Breath if You Can ~ A Cancer Survivor Story

‘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 breath2for 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. breath1 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.”

 

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20 thoughts on “Breath if You Can ~ A Cancer Survivor Story

  1. Hi, Thank you for stopping by my blog and sending encouraging words. Please can I repost your blog on my site and use some of your descriptions to share the side effects of cancer treatment. It is the first time I have read a clear consise description of someone’s experience from treatments. Perhaps not many people live to tell the tale. Praise God for his grace to bring you through your suffering. You are sharing in the sufferings of Christ.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was my pleasure to read your most recent post, