Thank you to my good friend Cheryl Morgan Maxey for this four-part series on her breast cancer, from diagnosis to the completion of her treatments. Cheryl amazed me with her upbeat attitude and courage. We hope her account will help others going through the same journey. Take it away, Cheryl!
After diagnosis, things started happening very quickly – and yet slowly, all at the same time. You’re so ready get get moving with the treatment, but first there are tests, procedures, more tests, treatment plans, delays, and yet even more tests. About one week after my initial diagnosis, I had an all day appointment with my new team of physicians which included medical, surgical and a radiation oncologist. I was worked in for another ultrasound, then scheduled for a breast MRI, CT/PET scan, and the surgical placement of a port to make treatments easier.
A treatment plan was created, and we moved forward, only to come to a screeching halt on the day I was to start treatment. My MRI had shown a 2nd suspicious area, and I had to delay the start of my treatment for a very long and agonizing week. Before I received the first drop of my chemotherapy regimen, I was scheduled for a MRI guided biopsy. Fortunately, the area in question was clear, and I was able to move forward almost exactly a month from the time of my diagnosis.
In addition to my year long treatment plan of intravenous chemotherapy/immunotherapy regimen, I also had a lumpectomy and 4 weeks of radiation therapy. I was diagnosed at age 46, and slammed by the drugs into menopause the day I started receiving my treatment. Because my tumor was hormone positive, I still receive a monthly injection to keep me in artificial menopause until either I have my ovaries removed, or we are certain that I am past the point of natural estrogen production.
I had all the usual side effects from my treatments: terrible, uncontrolled and delayed nausea that would hit me hard about a week after my treatment; the loss of appetite and inability to eat the same thing each cycle; indescribable fatigue; and the usual hair loss. I knew it would all be temporary, but it all sucked.
My hair was past my shoulders, and I knew it needed to be cut before treatment started.
I had a friend that wanted to come with me for support, so she sat in the chair next to me while my hair was cut into a shorter style.
That weekend, I went wig shopping and selected a wig that mimicked my new short style and not my shoulder length hair that was now gone. I also picked out some turbans and scarves and learned how to style them. The cancer center boutique supplied me with another wig, some hats and additional scarves. I was set and ready to tackle this new hairless me that was coming… but now I had to wait for the drugs to kick in.
About 4 weeks after starting my treatment, my hair started falling out. It was subtle for me. I didn’t wake up with a clump of hair on my pillow, but I knew I was shedding.
The day we decided to buzz my hair off, I leaned over the counter and ruffled my hair and was amazed at everything that fell out. I knew it was time.
I sat on a chair in the bathroom while my husband used his clippers.
The next day, I donned a wig for the first time….and I hated it!!!! It looked fine, but I felt like it was constantly slipping around. I would pass the mirror at work and see it was slightly askew. I kept telling my co-workers, both male, that they HAD to tell me when my bangs were suddenly over by my ear!
A week later, I was attending a reception at the art museum with my husband. While chatting with someone, I could feel the wig inching up millimeter by millimeter. I tried to complete the conversation before the wig popped off and I scurried to the ladies’ room to readjust it. I knew the wig would be short-lived.
Within two weeks, I had put away the wigs and purely resorted to the other headwear I had amassed. I became most comfortable in hats and wore those more than anything else. Once the hair-loss causing chemotherapy portion of my treatment was over, the baby-fine hair started coming back… but then I lost my eyebrows and eyelashes!
By June, I rarely even wore my hats and instead, wore my mostly bald head proudly.
Cheryl Morgan Maxey is a two-year survivor of breast cancer. She lives in Hillsborough with her husband James a speculative fiction writer, and 2 cranky cats. She and James love to spend time exploring greenways and rail/trails on their bikes, tromping off trail in the woods, and adventuring in their kayaks. Throughout the year-long treatment for breast cancer, Cheryl remained active and continued to log miles by paddle, foot and bike. Here’s her hair four months post-treatment:
And one year post-treatment:
Since James is a writer, he also chronicled Cheryl’s diagnosis, then her year of treatment, on his blog. They used “Training for Cancer” as their way to announce her diagnosis on social media. A year later, he penned “Climbing above Cancer” to wrap up Cheryl’s year of treatment and her victory climb at Hanging Rock.