Back on the Table

The Operating Room; and right in the middle, the table.

October 16th, 2015. Today is the day: I’m on my way to MGH to jump back on the table. This time for a full hysterectomy and oophorectomy.

Last weekend I rode 200 mile on my bike, knowing this operation was on the other side, and that rest and recovery would be about the extent of my physical activities for the next few weeks. The Tour de Pink was just as amazing, if not more so this year than last year. Despite my crash 42 miles into day one, I got back up on the bike and completed and full century (100 miles) the next day, and 55 miles the following day. My motivation was to take in each and ever moment, breathe as deeply as possible, and raise as hard and fast as I could.

This cycling swan song was akin to an advanced vinyasa practice and this upcoming surgery and recovery a long, long savasana.Uterus Art

I’m nervous.

The last time I was on the OR table I had both my breasts removed. I remember like it was yesterday, the cold hospital corridors, the revealingly, thin hospital Johnny, and the big clear plastic bags you’re asked to dump your personal belongings into. In the pre-op, you transition from person to patient and then patient to procedure. A nurse eventually comes into your holding area and starts an IV.

Eventually you’re moved from a wheelchair (even though your perfectly capable of walking) to a gurney, which immediately makes you want to simultaneously fall asleep and run away. Good byes to loved ones are said and then off you go. An anesthesiologist will introduce herself and start you on a sedative. You begin to feel disconnected from your body, your eyes start to float in their sockets, and it becomes increasingly difficult to hear the voices of the OR staff coaxing you to slide from the gurney over to the table.

The OR becomes a theater, and the doctors and nurses actors in a play.

You watch with distanced interest as the story unfolds and the air you breath sweetly thickens into darkness. There are a few final moments of awareness; someone puts an oxogen mask over your mouth and nose, a warm blanket over your chest and arms. You feel vulnerable, but cared for. You realize all of a sudden that YOU are the lead actor in the play, and unless it is Shakespeare, you will survive the final act.

Be In Love with Your Life

Every second counts.

Even these nervous seconds, minutes and hours leading up to this surgery. This challenge has brought some amazing people into my life, and brought me closer to others I never would have been friends with other wise. For that I am forever grateful. I have one Hell of a gynecological oncologist and the facility at MGH is the best in the world. It’s amazing to be in such good care.

Check-in is at 12 noon. Surgery is scheduled for 2pm. If all goes according to plan everything should be wrapped up by 4pm. I have to stay in the hospital overnight, and my mother and sister will be next door. We get to go home tomorrow. Quickly in, quickly out. And my mantra, as recommended by a dear friend and supporter will be “back on the bike”, “back on the bike”, “back on the bike.”

Many thanks for all the support, from all of you. And a big, grateful shout out to my friend Larisa Foreman and the Sue de Vries Cancer Foundation, for their kind donation – which will defray our travel costs to and from MGH this weekend.

Love,

Cait

Warrior Won

N Magazine Feature

I am so grateful to N Magazine for this generous feature in the May 2015 edition. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to honor my fellow cancer warrior, Natasha Grosshans, in this very public, very special way. A big thank you to Katie Kaizer for all her beautiful photographs, and her always happy and very luminescent spirit.

Warrior Won, N Magazine, May 2015

Warrior Won, N Magazine, May 2015

Warrior Won, N Magazine, May 2015

Warrior Won, N Magazine, May 2015

Warrior Won, N Magazine, May 2015

Warrior Won, N Magazine, May 2015

the cancer club

Uterus by eReSaW

I thought that after they cut the port out of my chest, and the breast tissue out of my breasts, that it would be a long, long time before I had to go under the scalpel again. Hm…contrary to what I thought was the conclusion of my cancer story, this is not the case. As I’m starting to realize more and more, once you are part of the cancer club, you are a member for life.

Which is why after a suspicious pap, and a not-so-positive experience with a gynecologist on the Cape, I found back at the Cancer Center at Mass General Hospital a few days ago. If MGH’s Yawkee building is the cancer Club House, the 9th floor is like the Members Only area.  I can’t count how many times I’ve parked in the same parking garage, taken the same elevator up to the 9th floor, and hung a left to 9A. The only difference on Monday was that we turned right out of the elevator and went down the hall to 9E. I have to say, the breast cancer patients got the short end of the stick. The Gynecology Oncology waiting room is much nicer.

In any event, the reoccurring lesions on my cervix have given me reason to expand my oncology team. I now get to put my health in the hands of Dr. del Carmen, who’s got to be one of the coolest MDs I’ve ever met. And even though she put me through yet another uncomfortable exam, she made discussing the resection of yet another body part seem easy (well, easy-ish). She had clearly familiarized herself with my case, had already conferenced with both my breast surgeon and breast oncologist, and spoke to me with great care.

In about 5 more days we will have the pathology results we need to determine the type of hysterectomy I have to have and when I have to have it. If it looks like the unfriendly cells are quickly dividing, I will be looking at the inside of an O.R. this spring. If they are sluggish, I can put surgery off until the fall. Either way, I will soon be bidding my uterus adieu.

I’m not ready to write about the many feelings this prospect is stirring up, or the myriad of ways in which being a patient again is effecting my psyche. But I will. Eventually. For now, I’m trying my best to stay in the moment and recent win. Helen Keller said, “Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content”

Though it seems my members-only card has just been renewed, I realize now, it never really expired.

#nevergiveup

Me & The Red Devil: Chemotherapy the Second Round

Any way you frame it, chemotherapy is no walk to the park. There are good days and there are bad days, and all of it is out of your control. Many of the side-effects you might suffer depend on which chemotherapy drug you’re given. People react differently to different cocktails, and no matter how much research you do, you won’t know how you react to your chemo until it’s pumping through your system. At least I didn’t. For us, nothing about my breast cancer and it’s treatment has been predictable.

IV Fluids, Chemotherapy, Caitlin Marcoux, Breast Cancer Survivor

checking into the hospital for i.v. fluids post-chemotherapy. September 6th, 2013

People in the know will tell you A/C is the worst. They call it the Red Devil. There are multiple urban legends circulating in the breast cancer circles about how this life-saving yet toxic drug earned its nickname. It has a broad range of side-effects including HEART FAILURE and get this, Leukemia. It’s the heavy hitter they say; much harder on the system then Taxol.

It comes in a syringe instead of an I.V. bag and needs to be slowly injected into your port or peripheral veins carefully, so as to not damage near by tissue. The infusion nurse who administers it will approach you with a battery of personal protective gear: gloves, a paper dressing gown, face mask and even goggles.

They’ll tell you you’ll pee it out (it turns your urine red), and to be sure to flush the toilet twice if not three times. They’ll makes you wonder  what A/C is doing to our planet, not to mention the insides of your own body. You’ll wonder what damage it’s causing as it makes it’s way from your circulatory system to your kidneys and bladder and eventually the sewage system.

I’m grateful for A/C, but it’s a powerful drug.

Following the tough time I had with Taxol in the spring, I was nervous to start A/C this August, and nervous more for the many ways in which it might effect my life. Having survived three months of chemo and a double mastectomy, I have to admit I’ve been ready to get back to my regular life. The break I was given following my surgery gave me a taste of living a normal(ish) life again, and I was thrilled to have enough energy to teach some yoga and play with my son.

The days leading up to my first infusion on August 21st, I began to worry. What was A/C going to do to me? Would I loose my slowly growing hair again? Would my eyelashes fall out again? How much sleep would it interrupt? Could I finally return to the gym? Do a handstand? Or would I be back on the couch every afternoon?

I wondered, how much of the Red Devil’s legend was true?

The Red Devil, Chemotherapy, AC, Breast Cancer Treatment

The Red Devil

So far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised.  I’ve had two of the four dose dense infusions I’m scheduled for through October and I’m really only sick for the first 3-4 days following the actual treatment. As my white blood cell count drops again around day 7, I get pretty fatigued and my immune system wears thin. But seriously, I’ve been tired for 6 months, so a little more exhaustion is no big deal. It’s certainly a lot less than other people have to deal with.

I have to admit that the second treatment was harder than the first, but that still, looking back on how I felt in the middle of my 3 months of Taxol, the last 3 weeks haven’t been so bad. Some days I’m nauseous and tired and other days I feel like a perfectly healthy human being.

When I went up to Boston for my second infusion of A/C on September 4th, I wanted desperately to go out to dinner that night. I put much thought into finding a special place to meet my pseudo in-laws, who drove 90 minutes each way from NH to meet up with us.

My partner and I spent the day at MGH and I finished my infusion in time to change into a pretty dress and jump in a cab. Sadly, and very much against my own will, 45 minutes into dinner, I was making frequent trips to the bathroom. Socializing in a predictable and schedulable way just isn’t part of my repertoire yet.

Our evening interrupted, we rushed back to our friend’s Clarendon street home, where I spent the next 2 hours on her bathroom floor.

A/C, Chemotherapy, Caitlin Marcoux, Breast Cancer Treatment, The Cancer Diaries

A/C number 2: September 4th, 2013

Feeling broken and in pieces, Burr and I left Boston the next morning.  We arranged for a wheelchair to meet us curbside at Logan (a brilliant perk everyone dealing with acute illness should take advantage of if they have to deal with air travel) and hopped on a donated Cape Air flight made possible by my friends over at P.A.L.S.

Patient Airlift Services is a wonderful charitable organization which: “arranges free air transportation based on need to individuals requiring medical care and for other humanitarian purposes. Our network of volunteer pilots provide this service without compensation using their own or rented aircraft. In no case are fees of any kind charged for these services. PALS flies as far South as Virginia and as far West as Ohio.”

We arrived home mid-morning and I more or less crawled into bed.

The two days following my second infusion were brutal. On the third day I was dizzy, nauseous, and struggling with a gnarly headache. After speaking to my oncologist in Boston, I checked into the hospital here in Nantucket for three hours of I.V. fluids and anti-nausea meds.I left the hospital feeling like a much more complete person, and feeling fully recovered 24 hours later, stuck my first handstand in 2 months the  following day.

Sure, there are other minor annoyances. My hair follicles are irritated and angry again. I’ve got lots of little hot bumps on my scalp and on the back of my neck. I don’t often feel pretty, and it looks like I’m about to loose the baby hair that’s been growing back since my surgery. I scratch my head compulsively. Some times my belly gets oddly distended as soon as I eat the smallest of meals, and my cycle is all over the place. I cry for no apparent reason at all, often. Let me stress the word often.

But everything is temporary.

The storm surge that is A/C is over as quickly as it comes on. 4 days after my second infusion I felt fine. Really, like 75% normal. That Saturday night Burr and I rode our bicycles into town and he took me out to dinner. After sitting at the Proprietor’s bar for a couple of hours, I still had enough energy to ride all the way home to Cisco. I taught yoga the next day, and  4 more consecutive classes in the following two days: the most active work I’ve done in 6 months.

That all being said, I do have anxiety about Adriamycin and Cytoxan’s cumulative side effects. As I’ve been told to expect things might get worse before they get better. For me it’s pretty simple: I either feel bad, or I don’t. Thankfully right now, the good days outweigh the bad.

I am very, very grateful to be as healthy as I am, and thrilled to reassure my sisters in treatment that life can still go on.

A/C, Chemotherapy, Caitlin Marcoux, Breast Cancer Survivor, Mastectomy, new boobs

A/C infusion number one: August 21st, 2013

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As an aside…

I consider myself damn lucky to have a cool and innovative general contractor for a boyfriend. He’s really come in handy during this whole cancer thing. I could wax on and on about all the big expressions of support he’s made over the last 6 months, and all the little ways in which he’s made my life better, but for those of you who’ve been following my journey and are in active treatment yourselves, let me just mention the most recent idea he’s come up with which has given me some of the biggest sighs of relief since re-starting chemotherapy on August 21st: The Frozen Hat.

If you are in the process of loosing your hair (as I am for the second time this year) and suffering from an itchy, hot, irritated scalp, you need to try this at home. Take your two most favorite, preferably soft cotton hats and stick them in the freezer. You can put a plastic bag full of ice cubes or a plastic or jell cooler pack inside the hats, or  use whatever’s handy in the freezer: a bag of frozen peas for instance is perfect.

Once the hats are sufficiently cold and crispy: VOLA! Your own homemade Cold Cap. Place one hat on your head, and breath a sigh of relief. As soon as your hot head has cooled off one hat, you have another one waiting in the freezer to replace it with. Switch out as necessary. Enjoy.

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 {My Cancer Story: The Beginning}

(Making the Breast Decision)

(Life After the Knife)

{How to Talk to Someone with Cancer)

(Let’s be Friends)