Surprisingly, I have not yet turned into a hairless zombie. Well, at least not completely.
Chemo sucks. There is no way to dress that up and make it pretty. It’s a series of strange pains that you would never know a human body could go through and no matter how the world of medicine prepared me for symptoms and side effects, there’s nothing quite like experiencing it for myself. And then still there are no words for it. Plus, add on the mental mind bomb of will-this-work-can-this-work-i-hope-this-works-gee-i’d-really-like-to-live.
To give you an in depth look from the beginning–because really, friends, how many people have yet to give you the close up view of self-poison for survival?–let’s start with all the pre-chemo drugs.
My appointment for round 1 was on Monday (yes, I will have an extreme case of the Mondays for the next few months!) and I showed up with my wonderful boyfriend for support. I had gone in the Saturday before to make sure my red blood cells were up, happy and ready for destruction (more needle poking, more vein missing but they did finally extract my blood).
Step 1: Lidocaine my port site so we can shove a giant needle in and put more tape on the area (you’d be surprised how much adhesive I find all over my body days after surgeries and tests… I’ve even found EKG stickers on my back, these ones are about an inch big with a metal button in the middle).
I just look away during all of this, the ceiling tiles are real nice right about now. I am getting used to being poked and hooked up; the nurses are really nice in the chemo center so it goes pretty quick.
Step 2: Anti-nausea drugs times 3. Five pills by mouth and 30 minutes of an IV bag o’ anti-puke. They sure are serious about this nausea thing! And after the fact, I wish they’d be as serious about the mental slowness and general cloud I feel from all the drugs cause that part is what really messes me up.
Step 3: Chemo. Two giant needles of a bright red Adriamycin, appropriately colored as it will slap my heart around and give it a run for its 28 year old money. I was peeing red before I even left the chemo center that day. I was proud to get that stuff OUT but sadly, it was probably just the dye that was coming out and not the actual evil chemicals. As the drug went in, it was expected that I would taste metal so I ate ice chips. But I did not taste metal! Yay, thanks, taste buds, for hangin’ in there; still smelling doggie farts and all.
I didn’t feel any different. The only thought I had that let me know I was on chemo now was: are we really doing this? Yup, guess we’re really doing this. Oh, and the total inner meltdown I was experiencing while in the chair as I thought about this just being the beginning of a very challenging year to come and the ever-present scrolling thought of why why why why why why why why why why why why that has been on repeat since March. I was a total freaked out mess on the inside and a cool cucumber on the outside; why hello, hermit crab. I could be a secret agent, I’m that good. Plus, what’s the point in freaking out externally when I’ve made my decisions; let’s just do this, get it over with ASAP and move on.
The drugs were now floating freely around my body. I imagined them like tiny Swiffer Sweepers circulating my body and shuffling the cancer cells out. I’ve heard visualization techniques are supposed to be nice for the over-active minded. And I’m willing to try anything. So Swiffer away, drugs.
The next drug, Cytoxan, was pushed over 30 minutes and I was told to let them know if my nose tingled and/or I got a headache. And if I didn’t let them know it would just get worse.
It tingled. I got a headache. But it was towards the end of the bag. That just means that next time they will push it over an hour to minimize those side effects. Does that mean it’s working? Sure, sounds good.
Sean picked up all my take-home drugs: two bottles of anti-nausea and 7 days worth of self-administered shots (though, he did do the practice one for me since I just couldn’t do it and he did well) to boost my immune system. I just think every part of chemo is kinda sucky and gross. Shots at home? Sucky. Anti-nausea? Gross.
The rest of the day was fine. I took anti-nausea meds twice a day for a few days. Tuesday afternoon I felt like I was going to lose my cookies but luckily I fell asleep instead. I ate when I could, small meals constantly. When I started to feel a little nauseous, I ate. It worked. I might hate ginger ale already though; apple juice works pretty well.
The hardest part came on Saturday and Sunday, the days when my immune system us supposed to start to plummet. Those days I just felt exhausted. And then I was frustrated because intellectually I had no good reason to be exhausted, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t climb a mountain and snorkel all day or work a 50 hour week. I just woke up, cooked some bacon and almost passed out. I’m 28! What the hell. Fuck you chemo. I hate that this is going to continue for a year, that next Monday I have to do it all over again.
I struggle with hating that I have to do this and trying to accept it so I can just get through it and be done with it. And do it well. Chemo kills my motivation. But worse. My motivation is there but it’s out of reach; I can’t have it. I just stare at it and ask it to wait. I’m a doer. But now I have to be a doer of little things. Like drinking a glass of water this morning. Booooring! I’d really like to go snorkeling and go back to work, back to making money and being busy, trekking all over Maui with a cute puppy dog and man-friend. But instead I’m…. sitting.
It will be most difficult for me, in all of this, to listen to my body and be OK with doing what it wants. Those inner demons are the little shits that taunt me to do more when I just can’t do it. Hell, I get winded standing sometimes! Granted, it’s summer in Kihei, Hawaii at 11am… it’s hot. Even the dog is passed out.
My hair is still present and in tact but the nurses and doctors say is takes two to five weeks for hair loss and I’m only at one week. My scalp did tingle a little on injection day and since and it has been itchy. We’ll cross that bridge when we need to. It is the look of chemo, to arrive on the threshold of beating back cancer when the hair is falling out and gone. We’ll see how I feel on that in a few weeks.
“Always remember to slow down in life; live, breathe and learn; take a look around you whenever you have time and never forget everything and every person that has the least place within your heart.”