Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cancelled on Account of Drool

As days and weeks go by, I discover that this becomes a humbling experience for me.  Chemo is arduous, but at times a meditative experience. I may have it easier than some, but certainly harder than others.  At first I am thinking, if you have Stage One or Stage Two, don't even talk to me about it.  I feel an odd sense of self righteousness about it.   I yell at Cancer Center of America commercials. Stage Two breast cancer?  Don't whine about it, damn it.  But then as I email and tweet and post on Facebook about cancer and chemo, I have people come up to me.  Either they tweet at me or they direct message me.  Husbands confess to me that their wives have breast cancer.  A long distance friend who I don't email often tells me his wife has a cancer blog and is going through all of this a second time.  She is writing a blog which I have only visited once.  I need to email him again, I keep telling myself.  I feel like a lousy bum.  I get mad at people who do not keep up with me as I would like.  I really ought to practice what I kvetch about. Kvetch being the more legitimate term because I grouse in private more often than not as opposed to being a better friend.  I like to think I am a good listener and a good friend but having cancer has made me realize how often I have gone through life as a self centered jerk.  I am no different from many others who make things all about themselves.

Shortly after my fourth round of chemo, I am on Twitter reading and reacting to the unsettling news of Robin Williams' suicide. I end up throwing up four times.  Just the day before I had been in such a state that I am still ashamed.  I also have a tiny bit of understanding of how he must have felt. Emphasis on tiny bit since I would not presume any greater understanding than that.  Just a general sense, really, as I have had suicidal ideation since I was eleven and three quarters.  And, as I grow older the feelings translate to shame and a sense of uselessness.  I feel as if now as for years now I have let down friends and family.  I am admittedly my worst critic. I hate feeling as if I have to rely on other people especially my husband.  When I feel well enough to go grocery shopping, I am just about thrilled to pieces.

I place a brave face on what I am going through.  When I say that Stage Four people are my new heroes, I am not exaggerating.  I am also not exaggerating when I say how this is far more arduous than it is scary.  It's not the cancer that has brought me to my knees. It's the chemotherapy.  It's the constant fear, "please don''t let me throw up again." It's the fear that this will happen to someone I love or otherwise care about and there's not going to be a damned thing I can do about it.  All I can ask of any of you is please take care of yourself.  If, worse case scenario, you are diagnosed with cancer, please catch it soon enough.  I beg of you, be the biggest hypochondriac if you have to be.  Don't make the same mistake I did and assume this will happen to someone else.  Don't do like my BFF Sue did and ignore all symptoms until it is much too late.  Now, granted, in my defense, my form of breast cancer is very aggressive.  I take a small consolation that I only had Stage Three.  I consider it a small miracle that I did not end up with Stage Four.  I marvel at that daily.  I will always feel grateful that it wasn't worse.

As I engage with people in the waiting room, I start to realize how, yes, lucky I really am.  I am not 78 and struggling with cancer of lung fluid.  I am not undergoing treatment for breast cancer for the second time in twenty-five years.  If I am lucky I will not have to endure this ever again.  I email back a terse but I hope humorous reply to a friend of ours who tells me how courageous I am being.  I worry now that my two word response was a little too terse.  "Beats dying," I tell him.  That is truly my attitude, yet I do wish now I had been tactful about it.  Perhaps I will find a way to email him.

Cancer, I am convinced, has brought out the best and the worst in me.  One moment I am profoundly grateful and the next moment I am profoundly angry and resentful.  I am relieved to find out that the steroids I have to take to prevent side effects, surprise, surprise, produces side effects.  I am by nature an anxious person, and this drug heightens that.  Gives me an excuse for behaving badly, I suppose, but only to a certain extent.  Also explains why this I described this as PMS on steroids.  I don't think I ever felt so out of control in my entire life.  Now, granted, I had times when I felt homicidal during menopause, but this makes menopause feel like a picnic.  Or perhaps I am simply more aware.

Round five causes me to enter a kind of altered state.  I am aware of how strange I am being, yet I cannot stop it.  I find out later this is the result of an anti-nausea drug, compazine.  I am experiencing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and tremendous anxiety.  I am walking funny.  I have my hands in front of me, as if I could catch myself.  My right foot raises as if I am going to squash a bug.  Makes me think of John Cleese's silly walks, except I am not trying to be funny.

Both chemo nurses look alarmed.  "You don't look right," the one nurse said.  It was clear that there  was something wrong.  I couldn't stop drooling. They were afraid I was going to fall.  I couldn't blame them.  The chemo nurse told me all my blood work was good, but because of what else was going on with me they had to cancel round six of chemo.  I was instructed to return the following week.  Round six of chemo never happens.  The oncologist decides it's better to just move on to herceptin, the drug I will now be on for a year.

I am out of control.  I cannot stop moving.  At bedtime I move from chair to bed and back again.  I sleep in my chair, as I am unable to figure out how to actually get into bed.  I start to, but the positioning doesn't seem right.  This goes on for days until I fall once or twice in the middle of the night.  A friend of my sister in-law's has moved in with us.  She catches me.  I find out later that she was so worried about me that she is also bereft of sleep.

We move my bed to a corner of the living room.  I wake up realizing I have defecated myself.   Housemate, understandably irritable, helps me clean myself.  She explains that this happened because I really hadn't slept in three nights.  That had been the deepest sleep I had had in quite some time.

I am sitting in a wheelchair in the surgeon's  waiting room.  I feel compelled to move from wheelchair to chair and back again.  My husband keeps asking me where  I am going.  I repeat the pattern in the surgeon's exam room, too.  The surgeon and my husband are talking to one another as if it's Old Home Week. The  surgeon is South Side Irish and my husband might have some southsiders in his extended family.  Somewhere in there we discuss my double mastectomy.

The following day I am supposed to meet with the plastic surgeon.  Instead I insist on going to the ER.  Housemate comes with us.  I have a wheelchair again, but I insist on pushing it around.

When I finally ushered into the  ER, I, much to my housemate's chagrin, decide to lie on the floor.  She says I slept for about twenty minutes.  That's probably the longest I was still in days.  I am placed in a gurney.  I am begging to be hospitalized.  I am given benadryl and  then an anti-anxiety drug.  When it's clear that the drugs have the hoped for effect, they talk about sending me home.  The nurse spends extra time with me to convince me that this will really be OK.  She holds one hand.  My husband holds the other.   I feel loved and secure.  I go home.

As days go by, I am starting to be convinced I will be OK.   The anti-anxiety drug helps me sleep.  I am still not particularly useful, but at least I know I am ready for the double mastectomy.


  1. Whew! Glad you have help and support.

    Not much I can do but continue to wish you a full recovery after all the effort.


  2. Thanks, Roy. I hope never to experience anything like that again.