Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Let the Chemo Beatings Continue

When I blog, I try to look on the bright side of things. It really doesn’t take much effort and as I’ve said before, I really feel that there are so many more “positive” things going on right now for me (oddly enough) than just the cancer. It helps that the side-effects from chemo have been very manageable so far. In five weeks of chemo sessions (three cycles), I have only been absent from work four days – including the vacation time I need to take to attend the chemo appointments. (Vacation. That’s a laugh.)

I’ve had a little dizziness, a little nausea and a little heartburn– but nothing too bad. Mostly, I’ve been able to take a pill and feel better. It’s like magic. When I experience fatigue, I rest – and previously, the ratio of fatigue to rest time seemed to make sense and be in proportion to the crime.

That all changed this week. I’m not sure what happened this week. I had my usual chemo appointment last Wednesday and the usual stress and deadlines of my job (turned down “low” because of the cancer), and the usual restful weekend after chemo. The only thing that seemed different to me this week was that I was flat on my back all day Saturday. I didn’t question this, thinking preventive “rest” was a thoughtful, prudent choice. It was only when I got up to get dressed to take Sam to a movie that I realized how much effort it took. I mean, all I did was get dressed. I transferred my body from bed to a seat in my car, and then to a seat in the movie theatre. Exhausting. Are we at the 20-mile mark yet???

Sunday was pretty much the same. A trip to Barnes and Noble. More transferring of myself from bed to car to chair while Sam used a gift card on several DVDs he wanted. How hard could this be? I could do this before, why not now? I want my life back, I kept thinking. Now.

Monday was more of the same, only worse. I slept most of the day and had a hard time sitting up. (This is not good.) I had this feeling that if I could just find the right type of outlet, I could plug myself in and I’ll be all better. The “outlets” I’ve tried include prescription meds, hydration, types of food, sleep and stupid TV. Unfortunately, none of these seem to be working like they used to. I feel like a chemist: if I can just manipulate the right quantities and verify the data, I’m sure I can get it right. At least I think so.

We’re going to keep hitting you. My oncologist warned me about this. I just didn’t believe her. I was feeling so good during the first few cycles. I was basking in the rosy glow of “I Rock” because I hadn’t experienced too many side effects. But she did patiently and kindly warn me. “Keep in mind”, she said, “that you’ll come in here at 100 percent…and we’ll keep hitting you each week. You’ll go from 100 percent, to 90 to 80 percent…and we’ll keep on hitting you”.

I know that sounds a little cruel, but I know she didn’t mean it that way. She just instinctively knew that given my job and my personality and the fact that I’m a mother – I might be a non-believer. And I’m sure this isn’t the first time she’s seen something like this before.

I’m sure I have all the telltale signs of the non-believer: bouncing into chemo in my little suit with my iPad under one arm and my work laptop under the other. From taking the occasional meeting on my Blackberry “in a single bound” to planning my wardrobe to provide fashionable access to my infusion port, I was way overdue for a big chemo fall. And I got it. All I need now is some sawdust and a few shovels to help cover up the mess.

I’m going to keep expectations high. It’s actually kind of funny when you think about how all this works. I try to save my life by agreeing to have all these terrible chemicals pumped into me. The chemicals are “terrible” because they kill good cells and the bad cells. Along the way, I lose all my hair, have no energy, have to apply for FMLA so I can protect my job right in the middle of all this, and somehow – I have managed to adapt to all this as normal. So “normal”, that I am annoyed when I actually have any debilitating side effects and am inconvenienced by having to take vacation time off in order to stay alive. It reminds me of something my mother’s doctor said to her when she complained about her inability to still be active, ski and run-around at 83. I remember him saying to her: “You have some very high expectations for someone who is 83”. This makes me laugh. I guess it runs in the family.

So here’s the good news. I only have one more cycle of what I call “butt-kicking chemo”, then I switch to an easier form of chemo beating. I’ve done three of the four cycles and if I can just get past the next one, it should get easier. (My doctor told me this, I swear). That’s if I can maintain myself at around 75 to 80 percent while I’m still getting hit. But I suppose it’s true in chemo beatings as it is in life, that perspective is everything. So I’ll try my best to keep a smile on my face during the beatings, knowing that they will continue until the cancer improves or until I finally just accept that if you aren’t at least a little miserable during this process, then you just aren’t paying attention .


  1. keep your high expectations...next year this will all be a distant memory. remember...italian school of driving..what is behind you...does not matter.

  2. Wonderful blog, Denine. Your attitude is great. I think I might need to borrow your line that if I'm not at least a little miserable during this process (and there are several definitions for the word process), then you just aren't paying attention.

  3. You are now the third VIP in my life who is experiencing the unique joys of cancer care. I am recommending this blog to them as an incredibly positive resource. (See - your secret Earth Mother thing works even when you feel most dependent.) All my love, and keep your chin up, honey. F--k the hair anyway. And despite the shoes, I always knew you were a guys gal.

  4. I thank you all for the incredibly positive thoughts:
    Vin-Italian school of driving--too funny. Reminds me of when my brother would get a skinhead cut from the local Italian barber when he was 17. He'd come home in tears claiming the barber said: "Ah so we cut a little too much off? We paste a little bit back on!" There is a twisted moral in there somewhere.

    Amy-what are you doing in New Hampshire???

    Brian-what can I say? I owe you a phone call as usual. Next photos will be of long tie-dyed skirts and "Birkies" to complete the earth mother look. Will have to date ancient college professors (who like "short hair")

    Love you guys -- xoxo Denine

  5. Why is it doctors sound so serene when they foreshadow previously unimaginable horrors? "We're going to keep kicking you" - unitl you're 90-80% or less. Is this meant to be inspirational? realistic? Whatever - don't lose your remarkably-grounded good spirits, and keep your eyes on the 'prize'. (an end to all this and retored health). We're pulling for you.

  6. Thanks Betsy & Steve! Isn't that funny! And it was meant to make me feel better. Sort of! Lol.