Arsenic, Anxiety, and MasterChef
I thought that writing would be a part of my salvation through all of this, yet I haven’t written anything in almost two months. It hasn’t been from lack of trying.
Chemo brain is real, y’all. I couldn’t even remember my Mom’s phone number the other day because I am in such a cloud. I’ve got scattered notes in a variety of places of things that I want to say but can’t effectively string together. I decided to try again today, on the last day of chemotherapy for this round.
After a month break from my first round, I’ve been at it again for the last 28 days straight. In that time I spent over 130 hours in the hospital, had over 372mg of arsenic pumped into me, and ingested approximately a dozen pills a day. That number went up when dealing with headaches and nausea. I currently have wretched dry skin brought on from the chemicals and this climate. Oh, and chemically-induced menopause is also real, I’ve discovered – hot flashes are my new least favourite thing. (I’ve read that it can be temporary or permanent. Even though I am a little young for it to be permanent, PLEASE let it be so. I really do not want to go through this again.)
Besides trips to the hospital everyday, I ventured out in public only three times in the whole month. Within the first week I acquired a cold that sunk my white blood cell count way below normal. I didn’t want to risk it falling further (if it got too low I would have to stop treatment), and so I became almost a total shut-in. To pass the time I binge-watched a few seasons of MasterChef, unable to summon up the brainpower to watch anything requiring an attention span.
In week two, I had a full-blown anxiety attack. My first one ever, right in the hospital during my treatment. I felt overheated, the large leather chemo chair was suddenly unbearably uncomfortable and I burst forth from it. I had an overwhelming desire to run outside but I was tethered. A tube from my arm connected to an IV machine that would weigh me down. It isn’t the first time I’ve looked at that machine with utter contempt and the strongest feeling of entrapment, but this time I let it overcome me. Still standing, I bent over and rested my forehead on the arm rest. I took deep breaths, I tried to slow my heart rate down. Thankfully, my Mom recognized what was going on – she pulled the curtain around my little corner and got me a cold cloth for my head. Finally, I sat back in the chair, draped the cold cloth over my forehead and eyes, and focused solely on my breathing. After many minutes, I opened my eyes and burst into tears; my mom rubbed my hand but also paused to wipe away her own.
And the end of that week, once I got over the halfway mark, the days were still long but seemed to go by a little faster. “This is a difficult protocol,” a nurse said as she unhooked me from the IV machine on day 14, “but it works. It works.”
I know that. I’ve heard that many times and am confident my prognosis will remain positive. But I still always need that reminder.
As this post goes live, I will be back at the hospital, laying on my side and crushing Pete’s hand while the doctor sticks a large needle into my hip to remove a piece of bone. The marrow will be tested to check for the presence of stunted white blood cells that caused all of these problems in the first place. If all goes as it is expected to, there will be few of those asshole cells, if any, and I will be screaming the word “remission!” from the top of any rooftop I can find. (Not literally – let’s be honest – I’ll probably write it in caps lock via a Facebook update while I watch more Masterchef.)
I now have a full month break from chemicals. For the first week, at least, I’ll be taking it slow to again let my body recover. For the rest of the month, I hope to be well enough to actually eat in a restaurant, visit with friends, and pretend that I am a normal healthy human for a little while. Because after this month is over, I’ll have 20 more days of chemo lined up. I’ve learned to not be too optimistic about what those days will be like.
But the hope and expectation is that those days of chemo will be my last.
Several of our dear readers have also gone through cancer and have been so kind to offer encouragement and advice. One even said that experiencing cancer makes life all the more sweet after.
It has to. I am really counting on that.