August 6 2006 -- She gets the port for chemo put in, just before chemo begins. The port was always the hard (literally) reminder of what she was going through -- that alien mechanism under her skin was impossible for either of us to ever quite overlook, although once again it was invisible to most folks.
Chemo log week 1, week 2, week 3, week 6.
It’s worth noting that the chemo was at Newton-Wellesley, as were most of Jane’s treatments. Those who know their geography have probably been a little puzzled at the fact that we still did everything at N-W, which is a good half hour from our new house, despite the much closer Leahy Clinic. The reason, plain and simply, was Dr. Block. As mentioned previously, her style suited us well: professional but never impersonal. Appointments with her could be maddening, because she was *never* on time -- but that’s because she always gave each patient as much time as was needed, instead of adhering rigidly to her schedule. Throughout both bouts of cancer, she was the only doctor who Jane really trusted completely and consistently.
Our original reason for staying with Newton-Wellesley had been our general practitioner, Dr. Brogan, who was simply the best doctor I’ve ever had; after she moved on to HCHP (even further away), we thought about changing hospitals. But Jane’s specialists were at N-W, and ultimately that mattered most to us.
August 7 2006 -- Jane cuts her hair short for the first time in several decades, in preparation for chemo. (Pictures.) That actually went pretty well: the shorter cut turned out to look good, and she got more compliments than she was expecting. Unfortunately, that would shortly backfire.
Late August 2006 -- Jane begins to lose her hair in earnest. It’s an understatement to say that this was traumatic; of the entire first bout of cancer, this was probably the hardest part. A good deal of that was my fault: I thought her hair was beautiful, and had been telling her that for 20 years.
Those of you who only knew her the past five years may not understand this fully, but Jane’s hair was famous: waist-length or longer, thick and wavy. When the Ladies of Carolingia poem book was crafted by Franz many years ago, she was uncomfortable having her face in it, so the artist drew her from the back; her hair is more recognizable in that book than the faces of any of the other ladies.
So while we knew that she was going to lose her hair from the chemo, and had a couple of weeks to prepare, it was still terrible when it began to happen. I realized the hard way that I’d done her a real disservice over the years, focusing too much on one thing and helping her identify with it too much. It had been one thing to cut it to shoulder-length, but buzz-cutting it all off in preparation for switching to a wig was probably one of the hardest days of our entire marriage.
That said, the wig itself was quite nice: a good professional job reasonably similar to the new short look, and she wore it for the next several months, until her real hair began to recover enough. She got enough compliments on it to ease some of the pain; a fair number of folks didn’t realize it was a wig. (She was eventually buried with it.) Pictures of her with various hairstyles, including wigs, can be found in her userpics; I believe the userpics are in chronological order, so they show the progression.
She also got several inexpensive interesting-and-different wigs, some by whim and some as gifts. She never had the nerve to wear the long electric-blue one; I've always slightly regretted never getting to see her in it.
August - November 2006 -- Chemo wasn’t by any means easy, but she went through it exceptionally well. The hair trauma aside, she dealt with it all very professionally, continuing the way she would handle these crises, treating them as hassles to get through, but keeping her eye on finishing the process. Once every other week she’d take a day off from work to get the actual chemo, and she’d expect to be fatigued for the next day or two after that. But she missed surprisingly little work throughout, so most people could scarcely even tell what she was going through.
Not that life paused while this was going on. We were still recovering from the death of Jane’s mother, and trying to settle her estate. That was never the sort of headache that settling Jane’s is -- her mother was studiously organized about such things, and left us remarkably detailed instructions about every aspect of the process. But it was still a distraction that Jane didn’t want to deal with.
I honestly don’t remember when Jane’s actual *surgery* was in all of this -- neither of us appears to have ever mentioned it in any way online, or at least I’m not finding it in my searches. But this round was the full trifecta: the chemo that everybody knew about, several months of radiation, and a mastectomy of the affected breast.
That part was surprisingly low-key. The surgery was well-done, and aside from the usual drainage issues for a little while after, she came through it with few repercussions. She never did get around to finishing the reconstructive surgery -- neither of us cared enough to get around to it -- but they did a good job with the implant. The result is that I don’t think most people were ever even aware that she’d lost a breast in the course of all this.
Sept 8 2006 -- As if things weren’t complicated enough, while we are visiting my brother in Colorado, Jane breaks her shoulder while dancing Gathering Peascods. This will forevermore be my standard illustration of why to not get *too* rambunctious in that dance. Managing chemo and the sling at the same time was a real chore.
Oct 10 2006 -- Patri’s “pre-wake”. Of our close friends and mentors in Carolingia, Patri was the first to go (also from cancer); he had enough notice to get a big party in his honor at the Buttery, with everybody including himself telling stories about his life. It made a deep impression on Jane, as the finest example of a really classy ending. (Patri actually passed away on my 42nd birthday, a few months later I don’t think that’s actually symbolic of anything, but it was a tad unsettling.)
November 26 2006 -- Jane finishes chemotherapy. This was no small thing for us. It had been several long months, and while she maintained her composure remarkably in public, there were mornings in the shower -- when she was facing the nth round of chemo, exhaustion, and then dragging herself through her days as if nothing was really wrong -- when we just had to hold each other for a long time.
The end of chemo was the prize we’d been waiting for, though. Her coping mechanism was sheer bloody-minded stubbornness and stamina -- putting each day aside and preparing for the next, knowing that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
Of course, we knew the odds, and that there was a real chance of reoccurence. But she took the bright view, choosing to believe that that wouldn’t happen, knowing that she had done everything possible to prevent it. The cancer would always be a presence in the back of both of our minds, there in everything from her maintenance drugs to her inability to give blood any more. But we managed to go through the next several years sincerely believing that it had been beaten back, and we were done with this.