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Health and Fitness

Jackey's Journey: Part II

Steroids and chemo complete, what's next?

Hooray! Hooyah! Praise God! Today marked the last day that I will have to take steroids, get a shot into my stomach, or swallow anti-nausea and anti-diarrhea medications.

I just completed my last round of chemotherapy at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center! Words cannot fully describe how relieved I am that this phase of my journey is over. Now, I'm no quitter but a week ago, I told my husband, Chuck, that I was done. I was done with feeling like crap, done looking at my puffy face and body from the steroids, done with the mood swings, done with either having insomnia or oversleeping, done with not being able to verbally express things due to chemo brain, done with having to stop at the nearest gas station because I was afraid that I couldn't get to my destination on time to get to the bathroom, I was done with it all. He listened and responded, "You've got one more round to go." I replied, "Well, I know that I'll finish because I don't quit, but goodness am I ready to be done!" I also likened chemo to a moment in grade school or junior high when you're sitting in class and your friend informs you that she/he heard the school bully wants to fight you at the end of the day! All you can do is mentally prepare for the confrontation and pray that your body responds with enough determination, adrenaline and drive to push you through the situation. You don't want to show up, but how can you not!

The past couple of months have been filled with emergency room visits, oncology and hematology appointments, and a bunch of bed rest. I've often reminded myself that sometimes it's important to have the bad days so that you can appreciate and fully embrace the good ones. My days have been filled with attending promotion ceremonies, having lunch with my co-workers, hosting friends who have come to sit with me during my down days, cheering on the Cincinnati Bengals games with my hubby, participating in a Zumbathon in my honor with the proceeds going to cancer research, preparing a chemotherapy basket for a four-year-old mentor of mine who is undergoing her tenth round of chemo, attending parent-teacher conferences, and attending sports practices with my sons.

During a recent visit with my oncologist, I was given the news that due to the number of lymph nodes involved, I'd been "upgraded" to stage III breast cancer. I wanted to know if the treatment I was receiving would be enough to shrink the tumor in my left breast and lymph nodes. He assured me that I'd been getting the exact same treatment whether I'm stage II or stage III. I couldn't control my second diagnosis, although a part of me wanted to and that's just stupid, really. I see this in many other people as well, not just myself; the need to have complete control. Not sweating the small things has helped me minimize stress. Cancer has quickly pulled my life into a sharper focus, bringing with it a new perspective; the power of choice. I could choose to look at the news with anger or I could choose to look at it with even more determination to beat this ugly disease. At that moment I could be a glass half empty Negative Naomi or a glass half full Positive Penny. I chose Penny. What good would getting upset do? I'm still on the same treatment regimen. Life goes on and we continue to fight the disease.
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Technically my last chemo treatment was on Thanksgiving. The oncology clinic was closed on Thanksgiving so my oncologist offered a couple options for my last chemo date. I could have it the Wednesday before or the Monday after the holiday. A part of me wanted to schedule it so that I could hurry up and be done with this chapter of my journey. I'd be a few steps closer to becoming a "survivor" instead of "fighter." Then I thought about my husband and boys. Chemo has also taught me to enjoy each moment. This is my husband's first Thanksgiving without his mother. They were very close. His sister was cooking a feast in Cincinnati. His father was without his wife of nearly 50 years. The boys were excited to visit their cousins and extended family. I could enjoy the holiday surrounded by the people that I love without the tired, run-down, and worn-out feeling that crazy chemo delivers with each round of treatment. I chose to have my last round of chemo December 1, 2014.

As I prepare for a double mastectomy, I face many emotions about my breasts, that at times, I have a hard time explaining. However, I believe that many women can relate to these emotions. They understand, as only women can, the relationship you come to have with your lady lumps. At first we ask ourselves "what are these two anthills?" As we get older we plead "God, please give me bigger anthills!" As mothers, they take on a whole new role helping our children survive. You never imagine a day when you would want them gone, but I had one such day; the day I was diagnosed. I wanted them off, STAT! I am now saying, "You gotta go because you tried killing me." But I will miss my breasts. My personal challenge has been not to be consumed with negativity and not allow my fears of the unknown or sad stories from those who didn't survive this disease to take over or maintain real estate in my head.

I have operating surgeon and plastic surgeon consultations this week, radiology, head and body scans over the next few weeks, and will continue to fight the poisons that chemo fills within my body as we close that chapter. My double mastectomy will take place at the beginning of the year and only at that moment will I be able to cautiously shout that I'm cancer-free! I will still have to go to oncology and hematology appointments; I will still have to get hormonal medicine pumped through an IV. I will still need radiation. I will still need to take pills for the next five years. And thanks to God's grace and mercy, I will still FIGHT, SURVIVE, and THRIVE. Life's lumps - I'll take them as they come. And I'll miss them when they have to go.

To be continued...

Read Part I of Jackey's Journey.