Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Ten Commandments of Chemo

Having just gone through my first cycle of chemo, I was thrown off track a little. Now that I have recovered my equilibrium (a little chemo joke…), I feel like I know what to expect and what to avoid. Here are my ten commandments for getting through the next eighteen weeks:

1. I Shall Maintain My Roots. The first cycle of chemo caught me with skunk stripes and badly in need of a haircut. For some reason, I started thinking “it’s just going to fall out anyway”. Wrong! I impulsively went to a new salon last night and got my hair cut and colored. I am a registered hothouse flower and chemically-processed girl. My body needs these chemicals just as much as chemo, maybe more. In other words, as long as I have hair, I’m gonna take care of it.

2. I Shall Not Worry About the Wind in My Hair. Hey, if I still have hair at the end of this I will count my blessings AND roll down my windows. This includes riding around in wind, rain or fog with my sunroof open. Nuff said.

3. I Shall Soak Up Every Ounce of Life that Life Can Offer. A little while ago I finished cleaning my house. I did this after a long, tough day at work and it made me profoundly happy. While I wasn’t skipping around the living room in a French maid’s outfit humming to myself, there was something so honorable about being able to clean my own house and take pleasure in doing so. That I did it after a truly awful day at work helped me add balance to the day. That I was able to do it at all made me feel “in control” – one of the first things to fly out the window when you are diagnosed with breast cancer.

4. I Shall Just “Go With It”. Being diagnosed with breast cancer is a lot like being kidnapped. At first, there is shock and disbelief and denial. You fight and resist and try to get away. You hope that your experience in Breast Cancerland and the decisions you will need to make will be short and sweet. And then it happens: you join the club. You get a lot of things thrown at you quickly and you have to adjust. Just like Stockholm Syndrome bonds a kidnap victim to their captor, breast cancer starts to seem “normal” and you adjust to the ride. Words that were unspeakable weeks before – words like “biopsy”, “port”, “mastectomy”, “reconstruction” slip out of your mouth like nothing. No reaction, just the facts. I told my Mom that sometimes I feel like I’ve become the breast cancer equivalent of Patty Hearst: one day I’m minding my own business living my life and the next day I’m holding a machine gun in a hospital. I’m wearing a beret and the doctors are calling me “Tonya” as I demand a biopsy, several lumpectomies and a power port.

5. I Shall Respect My Chemo Cravings and Indulge Them. Since my first cycle of chemo, I have had some really weird cravings. A friend of mine remarked that the chemo might have disturbed my “cellular memory”. While good cells and bad are being killed by the chemo, the "day after" shot of neulastin creates new baby cells which are still crawling and trying to figure things out. My body is now a mix of ancient cells and new ones. It's like dusting under the bed after 54 years. All my stuff is now free-floating around in there and just trying to figure out what it really wants for lunch. Some of my recent cravings have included:

a. An urge to make oatmeal raisin cookes. I haven’t made cookies since 1985.
b. A sudden impulse to buy wacky-looking-but-sensible shoes (“Wolkys”). Have you seen these? I love mine but every time I wear them I feel the need to say “I like MEN. Really I do.”
c. Drinking V8 juice.
d. See #3, skipping around in French maid’s outfit while I clean my house.

6. I Shall Be a Mother to My Son, Always. About four days after my first chemo cycle, I bought a computer desk for my son. It was your basic $99.99 desk from Target that I had to lug home and put together. Looking back now, I realize that I needed help with every part of getting it from the store to my car to my house. After finally getting it inside, I had to assemble it in stages (I think it was all of six pieces) because it seemed very exhausting at the time. Once I finished, I set it in his room, all ready with his new computer. Every night for a week I would just open the door and look at it, so happy and proud that it was done and complete and ready for him. In retrospect, this behavior seems a little strange to me. But I realize now that no matter how old Sam is (he’s 20 now), I will always be his Mommy. And I can’t think of anything more essential or true or necessary to my life force than to know that I can still take care of him in the middle of all this.

More to come...
7. I Shall Continue to Nurture Others and Let Them Nurture Me
8. I Shall Enjoy My Good Days (and Bear Up Under My Bad Days)
9. I Shall Keep My Sense of Humor
10. I Shall Remember How Lucky I Am, Always

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