There’s a scene in one of my all-time favorite films, “The Princess Bride” (which is also one of my husband’s favorite films….we bonded over quoting lines from it in the early days of our flirtation), in which Vizzini, the Sicilian, and Westley (disguised as the Dread Pirate Roberts) engage in a Battle of Wits, where each tries to manipulate the other into drinking wine poisoned with deadly iocane powder.
Vizzini: “You’ve heard of Plato? Aristotle? Socrates?”
Given that the film was released in theaters some 25 years ago, I don’t think it’s a spoiler at this point to say that Westley wins the battle, due to the fact that he had deliberately built up a tolerance for iocane powder. However, upon first viewing of the film, the audience doesn’t know which of the two participants has consumed the poisoned wine or how it will affect the loser.
I feel a little like that today.
I spent five hours today being infused with poison, the first of 18 such sessions. Today one chemotherapy drug (Paclitaxel a/k/a Taxol) was administered through an IV injectin in my arm. Tomorrow, a different drug (Cisplatin) will be administered through an IP port directly into my abdomen. I go back again next Thursday for Day Three of the first of six three-session cycles. During each of the 18 sessions, along with the chemo drugs, I will simultaneously be given several different anti-nausea meds. These are apparently pretty successful in staving off many of the physical side effects, such that it could be as many as 36 hours after the first session in each cycle before I start to feel any significant effects.
Today is Thursday. It will likely be this Saturday before I know how well – or how poorly – my body reacts to chemotherapy in terms of side effects. My oncologist tells me that I’ll likely be very tired, with achy muscles, and may feel as though I have the flu. I may also feel as though I’ve been hit by a truck.
In the meantime, we’re in “wait and see” mode, a feeling which can be quite unnerving.
Right now, however, I’m not feeling half bad. I spent the better part of the day at the hospital, literally sleeping through the administering of the cancer-killing drugs, then came home to spend time with sweet Magnolia Grace and all of our animals. I was pleased and relieved to find that they were all as glad to see me as always, and I was greeted with lots of kissing and nuzzling. This made me very happy.
Side bar: One of my fears, you see, is that as I become more toxic with repeated infusions of poison, our dogs and cats and possibly even our baby will be turned off by the change in me and not want to be around me. I’ve heard that that can happen (which is reason #1,374 why one should never, ever, ever read cancer message boards).
In the past few days leading up to today – Chemo Day One – I found myself feeling more and more nervous about the unknown…what the process would be like, how my body would react, and how this would affect my life. Because I really like my life, our little family routine, and do not want it to change. Change is something I’ve always had trouble embracing.
The anxiety over the chemotherapy process got so bad that it was making it difficult for me to breathe, relax or be present. So, after determining that I wasn’t experiencing any heart or lung problems, my primary care physician prescribed for me a low dose of an anti-anxiety medicine to take as needed. This being my first go-round with prescription anti-anxiety meds (which, for a 44-year old woman who has lived – to quote a dear friend and the godfather of our child – quite a “rangy” life, is somewhat of a miracle in and of itself), all I can say is thank the pharmaceutical gods for Xanax.
I digress. Back to change. Even though I’ve historically had trouble embracing change, I have to say that change has, almost without exception, ultimately been beneficial to me. In fact, change is what made me decide to take proactive steps toward breaking unhealthy patterns and life choices. Change is what led me into the healthiest, most transparent relationship of my lifetime. Change is what led me to decide to start a family later in life. Change is what led me to freedom and happiness. And I don’t want something like cancer to fuck up all of that for me now. So my only choice is to embrace this treatment and the change it brings with it.
So far it seems that this treatment may very well have some side benefits in store for me beyond the obvious ultimate benefit – eradicating my body of cancer. Such as: letting go of attachment to outcome; letting go of the desire to control; being overly focused on outward appearance; endeavoring to control other’s perceptions of me; making unhealthy choices out of laziness; taking my health and family and loved ones for granted….the list goes on.
This is what is known in some circles as AFGO. Another Fucking Growth Opportunity. And this one is a doozy. A motherfucking doozy. (P.S. If cussing offends you, you might not want to follow this blog. I come by it naturally and cancer seems to have enhanced the tendency. If you or a loved one has had cancer, you know what I mean.)
I have no choice at this point but to embrace this bundle of growth opportunities; to put myself in the hands of the experts and medical science (with some holistic stuff intermingled therein for good measure); to start making healthier choices; to live in and appreciate each day; to keep my head where my feet are; to learn to accept help; and to breathe….deep, lung-filling breaths…as long as I have the ability to do so.
And even though the coming days (and weeks and months) may be rough, I feel better tonight than I did last night. Because I now know much more what to expect. And I made it through the first day. Waves of support and well wishes surrounded me today as well, creating a big, fat cushion of comfort. To say that it made the day more bearable would be an understatement. (And that half tab of Xanax didn’t hurt either.)
So, I wait. Wait to see what happens next. And enjoy the good stuff along the way.
Love and gratitude,