I was just thinking maybe I have this chemo thing down. When Nurse Brian said days one through three would be high-energy days he meant in comparison to the days that would follow, not in comparison to my normal energy level. Oh.
And when he said days four through seven would be just “eh” he meant if I followed his instructions for managing side effects to a T. Oh.
So now that I am half way through I know all these things. I know that when he said I might experience pain in my sternum he meant like an elephant sitting on my chest. I know to walk the dog early on day two, before my energy fades. I know to take the Colace even if I’m not constipated, or I will be. I know to take the Ativan at the first hint of nausea. I know that sucking hard candy negates my roaring aversion to the smell of the alcohol swabbing of my access port on chemo days. I know that even if my mouth sores get bad I won’t use the “magic mouthwash” again for fear I’ll end up in the ER for facial paralysis. Instead I’ll eat ice cream to soothe my mouth in spite of the few pounds I’ve gained.
When I asked him when the rest of my hair would fall out he looked puzzled for a moment, then reached into his pocket to pull out a pen. He clicked it and turned it for me to see. It was a novelty pen that spun up an answer “Don’t know, not enough info.” Clearly he’d been waiting like a carney to use his crazy pen and his execution was perfect. I provided the additional info, which my scarf was hiding, that I still have an anemic pelt of nubs on top that I’ve had to shave twice since the initial shaving. He smiled at the word pelt and shrugged.
Then he prepped me for all that was about to change. So just when I feel like I have it down, my next infusion in two weeks will not be Doxorubicin and Cyclophosphamide. Instead it will be a longer infusion of Paclitaxel, or Taxol. He told me that to stave off a potentially bad allergic reaction I’ll take my steroids ahead of time and get more steroids when I arrive. The nursing staff will seem overly attentive, anticipating a potential reaction. If I have a reaction they will stop the infusion then give me more meds to stop the reaction. Then the infusion will proceed. And I thought I was anxious already on chemo days.
As far as side effects, though the nausea should be better, the fatigue will continue, neuropathy is possible, aches and pains likely. So I am back to square one, anxious about the infusions and not knowing what to expect in the days after. I think I might need that Xanax again.
But being the eternal optimist, I am half way through chemo and so far it’s been bad but not horrible. One of the distressing things is feeling like everything is on hold, like I’m biding my time. I’ve been focused only on what is immediately ahead of me, not looking too far down the road. I’m starting to think about making sure the reconstruction efforts underway are timed perfectly with the recovery period after chemo so my surgery can happen like clockwork. But I’m also concerned about the delay reconstructive surgery puts between chemo and radiation. So I’ll be consulting with a radiation oncologist soon to better understand that part.
A day or two after my diagnosis I caught part of a documentary about Yellowstone Park in winter. There was an image of a buffalo, hunkered down, belly-deep in snow and with a snow coating on top. The narrator said, “The buffalo’s job is to endure.” At that moment I told myself “Be the buffalo,” recognizing that my only job for the foreseeable future is to endure my cancer treatment.
During this harsh winter, with each and every trek to New York for doctor’s appointments marred by a snowstorm, I had many opportunities to be the buffalo enduring not just cancer but also, literally, the snow. Just when I was thinking it was safe to go to NYC this past Wednesday, it was the last day of April after all, spring threw at me record rainfalls, inside-out umbrellas, soggy shoes and pant legs.
Still, I endure.