‘Chemo brain’ hadn’t shown any signs of subsiding when I’d finished therapies and began ditching every inessential medication related to it. And there were a lot of them. Pills for nausea, pills for pain, pills for neuropathy, a pill for this and a pill for that and sometimes two or three for each.
“Clinical Poisons,” that’s what pharmaceutical literature rightly termed my chemo drugs. Under every possible side effect listed it read, “Unknown.” Big help. They say now those fell on a new “cusp of medical innovation.” In other words, I was one of many guinea pigs in advancing cancer treatments. I have no complaints … I’m here and I can’t think of a better cause to serve as a guinea pig.
I never was a pill-taker but under chemo you do what you have to do, what you can afford to do, to ease its discomfort. I had good insurance, praise God for that, because I am the wimp of all wimps when it comes to longsuffering, as in really long suffering. Sometimes I amaze myself at what I can endure (and nothing tries your inner self like cancer treatments do), but prolonged distress can send me over the edge. It’s like my body has this internal clock for what’s a reasonable period of time to suffer something and when that clock runs out it’s time to let the relevant world know, in no uncertain terms, I-am-done.
Nurses wore protective thick gloves and sat for an hour personally administering one of my three chemos. They explained a drop of the chemical on outer skin would eat through to the bone, but it did one heck of a job on cancer, internally. After the better part of a year taking the harshest chemos ever given, I’m now told, they sent me for six weeks of radiation. This being breast cancer, the point of radiation was directly over my lungs, closer than most because of its unique location.
Maybe it’s just me or maybe all first-time cancer patients feel this way, but when therapies were done I could not wait to be rid of every single reminder of cancer and its torturous treatments. Those not only caused loss of every hair on my body but all of my finger & toe nails fell completely off. I developed horridly open, painful sores all over my hands and one chemo destroyed my tear ducts so my eyes watered blindingly.
I wore a hanky over my shoulder to be able to incessantly wipe tears from my eyes, not only to see but to wipe them from a desktop where they freely fell. In public it was routine for total strangers, thinking I was crying, to approach and ask if I was okay. Then there was a case of the Shingles … on my head of all places … with days of rapid, piercing headaches.
The mere act of eating a sandwich caused my teeth to splinter off. Reaching into my purse or doing laundry or dishes was painful, partially because of the sores but do you have any idea how tender raw nail beds are? I stumbled like a drunk and dropped everything I picked up at least once as my feet & hands went numb from neuropathy. It was useless to try to wear make-up as my eyes evolved into a zombie bright red. I struggled to take a phone message, unable spur-of-the-moment to recall how to write characters or the spelling of simple names.
Perhaps a saving grace, I had this naïve opinion that getting through cancer treatments would be something like healing a broken arm. I kept thinking all I had to do was persevere the “inconvenience” and when it was all done I’d be okay again, me again. I took as much pride as I could in forcing myself through the pain to function “normally.” Looking back I’m sure that was the farthest from what I did achieve. I still suffer many of the side effects and after four eye surgeries I still keep a tissue handy to be able to see what I’m doing.
For whatever it’s worth, there is satisfaction taken from calling myself a “Survivor.” Too many don’t, too many didn’t. One of the biggest after effects ten-years later now (HOO-RAH!) is breathing. I’d not needed anything like that before radiation and being an unbelievably expensive medication even with good insurance, it was one of the first I tried to ditch after treatments.
No way. My lungs felt like I was carrying two bags of cement in my chest. I could barely move. I’ve been on the medication all of this time and its cost now, even with “good” insurance now (“the times they are a changin'”), is prohibitive – between $600-$700 a month. How does anyone afford that?
Enjoy breathing … if you can. Appreciate the toothy smile in the mirror no matter how critical you may be of it; and take time to admire your finger & toe nails, your hair or the simple fact that you can wear make-up when you want to look special. Stop to think about the breaths you suck-in during that walk you (probably won’t) take today and your ability to take it. The next time you button a shirt or look up to see your GPS or read your iPhone or indulge a new a recipe, be grateful all you need are glasses or contact lenses to correct your vision.
As that old song says, “You don’t know watcha got ’til it’s gone …” [Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell]. You just never know what lies ahead in losing it – all.
Written in response to WordPress Daily Promp, “Breath.”