Fucking cancer – the verb form, not the adjective intensifier – takes a lot out of a girl.
To be more specific, undergoing chemotherapy – one really good and proven way to fuck over many kinds of cancer – can be quite difficult.
Some of those who have ridden the chemo train, either personally or alongside someone they love, may have shaken their heads ruefully upon reading my upbeat account of how the first and second days immediately following the first two chemo sessions weren’t so bad. They may have been thinking, “‘just you wait, you poor girl…that train is going to hit”.
Well, for those of you who were thinking this, you were right. It did hit.
To recap: I had my first chemotherapy treatment, intraveneously, last Thursday. I then had my second chemotherapy treatment, via the interperineal port in my abdomen, last Friday. The IP infusion was the big daddy of treatments and took all day. What I know now but didn’t know then is that only about four out of every ten patients are physically able to complete six cycles of IP chemo infusion….sometimes the body just won’t cooperate. It’s heavy duty shit, and it takes a heavy toll.
The train hit on Monday, Day 5 of treatment, and didn’t leave until Wednesday. It wasn’t a high speed rail, mind you, like the Eurostar or that crazy train in China that goes 300 miles per hour. Fortunately, it was more like the tame old (I said tame, not lame) Opryland Railroad that leisurely circled the famed theme park back in the day. (Yes, I am proud to say I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. And I’ve just shown my age.) But I was still slowed and a more than a little bit humbled by the effects of the treatment.
I’ll spare the details, but suffice it to say that I wasn’t up to doing much other than taking careful care of our little one and finally learning what all of the hype was about Downton Abbey. I never got sick, but I did feel like I had the flu, and was very dizzy and weak at times. It made me realize that I’ll likely need to have help on the “down” days following treatment, if only to make sure I don’t pass out and drop our girl on her head. And we’re very blessed to already have options for such help in the cue.
Cut to yesterday, Wednesday, Day 7. I was feeling pretty good by comparison. I was able to be productive, and my husband and I were actually able to have our first night out with (or without) the baby since her birth. We had dinner at one of our favorite little local places with two of our favorite people in the world, and it was quite nice. Normal, even. (And the Magpie kicked ass at being out in public, by the way….one would have thought she had been doing it for ages.)
I felt so good, in fact, in the wake of my relatively normal day and evening, that I started to get that old dread feeling in my stomach around midnight last night…the pit. At first I thought I was starting to feel sick, as though I might have overdone it; then I realized that what I was feeling was anxiety. I was just starting to feel good. I didn’t want to go back today, Day 8, and have more IP chemotherapy. I didn’t want to feel like shit again; to be non-productive; to need help.
This is where that old phrase “be careful what you wish for” comes into play.
Long story short – medical details can be so tedious – due to a (hopefully short-lived) complication relating to the prior IP treatment I received, I was not able to have my third session of chemotherapy today to complete my first cycle. And I – the girl who wasn’t looking forward to chemo – was not happy. I was pissed. At my body, mostly, because it was no one’s fault. And as my oncologist pointed out, I am not my cancer. I am a person. And every person is different. Every person reacts differently to treatment. And they are treating me, not my cancer.
That’s all well and good, but, dammit, I did not want to wait another two weeks to try again. I did not want to have to have a seventh round tacked on to the end of my treatment, thereby extending my 18 weeks to 21 weeks (assuming my body can withstand it). I wanted to stick with the original plan, but my body just wasn’t cooperating.
This reminded me of two things. First, my wise younger brother lovingly pointing out to me a few weeks ago my penchant for setting expectations. And we’ve seen where that has gotten me in the past.
Second, it reminded me of a quote by author Marie Stilkind:
“Today I know that I cannot control the ocean tides. I can only go with the flow. When I struggle and try to organize the Atlantic to my specifications, I sink. If I flail and thrash and growl and grumble, I go under. But if I let go and float, I am borne aloft”.
I know this. I’ve been given this lesson countless times in the past. I own the t-shirt (but apparently keep misplacing it).
So, here’s yet another reminder. The best way to make the universe laugh is to make plans. And all I can do is remain determined to follow the best medical advice I am given; to stay strong so that I can see this motherfucker through; and to take it one damn day at a time in the meantime.
And there’s still plenty of silver lining. I had the pure joy of hearing our daughter laugh out loud in her sleep this week. And she’s going to have a killer laugh, I can tell. A dear friend in London, who actually had a darling baby boy the same day we had our darling baby girl, recently experienced the same phenomenon, and said that she believed she then knew how angels must sound. She wasn’t kidding.
And my concern about our child and animals not wanting to be around me once I had been filled with toxic chemicals? Unwarranted. They are as sweet and snuggly and attentive as ever, probably even more so now. (When our Australian Shepherd can be pried away from our baby, that is…he has apparently imprinted on her like some werewolf in the Eclipse series….)
However, perhaps the most gratifying news of the week stemmed from a conversation I had with my obstetrician…my long-time physician who saw me through my high risk pregnancy and delivered our little girl 41 days ago. I contacted her to let her know how very grateful I was that the cancer wasn’t discovered at any point during the pregnancy, which allowed us to fully enjoy the experience and not have to make any difficult decisions. I also wanted her to know how glad I was that we did not receive the lab results until five days after our baby was born, giving us five days of bliss during which we were oblivious of the cancer that had invaded my body.
During our conversation, she told me that she had gone back and looked at the numerous ultrasounds that had been taken during the pregnancy and confirmed that there was no sign of the cancer. She also told me that there was no good explanation for how I was able to get pregnant and carry a healthy, perfect baby to term, given the extent of the cancer. By the time Miss Magnolia Grace came along, both Fallopian tubes were totally shot, consumed with cancer, and it had metastasized to both ovaries, the uterus and beyond. Yet here she is, laying across my lap as I type these words. This little girl was clearly meant to be here with us.
So, again, onward. Today was a minor setback, but I’ve come to believe that there are no accidents. I am right where I am supposed to be. And I’m going to enjoy the hell out of my husband, daughter and life every day that I can….especially during this two-week hiatus from treatment.
Love and gratitude,