The road less traveled

We celebrated the day of my last treatment. The day before, my co-workers decorated my desk with white and black streamers, flowers, balloons, and a sign they made and signed saying, “We’re proud of you.”

My daughter posted an adorable video of my grandsons (one 4, the other, six-months) wishing me, “Happy last day of treatment…we love you…aoisfoei!(from the six-month old).” I watched it repeatedly that day and beamed each time.

I put my game face on for this treatment, complete with football cheek black and my Beat Cancer Boot Camp shirt and hat. I was ready, for I knew this last treatment would be the final hurdle…and it had the potential to be significant.

You see, less than a month after my last treatment, I started experiencing pain, which got worse, until I felt like half my body was on fire (see my Girl on Fire post). Sitting, walking, sleeping, were all a challenge, until I broke down and told my medical team. Steroids (that’s another whole beast) calmed the inflammation.

The nurse practitioner told me every patient she’s had on Yervoy ran into significant challenges at the last treatment. I braced myself…thus the game face.

Game face for the last treatment.

Game face for the last treatment.

A little over a year after starting my Yervoy journey, I’d come to my last stop.

While the infusion went like any other, meaning halfway through, the Yervoy fog hit me, pressing in to challenge my alertness and clarity. By the last drip of the 90 minute IV, I was ready to sleep.

However, by the time I got home, my joints felt like I’d aged 15-20 years. Climbing the stairs, which had finally become easier after my bout with inflammation, was again a painful struggle.

I’m more than a week out now from that last treatment. Neoropathy threatens me every day, burning my toes in one foot, teasing to jump to the other, and sometimes sending tinges into my fingers. So far it seems rest and massaging seem to be the only solution.

As for the inflammation that lit me up a month ago, it’s hiding in there – waiting. Days when I am on my feet too long, or sit too long, or just push myself, I feel it firing up, like a pyromaniac waiting to torch a building.

I’ve been sidelined from my passion of nearly 40 years, running. My runs reduced to walks; my strengthening exercises cut in half or less.

However, I can still walk, I can still do some exercising. I can make it through a day of work if I rest halfway through. Laying horizontal is still my best option, yet, I am functioning, breathing, living, celebrating life.

My diagnosis was horrible – metastatic melanoma. My prognosis was hopeful – one in 26 nodes contained melanoma, scans were clear. My treatment was successful – scans and blood work continue to show “No Evidence of Diesease” NED – precious words for a cancer patient (although I will continue to have scans every three months through the trial). My future is promising. Cure may not be a term used with melanoma because it is so fierce, but longevity after Yervoy treatment…well, let’s hope it gets me out there far enough that another, more effective treatment is found.

Now on the other side of the treatment journey, I stand looking at the road ahead of me. The extent of permanent side effects will take months to determine. I’m hopeful I will be running again by the end of the year. Last year at this time, I was training for a half-marathon, pushing through pain, I now know was caused by neuropathy. I haven’t given up on the idea of a half-marathon this year yet…even if I have to walk most of it.

I stand and look at the fork in the road staring at me. Do I go down the path less traveled, or try and take the path I’ve followed before my diagnosis, of doing too much, loading on stress, not resting, and eating foods that didn’t help me?

Melanoma has changed me, who I am, and how I see life…and that’s not all bad. In fact, much of it is very good. Cancer is strange like that. It is a horrible, but beautiful gift. Kind of like watching a volcano erupt – caught up in the majestic power of nature, yet realizing the lava will snuff out all life in its path.

While I don’t want melanoma to define me, to limit what I do; I can’t ignore that it will forever be part of me. I don’t want melanoma to define me as I choose my next path, yet, not holding it, and my melanoma journey up for all to see, doesn’t prevent anyone from following the same ignorant course. It has changed me, and in turn, gave me the power to push for change for others.

As Robert Frost said,
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”