Things I Gave to Cancer
Starting with my second chemo treatment, every time I woke up it felt like someone had been yanking my hair for all they were worth. Every time I woke up, it felt like that invisible person had moved to another section of hair and pulled (usually harder). When I tell my chemo buddy about this side effect, she says, “Oh yes, in a few days you’re going to start losing your hair.” Her prediction proves true. I shed more in the next week than my Husky did with three coats of hair in an Oklahoma summer.
I’ve always had a lot of hair. I always hated how unruly it could be. People have complimented me on my thick head of hair all my life, while I loved to complain that it had a mind of its own. Now I miss it more than ever, and I haven’t even lost it yet.
What I hate worse than the bald? The weeks and weeks and weeks of gross stubble as it slowly grows back in.
My Love of Coffee:
Since 2004, driving past a Starbucks, that strong coffee smell that poured out around the store was enough to lure me in as surely as a master fisherman pulling in a reluctant trout. Coffee was my lifeblood. I loved my Lattes and my sugar free Hazelnut, java chip frappacinos. At my worst, I could have 3 or 4 a day.
A Starbucks sits on the corner of the major intersection closest to my house, and the first time I pass it after my first chemo, the smell makes me want to hurl. Literally.
I’ve often said I can put up with any kind of physical illness, except nausea and vomiting. Queasiness ensures I’ll conclude life is not worth living in double time. Within 24 hours of my first chemo treatment I give up coffee.
Once I know for sure that the smell of coffee is a trigger to throwing up (almost instantly), I assume I can simply switch my caffeine source to Diet Pepsi which I also love.
Not so much.
The first one I try to drink makes me want to gag. I, however, come from folks who homesteaded in the last land run in Oklahoma, people who bought, and paid for land in the middle of the SW dust bowl in the middle of the depression. My grandmother could squeeze a penny 16 ways to Sunday and still have money left over.
By golly, when I pay 1.79 for a Diet Pepsi, I am going to drink it. So I do. It takes over half an hour. I hurt with every sip. It does stay down, but it does not go down easy. I feel miserable with all that carbonation sitting in my stomach. I feel even worse as it works its way through my system. Two days after my first chemo treatment, I give up Diet Pepsi.
My Addiction to Caffeine:
Within 48 hours of my first chemo, I am caffeine free. Good News/Bad News: I’m in such pain from the chemo, that in the entire first week of my 7 day caffeine withdrawal migraine, I actually only feel the migraine for about 3 hours, none of them consecutive. This first week is hell. I have no other word for it.
In my second week after my first chemo treatment, believing the worst is behind me, I go to one of my favorite casual restaurants and order a burger. It comes with A1 sauce on it and I’ve discovered another no, no. I manage to eat around the sauce for the smell of it tells me I won’t choke it down.
I pay for the meal and then route by the bathroom to toss up the meal I just spent 10 dollars on. It seemed a better choice than letting the patrons watching me upchuck the meal in the parking lot (not to manage casual passers by making a note to self to never try that restaurant).
Olives and Lettuce:
I had my first chemo on November 11, 2016. On Monday, November 21, 2016, my office had its Thanksgiving lunch. I make the healthiest choices I can and enjoy my meal because I know now that I am not cooking for the holiday. My plate is heavy on salads. I regret those choices almost immediately. I am not well. The olives and lettuce passes through me completely undigested. I won’t touch olives again for 6 months. The pain caused by my experience with lettuce ensures that now, more than 2 months after my last chemo, I still can’t bring myself to try lettuce. Soon. Hopefully.
I have been diabetic since 1998. Walking, swimming, these are the ways I plod through my days to keep my blood sugar under control. Not anymore. Can’t be more than a minute from a bathroom, and me in a bathing suit in a pool where I have to race on wet tile down two halls to the stall and not make it because Taxotere weeks give me no warning? Yea that ain’t happening. I can’t walk from my apartment to the truck drive one and a half blocks to the dog park, walk from the truck to the park and return and be assured that I will make it.
Once I didn’t make it out of the gate of the dog park. Thank God it was dusk, and my pants were brown, but the Weimars knew exactly what I had done. They both looked at me and said louder than words: We went out in the middle of the park, but oh no; the human has to mess in her nest (and truck and sidewalk and house). After each accident I spend the next business day on the phone to my Oncologist’s nurse or the Infusion center nurses figuring out better ways to control the uncontrollable diarrhea that turns out, truly, to be never ending. By some miracle, the only place I don’t mess myself is at work, but several times it is a near miss.
Light Colored Pants:
See entry above. For the obvious reason, I don’t dare risk it. Goodbye tan, white, and light grey pants. Anything not dark brown or black, on a really good day, charcoal grey, is on hold for the 6 months I spend on chemo.
For the same reason I can’t walk or swim, and can barely leave the house, I choose not to travel and don’t even drive the hour and a half home to be with family. Unless I want to pull my own port-a-potty behind me, or sit on the bed pan for the entire trip or…..well you get the idea. Travel is out at least until the chemo effects wear off.
My grandmother was incontinent the last 9 months of her life. My mother is almost completely incontinent now. But Gran was 67 and dying of cancer, and mom is 86. Surely I’m way too young for this shit? Right? No. Early in the chemo a friend texts me this question: Do you have anyone there to help you? I reply, “Do the Weims count?” She assures me they do but says I need someone to help me take care of them. What I don’t need? Witnesses. At least living alone, if I don’t make it the 10 steps to the bathroom, there is only me and the Weims to see, and they ain’t telling. I can, and do more often than I want to admit, clean it up. I have never been more grateful that I live alone.
The one coworker I thought of as a friend stops speaking to me sometime after my second chemo. It might be this would have happened anyway because she adores the new employee who hates me, and apparently both ladies feel like sides need to be drawn. The new employee tells everyone I’m mean to her. Some believe it, and some do not. I am past caring. When someone attacks a person going through the hardest fight of their life, the fight of their life, and then wails to all and sundry how mean that person is to her, I think it says enough about that person’s character that I for one want nothing to do with them. My so-called colleague friend chose to believe a 33-year old woman who bawls at the drop of a hat, but when confronted with hard evidence that her perception isn’t true, claims she “might have been a little off”, that is not a friend.
Some of the other surprises: the friend who was a cancer survivor who repeatedly tells me how much she is there for me. I hear from her about once every two months, and it’s superficial. This reaction surprised me, but did not disappoint me. Her cancer was advanced. She fought and fought hard for her life and nearly died during the surgery. My cancer brought up bad memories for her. We are and will still be friends.
The friends that stood with me through thick and thin: through my mother’s nervous breakdown and resulting legal and living problems; the fights to stay in and graduate from school; through jobs and moves. They stood with me through cancer so while Cancer took some friends. It couldn’t take the real ones.
21 Pounds and Counting:
I tell my friends I’m on the world’s most effective diet: Anything I can stand the smell of, eat, that stays down and doesn’t hurt too much going through and coming out is on the food plan. Ice cream and chocolate manage to stay on the food plan. Coffee, olives, lettuce, corn, and most breads are out. Soups in. Diet Pepsi out. Carrots are in as well as sweet potatoes. Irish potatoes mostly out unless it’s a really good day. Grapes and blueberries and blackberries are okay. Anything citrus – not a chance until a week after surgery. I eat watermelon like it’s crack and I’m addicted. I can’t get enough of it. I want it more than sugar. Or chocolate or ice cream. I hate the way cancer has scrambled my food choices. I hate fritos and haven’t had potato chips in years, but suddenly I crave both and eat them regularly (after swearing off all artificial foods).
My Sense of Health and Well Being:
I have never felt older, or more frail. I can’t help it and I have no answer for it.