Tiffany Mannino is back sharing another ‘Dear Lola’ journal entry with us; letters penned to her future daughter about her breast cancer experience. This time she shares her thoughts and feelings about being halfway through her chemotherapy treatment…
April 19, 2010
I know it has been quite a long time since I’ve written. Although I have thought about you every single day, the truth is, I have not wanted to share with you how I’ve been feeling. I always envisioned that what I would write to you would inspire and uplift you as I am a firm believer in finding the positive in every situation. Truthfully, I’m having an incredibly difficult time finding the light in the midst of darkness at the moment as I’m going through such a challenging time in my life.
The last time I wrote to you was on the eve of my first chemo treatment. I was filled with great anxiety and anticipation. Well, now I should be celebrating because I’ve reached a milestone…my halfway mark. It has been eight weeks, and I have completed four of my eight treatments. Although I’m thrilled to be halfway done, I’ll admit, that doesn’t replace the dread I feel that I still have four more! I’m not going to sugarcoat it, chemo totally sucks!
Going through chemo for me has hands-down been the most difficult part of the breast cancer journey and truthfully, the hardest thing I thing I’ve ever faced. Each treatment has brought on a different set of challenges to face.
The first treatment made me violently ill to the point I was practically vomiting up my intestines. I remember lying in bed at 3 o’clock in the morning writhing and crying out to my mom, begging her to make it stop. In between tears, I pleaded with God to take away my pain. At that moment, my mother wrapped her entire body around me and with tears in her eyes, just held me like a baby. It is amazing to me as a 36 year old adult, how much I wanted and needed my mother as if I were a little child once again. In that moment, I realized that we never, ever outgrow our mothers and the need for their love and care.
The second treatment brought on the loss of my hair which was even more devastating than I had anticipated it to be. Even though I knew it was coming, it didn’t take away the absolute horror of looking at myself in the mirror for the first time after several clumps of hair had fallen out leaving pink, blotchy, bald patches on my head. I had been waiting for it to happen and thought it would be on ‘Day 17’ as this seemed to be the magic day for several friends of mine who had already gone through this journey. I guess my hair was stubborn because it waited until Day 19. Actually, I think it had waited for my sisters to come. They had arrived the day before, and at that point I still had what appeared to be a full head of hair although I had already lost about half of it. I inherited incredibly thick, babushka style hair from my father! Anyway, on Day 19, me and my hair parted ways. I will never forget the feeling of repulsion as I gazed at my reflection in the mirror. For the first time in this journey, I looked sick, like a weak and worn out cancer victim. Before this point in time, I had some control over the cancer. I could decide who I wanted to let into my world. I chose who I wanted to know that I had cancer. I could go out in public and no one had to know my cancer secret. It was my choice. Now, cancer was in control. There was no mistake by looking at me, I was battling cancer. That day, my sister, Bethany, shaved my head for me. I sat down in a chair in the bathroom with my back to the mirror because I didn’t want to watch. She stood over me with a razor in hand, gently and meticulously shaving away what was left on my head. I could hear her softly crying and trying to hide her sadness, so she could be strong for me. Hearing my baby sister cry for me made my eyes simply well up with tears. The rhythmic drone of the razor, the soft whimpers of two girls trying to hold back their pain, and the overwhelming sense of loss in that room made it a moment in time, I will never, ever forget.
By treatment three, I had come to know what to expect with the treatment. I would be in bed for about three days and then slowly I would start to recover. Unfortunately, my three day recovery was turning into a week. This of course completely scared me as I thought something was really wrong. Apparently, this is completely normal since the chemo had been building in my body and my immune system was just taking a little longer to reboot itself. After this treatment, I made the incredibly difficult decision to not return to work this year. This was so hard for me since I am used to functioning at 100 miles per hour and allowing my career to completely dominate my life. Although I know in my heart that I made the right decision, I am still battling with it several weeks later. I think I’m having an identity crisis and really don’t know how to fill my time if I’m not a work.
And so, this brings me to my fourth treatment which I had last Wednesday. There is really nothing monumental about it except that I definitely have been feeling more depressed than ever. Although I only have two months left, for some reason I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel yet. Every day seems like one hundred days to me. I think I have cried five times in two days and I really can’t pinpoint why. I think I’ve hit a wall in that I just don’t want to do chemo anymore. I hate being nauseous and tired all of the time. I hate feeling my mouth, esophagus, and stomach burn every time I eat one of my favorite foods; I hate having a dry mouth and aversion to anything fruity or minty. I hate not being able to drink or smell coffee which I love. I hate feeling like I have knives coming out of my butt every time I go to the bathroom. ( I know…TMI) I hate that my life is centered around my doctors’ appointments, and that the first thing everyone asks me is, “How are you feeling?” I hate that on some days I’m so depressed that getting out of bed and showering is an effort because I’d rather just stare out the window. I hate that it seems like everyone’s life is moving forward and mind is just frozen, standing almost still like the dvd that just has been paused.
Lola, I know that is a lot to take in and most of it is not very uplifting, but I promised you I would always be real with you. This is me, vulnerable and broken. One thing I do firmly believe is that brokenness is not always a bad thing. It is then that change can occur and we can be transformed into a new creation.
Tiffany Mannino is an elementary school teacher, world traveler, Zumba freak, and young breast cancer survivor who lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. She has found that expressing her emotions through writing and painting has helped her deal with facing cancer at a young age and has brought her profound healing. Several of her writing pieces have been featured in books including the Chicken Soup for the Soul Series.
Stay tuned for more excerpts from Beautifully Broken: Letters From a Girl/Woman/Human in Progress!