Almost daily I receive inquiries from friends and family asking me how I am doing, but whenever I am going through and finish a chemo treatment, those inquiries increase considerably. Those who know me and have read this blog know that chemo is something I often dread, and that it has made me pretty sick at times. I am not alone in this. Unfortunately, I have this experience in common with many people I know. Those of us who have gone, or are going, through chemo share the sentiment that chemo is hell. We also share the sentiment that we are doing it to help defeat the cancer; and thus, the hell is worth it if it works. From my personal experience, it is amazing to me the number of people I know who keep track of the weeks I will be having chemo. Having learned that I am now on an every three week regimen, I receive messages the week chemo is scheduled that people are thinking of me, they hope the chemo is going okay and that I feel fine, and asking if I need anything or they can do anything for me. My friend Kim also sends me adorable photos of her new puppy with her grown dog, which make me smile. While I certainly know my schedule and make plans based on whether the week is a chemo week or an off week, I am touched that so many people also keep track of the weeks I am scheduled to have chemo.
I just finished the second course of the new chemo I am taking. Based on those two courses of chemo, there appears to be a pattern to how it affects me. The day of the chemo, which in this round is a Wednesday, every three weeks, I am given Benadryl by injection. It knocks me out for the chemo. Within about five to ten minutes of the injection I cannot keep my eyes open. Not only did I sleep during chemo, I dozed in the car ride home and, after I arrived home and had lunch, I slept until mid afternoon. That is a blessing, and an escape from the effects. I never knew Benadryl was such a powerful drug.
On the day after the chemo, I felt fine and a bit wired up with energy. This is similar to my experience after the first round. I even met a friend for lunch that day. I should have guessed why I felt fine the day following chemo but it did not occur to me, so I asked the nurse why I felt so good. Her answer – I am pumped with steroids on Wednesday and am still feeling the effects of them the next day. The steroids give me energy and mask the side effects. Once she said it, it made sense to me. I feel a bit wired up that day, which is something I have felt when put on steroids a couple of times in the past by my doctor. I also feel a crash by the end of the day, with a slight headache and exhaustion setting in, along with some queasiness.
Then, it was Friday. That was a rough day. This was true the first time I had this chemo as well. In the early morning I felt okay, not great, but okay. By late morning full blown nausea started coming on and that continued all day. By the time Alan came home from work last Friday, I was scrunched up in the corner of the couch in the library, looking and feeling miserable. I had to force myself to have peanut butter on an English muffin for lunch. I had to force myself to have scrambled eggs on a toasted muffin for dinner. I could not wait to go to bed, go to sleep and escape the misery. I had to remind myself it was one day feeling like that instead of three days of constant nausea. That is a great improvement over my last chemo. Plus, I was not getting the side effects from oxyplatinum, which was one of the drugs I was given in my first chemo. Those included a metallic taste in my mouth, a jaw that hurt every time I started to chew, extreme sensitivity to cold, leg cramps, loss of peripheral vision for a couple of days when I stood up, and other lovely effects. Those are absent. Sadly, I have a wedding I planned to attend the Friday after my next chemo. Although I am playing it by ear, if I feel the way I did the last two times on the Friday after chemo, I could not leave the house, let alone go to a wedding.
Saturday and Sunday I was exhausted and had break through moments of queasiness, but much of those days I was fine. Saturday I was back at yoga at Karma Yoga and Sunday I was at Matthew’s at Ashtanga Michigan doing most of the practice.
Now I have almost 2 1/2 weeks until my next chemo. That is the best change from my last chemo, along with not having to be on the chemo pump for three days. My next scan in two weeks will let me know if this chemo is working. I certainly hope so. I like this protocol a lot more than the last one. As an added bonus, I have not lost the little hair that grew back during my chemo break earlier this year.
How am I doing is a question that goes beyond the physical. Physically, I woke up the Monday after chemo feeling as if I had turned the corner. I was strong. Yoga felt easy, and I know I could have done more. I ran around all day without feeling tired. Over the next two weeks off, I can look forward to feeling stronger each day. In fact, I went to yoga the last two days, have dinner plans and girls’ nights out the next two nights, have my son coming over Friday and then dinner with Alan and I and him, and have dinner plans on Saturday. I am ready physically for all of those plans. Emotionally, I am always up and down around chemo time. In the back of my mind, I worry about the chemo and whether it is working. Lately, around the time I have chemo I seem to run into story after story about cancer that reminds me of the uphill battle I face. The latest – on Sunday in the New York Times – was a story about mothers whose cancer had metastasized (which, of course, is true of me) and their daughters who shopped and tried on wedding dresses so that the mother could have the experience of seeing her daughter in a wedding dress. In one case, the daughter was a 15 year old. In most cases, the mothers had already died by the time the story was written. The story brought me near to tears thinking of my family. This does not mean that I must see my daughter in a wedding dress to be fulfilled. Instead, I want to be at the weddings, if they have them, of Sara and Alex, I want to walk Sara down the aisle with her father if that is what she does, to be there when Sara and Alex buy their first houses, to be there when my grandchildren are born and to help my kids with that experience, and to be with Alan, growing old together. I want to celebrate birthdays, holidays, weddings and births and all that life has to offer with my family and friends for many years to come.
The New York Times story was not the story to read on Mother’s Day. It certainly smacked me in the face, again, that so many people have had hopes and dreams to survive cancer but have not. What I felt after reading the story is akin to nostalgia for a past where I simply assumed that because I was healthy, strong, took care of myself, ate well, did yoga, and had a good family history, I would be around for a long time. I am strong. I am healthy, and I am not sick. Instead, I am battling rogue cells and I intend to win. As Sara wrote in the card she gave me that day “This past year has proven how tough and how loved you are. I know there will be many more years to celebrate that!” Exactly.