There is a PART I to this series, and if you have not already scanned the list, you can find it here.
And now, here goes PART II:
(there will also be a PART III)
What does cancer feel like?
>like I’m frozen riding in the car to my very first chemotherapy treatment. This is not happening. It can’t be happening. Please don’t make me go.
>like scream-out-loud pain when the large needle pierces the port that sits inside the skin on my chest and frustration that no one told me I could numb the skin on top of my port with a simple little cream available at Walgreens. I order the cream as soon as I get home from Chemo No. 1.
>like a major science project the way the drugs must enter my body — fluids and pre-meds first to help prevent nausea and allergic reactions, then one chemo drug, then another chemo drug, then a flushing of the line.
>like not much of anything post-first-chemo. The outdoor power walk with my mom once I get home is no different than others I’ve taken pre-cancer.
>like a nervous flutter when my nurse neighbor gives me a shot of Neulasta the day after chemo to help ensure my blood counts don’t drop. But will they drop? And what happens if they do drop? Will I be OK if they drop? How will I know if they drop? My friend gives me a shot the day after each chemo trip, and I get four in all.
>like a terribly tender and sore scalp, as each blond hair on my head weighs a ton and wants desperately to tumble to the floor. I hold it in place with a hair band and a ball cap, and I attend Chemo No. 2 denying that I will need to shave my entire head at the end of the day because the pain will be too great, and the mess in the shower and on my pillow will be too much.
>like a horrible misery as my almost-4-year-old shaves my head, and I begin to look like someone I do not know. “It’s only a haircut, mommy,” he tells me. “You are not going to die.” I hope like mad that he is right.
>like engulfing self-consciousness — I hate my bald head, I don’t want to look at it, and I don’t want anyone else to see it. I cover it with wigs and hats and am only happy when a neighbor tells my sister she can’t believe I have not lost my hair. My cover is a success.
>like a strong community. The chemo infusion room is filled with warmth as patients from all walks of cancer share stories. Misery loves company, and the company makes cancer not so miserable. The guys who sing to me are pretty cool, too. (Click on image to right to view video.)
>like love. My mom and baby niece Jordan sit with me for every chemo treatment, and friends stop by, too. Some bring flowers.
>like my kitchen cabinet is a pharmacy. OMG, all the drugs.
>like I’m getting fatter and fatter. The steroids that prevent allergic reactions to chemo drugs make me bloated and constipated, and the zipper on my favorite Lucky jeans won’t go all the way up. When chemo comes to an end, I will have gained nearly 10 pounds.
>like I’m out of my head. I am incoherent after the fourth chemo dose. I am confused, irritable, and I am not even sure what words are coming from my mouth. I call my oncologist and tell her I don’t feel well. She tells me chemo is tough stuff, and I need more support. Nope, that’s not what I need. I need someone to revive me, because my blood counts are now 700, and they should be between 4,000 and 10,000. I learn this the next morning when I am admitted to the hospital where the doc should have sent me the night before. I am thankful I survived the night at home, and it takes five days in the hospital, a bunch of IV antibiotics, and a blood transfusion to kick-start my weak body.
>like itching and scratching and bumps climbing all over my shoulders and back. I am allergic to the antibiotic cefapime.
>like good news when I learn the results of my genetic test are negative.
>like I am in good hands when I get a new oncologist who is warm and kind and lovely and tells me I do not need the drugs Taxol or Taxotere — the poisons my chemo-is-tough-stuff oncolologist said I needed. I knew I didn’t like her.
>like a repeat performance when I land back in the hospital after another drop in blood counts. Another five days, marked by the possibility that I may have another cancer (false alarm), and I leave after injections of growth hormones launch me back into gear.
>like a small reprieve as chemo ends and I wait for radiation to begin. I now have tattoos — no butterflies or chain links wrapping around my arm, just a dozen tiny, blue pin pricks, and I’m also inked with magic marker all over my chest to aid in the simulation of what’s to come — 30+ days of zapping, five days a week for six weeks.
>like monotony, the drive to and from each radiation session, the undressing, the reclining on a table, the breathing through a tube and holding my breath to move my heart out of the way of danger, the watching as beams of radiation circle and shoot at my body — the routine of it all gets real boring, real fast.
>like guilt because my mom watches my boys every day I report to the place that slowly but surely scorches my skin, and the older boy is not exactly an easy one, and I worry I am asking too much of her — and my husband, who works all day, finds me like a lump when he gets home and must muster up some dinner, or visit me in the hospital, or play with little boys because I have no energy.
>fatigue. I doze off every afternoon at 3:00 p.m., because radiation is tiring. I don’t know why, it just is, and it’s really hard to get off my butt to go to physical therapy for the prevention of lymphedema and to restore range of motion when I just. want. to. sleep.
>like Oh, No, something is wrong with my lungs now, because I’m breathing in through this tube, and I can no longer hold my breath. The smart science people investigate and learn there is just a hole in my tube, not an issue with my lungs.
>like I am a weeping mess. I cry at the mere mention of my cancer, and my doctor recommends therapy and an anti-depressant. I accept, and I spend a year and a half with both.
>like calm. Therapy and Zoloft work. I am much more at ease about my condition, and dirty dishes piling up in the sink don’t bother me as much, either.