It is accumulative they say … each week will present you with more fatigue and symptoms. What they really mean is, over the course of your treatment you will have a fire starting inside your stomach and bubbling up through your esophagus and blistering in your mouth. You will be so exhausted that even the most basic of tasks will be challenging and by that, I mean lifting your head off the pillow. The nausea is indescribable and constant. The RED DEVIL is everything they said it would be and yet so much more. If I was painting a mental picture, imagine me climbing MOUNT EVEREST, in flip flops, in the middle of winter, dragging an enormous sick bucket behind me. The uphill climb is made much harder because I have no food, and so no energy, and legs that feel like lead. Even though temperatures are sub-zero you must consume copious amounts of water, but the fear of starting up that eternal fire makes the prospect a difficult one. I blame the Red Devil entirely for my inability to write a coherent update in the past month. My weeks have not been particularly exciting and the slipper shuffle from bed to sofa, and into the office, have truly consumed most of the last month. There have been some uplifting and fun days, which have safely delivered me to the Chemotherapy finishing line.
Following the February fundraiser, I received a message from my good friend Kathy, owner of It’s My Party. Kathy has been incredibly supportive throughout my treatment and wanted me to meet a local hairdresser by the name of Gabriele Bauer, owner of Gabriele Coiffeur. Gaby (as she prefers to be called), a fellow cancer survivor, decided to use her talent and salon to help other cancer sufferers in their time of need. Gaby shared with me that one of the most traumatic things about her cancer journey was losing her hair. This motivated her to offer to people like myself the opportunity to visit her salon, select a wig, which she then fits and styles for you. She does this for you without cost and with the most giving heart.
I asked my friend Amy Seidman (a fellow survivor) to drive me there one afternoon as the egg head look is not one, I cherish. I had sent Gaby a picture of myself a few months prior to starting treatment and she had selected a couple of suitable wigs for me to try on. I left her salon with hair and my head held high for the first time in months. Her parting words to me were to pay it forward and tell others in need. These are the kind of people that make the world a better place and I am so honored to have met and been inspired by such and incredible individual. My goal since being diagnosed has always been to raise awareness and funds in the pursuit of cures. Gaby reminded me of the importance of paying good deeds forward. Her commitment to helping others certainly motivated me to further drive the fundraising needle.
In recent months I have found myself surrounded by some incredible women who are equally dedicated to this cause. The ambassadors of ResearcHERS are tireless in their efforts. After speaking to Linda Spielman (from America Cancer Society) a fellow Brit, cancer survivor and all-round woman warrior, we gathered at Olivia’s home for an elegant garden party to plan another fundraiser. The selfless dedication of this incredible group of women is inspirational and uplifting.
The event "When the Stars Align" will be hosted in collaboration with the American Cancer Society and promises to be the best yet. I cannot wait to share the photos and video of this spectacular event and I am certain the evening will raise more needed funds for the American Cancer Society.
Wednesday, March 31 arrived - the day to mark the end of my treatment. Across the pond in the UK, in honor of the day, my brother Blake and his beautiful wife Carmen were preparing to shave their heads. Oakley College, where they both work, allowed them to host a fundraiser "Brave the Shave" - attended by 40 of the faculty. Carmen and Blake sat side-by-side and at the same moment as my last treatment, started. They shaved their heads to honor my achievement and help raise funds for research. Carmen’s bravery really inspired me, and I had tears of joy rolling down my face as I watched the event on Facebook live. Thank you to everyone who supported them with donations.
I guess many patients go through the end of treatment without a hint of emotional distress. But ending this treatment was an emotional “pothole” for me. The Chemotherapy Unit is filled with a group of incredible people and since starting my treatment on December 16 has been my weekly Wednesday home. Most of my treatments have been administered by Tenesha and Sherolyn. These two women are lifelong friends, and I will never have enough words of gratitude to thank them sufficiently for their advice, friendship, and support. Sherolyn was scheduled off for my last treatment but still sent me messages of love and support which lifted my spirits and determination. Tenesha saved me my favorite corner unit for my last treatment, and I should have been entirely jubilant. Even though I recognized that this was an incredible milestone in my cancer journey I also felt distressed. Feeling distressed was completely at odds with what I thought I would feel. No more chemo means...no more chemo. The sheer nastiness of the medicine must prove how incredibly powerful it is, and now that protection has been stripped away; the “what-ifs” were haunting me. As I chatted with a fellow cancer warrior, she shared her journey with me and explained that she has been on weekly Chemotherapy for two years and it was keeping her alive. She hopes that the chemotherapy keeps working and that her oncologist does not make the decision to stop treatment because there is no hope past these weekly treatments.
The distress I was feeling was interrupted by three incredible women at the window looking in at me. Tenesha had left the ward and found Melanie and Allison outside and delivered them safely to my window, so they could cheer me on. As I sat there, wearing a special top that Melanie’s incredible 10-year-old daughter Elle (creator of Sugar Boogie) had made for me, and opening a special gift from Kendra Scott (which Melanie and Allison delivered), I felt so blessed by the support that everyone has given me thus far.
As Tenesha started to administer syringe three (my last) of the Red Devil, and it made its way through my veins and into my body, I reminded myself that the mind and positive thought has the power to change the outcome. Even though I felt a degree of guilt as I rang the bell to mark the end of my chemotherapy journey (as many in the ward will never get to ring the bell), I reminded myself that I had made it through a hard 18 weeks and this milestone was my victory and one to be celebrated.
The next chapter in my journey is radiation therapy. Before this treatment commences, I will have my simulation appointment, which is scheduled for next week. I will then undergo daily treatments for six weeks and I will once again ring that bell with pride and renewed determination.
To learn more about and support life-saving cancer research visit Zoe's ResearcHERS ambassador page, visit http://main.acsevents.org/goto/ZoeLanham