Zoe's Story: Fight Song (Week 14 + 15)
This time last year I was running around the Addison with my team of superheroes putting the last-minute touches on our New Years Eve extravaganza. The event was a spectacular success attended by 600 revelers all adorned in 1920’s fashion, feasting on filet and lobster, eyes sparkling with merriment and champagne towers overflowing with copious amounts of bubbly, all in vast contrast to my New Year’s Eve this year. This New Year’s Eve I find myself sitting in my armchair writing this week’s cancer update and reminiscing about the Roaring Twenties celebration of last year.
The last time I wrote my update I had just undergone my first chemotherapy treatment. Yesterday, I completed my third treatment, and I am happy to report that I have finally managed to get into a routine that is manageable. I have most certainly had a few obstacles to overcome to get into this routine, as treatment one was truly awful. I had chills, light sensitivity, excruciating bone and nerve pain, nausea and vomiting and wholeheartedly understood why people decline chemotherapy treatment.
As I prepared for treatment two, it struck me that Christmas morning may not be filled with as much laughter and joy as I would have hoped for. The daunting thought of the anticipated side effects filled me with dread. Thankfully, my oncologist made some minor adjustments to my pre-meds (Steroids, Anti-nausea, Pepcid and Benadryl) and prescribed me pain medication (Tramadol) to alleviate the bone and nerve pain, which happens like clockwork on day three and four. These adjustments delivered welcome relief, and as Christmas morning arrived (armed with new nausea and pain medication), I was ready to conquer.
I started my day with a beautiful sunrise walk followed by a relaxing day of gift-giving, monopoly, plenty of laughter and a wonderful meal cooked entirely by Sonja. It was a joyous day, and the Tramadol provided a blissful haze of comfort. I even managed to dress my fur babies for a Christmas day photo, which provided me with so much joy and laughter.
Boxing Day in my house is a day of leftovers and murder mystery. Coincidentally, the game called for a pillow (shaped in the form of a dead person), or a willing friend. I was the willing friend, and with a red napkin pinned to my back, I laid on the sofa and provided the dead body needed for the game. It was the perfect character for me to play, because within moments of the game starting, I was fast asleep thanks to my pain meds. I had a wonderful few days surrounded by my incredible family who have been a pillar of strength, encouragement and support throughout the last few months.
The cycle of chemo now happens like a well-oiled machine. The treatment is about five hours long. I start with my weekly labs, which are then sent to my oncologist to review once he is happy with my bloodwork, he signs my medical order so that my meds can be released. The pharmacist then delivers my treatments to my nurse. My nurse evaluates my vitals and then administers my meds and chemo. Once home I sleep most of the day monitored closely by my big beautiful Teddy.
Day 2 provides lashings of chills and high color on my cheeks. Day 3 and 4 are the most uncomfortable and I experience bone and nerve pain, and thereafter, complete normalcy. Out of the seven days only two keep me away from the Addison. In fact, I am now a chemo pro, having mastered the ice therapy while snuggled up under my chemo blanket (gifted to me by my friends at Boca Helping Hands), listening to relaxation music. The experience is over in a mere blink of the eye. I am also happy to say my blood work is good; my platelet count is holding strong and, apart from sleeping more than any grown adult should, I am doing very well considering.
When I was pregnant with Sonja there was never a shortage of woman wanting to share their pregnancy stories with me. They shared their joyous stories, glowing faces, and perfect bellies like they were on the West End stage. I remember experiencing extreme feelings of inadequacy as I gained copious amounts of weight, felt sick every second of every day and most certainly never experienced one day of a glowing face.
I mention this because chemo is very much like this. Every patient has a unique and truly personal journey and there is most certainly no right or wrong way to deal with cancer. You must do what feels right for you, which is why when I started to experience some minor hair loss, I made the decision to take the plunge and not delay. I had decided early on in this journey that I did not want to wake up with my hair on the pillow. I also wanted to try and use my hair loss for good. On Tuesday, December 29, 2020, surrounded by beloved friends and family, I said a final goodbye to my crowning glory.
