in the products. “Why didn’t I research the products? Am I contributing to my kids getting cancer someday?” the voice in my head was asking.  More anxiety was building up.  As the braiding began, more products of unknown origin were slathered onto their scalp. “But this is how you manage ethnic hair,” I kept telling myself as I was trying to rationalize away my anxiety. (I’ve tried many natural products but nothing yet works on my girls’ hair.)

When the braiding/twisting was complete and the girls were under the hair dryer to help their hair “set” (to keep it smooth for up to two weeks) with who-knows-what product, I was really starting to FREAK out.  Chemicals, chemicals, chemicals. We had been there for 5 hours breathing in all kinds of chemicals.  I was suddenly slammed with visuals/sensations of having chemo for nine months, how horrible it was and how much I did not want to go back to that place because of these chemicals.  And thoughts of my kids getting sick were awful. I came home in tears. Definitely a new thing, this unexpected anxiety episode.

What causes cancer?

I do not know what caused my cancer. But certain chemicals are probably on the list of possible carcinogens.  Common sense pretty much runs that game.  But trying to detect and fight every cancer-causing possibility is overwhelming, seemingly impossible and depressing.

Lessons learned.

Do what I can to be smart.  Don’t worry about the rest.  Accept vulnerability.

By the way, the girls LOVE their hair!

3 thoughts on “6 Months Post-Chemo: Stronger but Vulnerable

  1. Check out http://www.ewg.org

    They are doing fantastic work advocating for reduced chemicals in personal care products.

    Check out http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/

    We as consumers need to think about this stuff as there are strong incentives to business success which have prevented adequate regulation in the US. Europe is better about this, but perhaps a losin fight.

  2. Love you, Ivanna! I am sorry that you had such a stressful day. Many things we can control, but many others we can’t. Right or wrong, this is our world. We do the best we can. Growing up on a small farm, I know my lifestyle was much better then than it is today. Too many processed/chemical things in my life now.

    I am glad that you are feeling stronger! Swimming sounds like lots of fun and great exercise!

    You have been on my mind lately. I keep seeing the word “rogue”! Everytime I think of your blog and you.

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