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Who is That Person in the Mirror?

Hi Everyone,

     Often I will talk about the things that Cancer cannot take away from you, the things that you have control over. There is a flip side to that, one that has impacted me of late.

     I am presently undergoing treatment for my Cancer and am receiving two drugs – the chemo drug Doxil, and the biologic drug Avastin. I have received Doxil before, but Avastin is new for me.  I have had some side effects from the Doxil – blistering and nausea – but an adjustment in the dosage has helped with those symptoms. The Avastin, on the other hand, has been more troublesome, causing spiking blood pressure, respiratory infections, cough, fever, and severe fatigue.  These symptoms have been severe enough that I have had to miss scheduled infusions because I have been too sick.

     One of the drugs I am being given to control my blood pressure is Amlodipine. It is doing its job with my blood pressure but has caused edema and weight gain. So I am bloated, have gained weight, and have swollen feet and ankles like you wouldn’t believe! Thanks to all these drugs, I look in the mirror and see this red-nosed, bloated body, fat-ankled woman who is a stranger to me. I have developed a complete distrust of my body, and do not know what to expect from one day to the next. It can be very discouraging and self-defeating. My first reaction is to hide under the covers and disappear.

      So I have decided to fight fire with fire, and have been making the effort to immerse myself in activities to combat my depression, and gain some feeling of control back. I am making myself go out each and every day, even if just for a ride. There are many days where my side effects impede me doing a lot but throwing on my clothes and getting in the car, while my husband Ken takes us out and about, can be managed. We always incorporate a trip to the beach during our rides. The beach is my go-to place to put everything in perspective.

       I have also started playing ukulele again. I played a bit years ago – strictly for my own enjoyment, and have taken it up again, thanks to the support of the Music Therapist I work with at Mass General, Hannah Schefsky. She has shown me the healing benefits of music, and the sense of ownership and control you get when you focus on playing an instrument.

        I have reached out to friends, even if just through a text or phone call. It helps so much to connect with the outside world, and with people who understand what you’re going through and support you unconditionally. I will even go out once in awhile to see friends, if I am feeling well enough. The visits may be short, but they help. I have also been blessed with friends and family who have sent me thoughtful gifts that have helped me feel connected and thought of. A rosary blessed by the Pope, a beautifully knit chemo hat, a gorgeous quilt, magazines, books, jewelry, and so many more treasures that lift my spirits.

        I look for ways I can put my efforts into something that helps others, either a political initiative, or Ovarian Cancer work. Even if it is just signing petitions, or writing letters, I can put my time to good use as I deal with my health issues at home. Working on social justice or Ovarian Cancer issues provides balance and gives me a sense of usefulness that supersedes any side effects that are playing with my self-image and emotions. Attending Ovarian Cancer 101’s support group helps tremendously, giving me a feeling of empowerment and sisterhood, a sense of travelling this road surrounded by empathy and hope.

       So, as many of us do, onward we go. I think it all comes down to staying in the moment and taking everything a day at a time. Stay as involved as you can in life, no matter how limited you may feel. Forward we go!

‘Til Next Time,

MJ Keenan