Chemo Isn’t for Sissies

My port has provoked many conversations with perfect strangers. One of which was with a breast cancer survivor who approached me in the water on Clearwater Beach.  She was so warm and compassionate we instantly bonded over our shared experience.  What she said to me has stayed over the last few weeks, “chemo isn’t for sissies, remember that.”  Well if that ain’t the truth, I’m not sure what is.  During my first month of treatment I had a few sick days, and neuropathy flare ups, but nothing that was unbearable.  Everything didn’t seem too terrible.  The past two Thursday’s, treatments number 3 & 4,  hit me HARD.  Probably even more emotionally than physically.

The drive home from Shand’s is when it starts.  The further we get away from the cancer center, the more depleted I feel.  It’s as if I can feel the poison slowly killing what’s left of my good parts.  Depression, anxiety, pain, sickness takes over my body and it is terrifying.  I wake up on Fridays even worse.  The room is spinning.  Did I have a little too much to drink the night before?  I wish!  The feeling is just very similar.  Lightning bolts of pain hit me through my feet, up my thighs, down in parts that shouldn’t feel pain, and stabbing sensations in my back and chest.  Can this be a good sign?  Is this working?  And what if it’s not.  Nope, not going to go there yet.

My oncology nurse shared her concerns with me in regards to my most recent blood panels.  I have been diagnosed as being “severely neutropenic” which basically means I am at a high risk of infection.  So for the remainder of my chemotherapy cycles I will be sent home with the neulesta injection pack on my stomach. The neulesta comes in the form of a small catheter that inserts in the fatty tissue of your belly and it is pre-injected and programmed to release medicine into your bloodstream 27 hours post chemo.  Once this is complete I have the ability to remove the pack myself.  Ouch.  And the side effects aren’t so pleasant.  Bone pain mainly in the hip area where your marrow is sent into overdrive producing white blood cells.

A couple weeks ago I went to sleep miserably on a Friday night and by 5 am I was sitting outside in the dark on my front lawn vomiting uncontrollably.  A truly low point on my journey.  This was the first time I truly felt discouraged and defeated.  I know I shouldn’t be hard on myself, I am only human, but that day I couldn’t shake the feeling of the “why me’s”.  I know by now to expect curveballs in life, and even hardships, but I just didn’t expect to be feeling deathly ill at 31 years old battling cancer.

Now I have good ol’ friendly depression knocking at my door.  I haven’t answered yet, but it is damn hard to ignore.  This is as hard for me to write as it may be to read, but there are times during this process where I feel as if I’m dying.  Of course I know logically I am not…I think.  I have zero energy.  Zero life behind the eyes that used to smile back at me in the mirror.  My skin is terrible and hypersensitive to touch.  When I run my hands down my body in the shower it feels scaly and old, that is when I muster up enough strength to shower and be presentable for the day.  I can’t even use the bathroom without searing pain up my rectum.  I can thank the fissure for that.  I can’t sleep without medication and once I’m asleep it takes everything I have to get out of bed.  Thank God for my precious child’s smiling face.  The chest pain and nerve pain is crushing.  I’m worrying constantly if it’s the medications weakening my heart, vessels or lungs or all of the above.  Surprisingly this may be a good sign according to the docs, if you can imagine that.  A possibility that the numerous masses in my chest are shrinking and the drugs are working.  Hallelujah!

I can’t stop eating.  And if that’s not hard enough as a woman in general.  Seriously the last thing I need right now is for all of my clothes to be screaming when I put them on.  I mean every hour, on the hour, if I don’t have food in my mouth I feel seriously sick to my stomach.  The kind of nausea that just pisses you off because IT JUST DOESN’T GO AWAY.  Maybe it’s a comfort thing, who knows.  Whatever works right?  I find myself counting down the days until my last treatment and it just feels so far away.  Here’s where I lose it.  Tears.  The kind of cry where you can’t catch your breath.  Ugly crying.  Just under 3 and a half months.  I can do this.  And then radiation?  I can’t even talk about it.

One day at a time, one treatment at a time.  My husband reminds me to get my head on right, “you have to focus on one obstacle at a time, one day at a time, or you’ll crack”.  I hate this.  I hate you cancer, and I hate you chemotherapy.  With cancer I die, and with chemo I live.  With that being said I will fight.  I will learn to love and appreciate the double edged sword of chemotherapy that will give me back my life while trying to kill me in the process.  People often make the comment, “I don’t know how you do it”.  Of course you do and I know this because you all would do it too. And if you’re going through it now, you will make it through.  It’s going to suck and you’re going to want to give up, but you won’t.  God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle, so handle it!  It’s easy to be strong when it’s the only choice you have.  Remember that.