As I have stated countless times throughout this entire journey, the hospitality industry is overflowing with people who are inherently giving. The ability to give and love entirely is evident in each one of them and as with every occasion that has gone before my "No Hair Don’t Care" event. There was no shortage of offers of support. Benny, my treasured friend and owner of Daniel Events, sent beautiful flowers to lighten and brighten the day for me. Todd, from Celebrity Entertainment, offered to MC the event. Chad and Sarri, the creative geniuses behind Timeline Video Productions, offered to make yet another magical movie memento for me. Bombshell Makeovers sent their incredible team to beautify me and (of course) assist in the cutting and shaving of not only my hair but any Braveheart volunteers. The Munoz family arrived en masse to, not only support me emotionally, but to document the day for me by capturing the raw emotions of the day in their captivating photos.
My goal was to raise awareness and well needed funding for ResearcHERS, of which I am an ambassador. It was a deeply emotional couple of hours, which we live-streamed on Facebook to friends and family throughout the world. As I said in my last blog, my mum wanted to shave her head in support, a decision I discouraged multiple times, but as we sat side-by-side, ready to face the fate of boldness together, I felt strength in her support. Rafael of Bombshell and my sister Cassie did the honors.
I had decided I wanted to donate my hair to Locks of Love which is a non-profit that provide human hair wigs to disadvantaged children that are affected by hair loss. I wanted to donate my hair to this tremendous cause. Rafael carefully sectioned and cut my hair for donation. Thereafter, Cassie shaved my head. As I looked out at beloved friends, family, and the Addison team, and the words to Fight Song by Rachel Platten played, I found the courage I needed to rise above the loss of my hair and embrace the new me. It was not easy; I choked back tears and felt very vulnerable, but as the words “I still have a lot of fight left in me” rang in my ears (with Sonja knelt by my side, encouraging me), we welcomed the new me.
My cancer diagnosis has taught me many things; it has made me aware of just how resilient I am, how the human spirit can overcome almost anything, and the power of positive thought can move mountains. Then, when Todd welcomed any volunteers, Mario Munoz stepped up with his daughter Sloan. This beautiful and courageous little girl stepped up to cut off and donate her hair to some deserving child. In that moment I saw true selflessness. As she sat there bravely looking down at her wonderful father, I felt another jolt of strength to push me forward. Mario and Todd both shaved their heads which was heartwarming and meant so much to me. Sonja and my beloved friend Lola both inspired by the actions of Sloan decided they could not let the day pass without donating their hair too. Sonja started the day with a good 20” and went home at day end with a short bob. Lola to reach the 10” requirement for donation needed to shave her head. I swear her husband will never let her out with me again. The generosity and love of my friends and family never ceases to overwhelm me. I am so blessed and thankful. Not only was the event heartwarming and uplifting it raised over $3,000.00 for cancer research.
So much has changed in 2020 and we have all been presented with unimaginable challenges. With those unexpected challenges, there have been plenty of silver linings. Every day we take so much for granted; we allow little moments to pass us by. We forget to hug the ones we love, and we certainly do not stop to roar with laughter enough. 2020 has been a momentous year, one I am pleased to leave behind me, but it has also changed me. I make a point of never letting a sunrise or sunset go unappreciated; I laugh more, and I treasure the rain on my face. I certainly hug more, even if it means chasing my daughter around the house to secure a hug, and I realize how much I am loved and how much I love in return. Cancer will not invade my mind or soul, and as long as I have the ability to control my mind and soul, cancer will not be allowed to beat me. As I say goodbye to 2020, I look forward to a New Year and a new me! …a year that will undoubtedly present new challenges (all that will be overcome) …a year filled with joyous moments that I will treasure and enjoy. …a year of endless possibilities.