Arsenic, Anxiety, and MasterChef

Arsenic, Anxiety, and MasterChef

February 6, 2017

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.

Much love,



  1. So sorry to read of your pain. While I read your words the empathy I feel is real, because your words bring back the horrible memories that we share being hooked up to a chemo drip. I’m in year 3 of survivorship. From now on your life will evolve into (years since cancer). You will be changed but you will survive. Go ahead & cry, you have the right too, this is horrible and write if you can. I thought I would keep a journal but I didn’t.

  2. I know it’s just a detail, but have you tried Weleda’s Skin Food for your skin? I haven’t had to deal with chemo, but this stuff does wonders protecting skin from winter. Best wishes, and bring on the CAPS. =)

  3. It’s a scary ride you are on right now… but I promise, one day you will look back and won’t believe what you went through and that you got past it. Every year you will feel stronger and more confident with your body. “Life does seem sweeter”…I’m 16 years out of my diagnosis, and every year is a big F-you to the big C. I’m rooting for you! You two will be back on the road before you know it!

  4. I’ll be thinking of you constantly while you wait for your results. The fact that you continue to share your story through all of this shows such strength, and I know so many others will gather courage through your story. Having suffered through anxiety attacks myself I know they are no picnic (one even sent me to the ER), and your brain can wreak havoc, especially when you’re already at a low point. Hang in there and know how many of us are pulling for you to be back on your feet asap. Giant hugs. xx

  5. Prayers and blessings to you, dear one. Never doubt that your courageous spirit shines brightly to all who read your posts, even in the midst of your pain and suffering. So grateful that you have Pete and your family at your side through all of this, and that you’re having a break now to heal and recover before the final phase. Sending much aloha and sunshine your way….Chris

  6. Dear Dalene,
    I’m one of your many followers that usually “Likes”. But not today! I’m sending love and virtual hugs (()) to you and your loved ones. Thank you for sharing your brave personal story.
    I look forward to your update.
    Robin ?

  7. Sending you love and prayers for strength and peace and healing, Dalene. I think of you every day. I remember many of the things you describe from when my mom went through chemo, and I shudder. But the end game is the most important thing. Like you, we tried to stay positive and remember our goal, but sometimes we just couldn’t. Who could? We surrounded Mom with love and comfort every way we could, as your family and friends are doing for you. Hugs to you and Pete and your mom!

  8. Hi
    I am one of your followers and I am amazed by your courage! Last year a very dear friend had the same experience fighting with the horrible enemy under my eyes, day by day, long battle in a year when the big fire from Fort Mac put him and others on the road when all he needed was quiet days to face his stage 4th cancer!
    And…good news! Hi won ! No trace of cancer anymore after one year!
    I am sure you can do it, too!
    Good luck and lots of strengths never give up!

  9. I’ve been reading along with your adventures without commenting for a while, and felt compelled to cheer you on reading this. I just wanted to say I’m rooting for you, and I think you’re doing spectacularly well managing to post anything at all. Your forbearance is so impressive. I’m struggling to find the right words here, what you’re dealing with is just shitty. I suppose I’m just trying to say I’m feeling for you, and wishing and hoping for you, though we don’t know each other. I really hope you can find some joy and calm in your respite period.

    Best wishes,

  10. So sorry to hear of your struggles with this. I pray things will go well for you. I just read something that said “this too shall pass, it may pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass.” Will be waiting for the day you can say “this has passed, and I am a survivor” God Bless

  11. I hate that you’re going through this! I’m glad you’re done with this round & I’m sooooo hoping the bone marrow results are good. As for the menopause, ugh…but yeah, permanent sounds preferable! Hugs from me & Andy!!

  12. I have been following your story and you are incredibly brave to share it with us. Thank you so much. We are all cheering you on. Cancer sucks. It is horrid. But I love the last line in your post…that it will make your life sweeter in the end, like every hardship does. Take care and we are thinking of you.

  13. It’s so so courageous of you to share your most intimate moments with the world. I’ll add my well wishes and thoughts to the thousands of people around the world that are doing the same – you’re getting some seriously good vibes here! Here’s to all the caps lock very very soon!!

  14. Dalene! I am on your site as someone recommended your blog designer to me and I’m so sorry to learn of your ordeal. Sending you so much love and light to you and Pete during this process. Will be thinking of you. xoxoxo

  15. Greetings from nyc. Been watchingyou guys a long to me…..seems to me you’re pretty strong …stay inspired

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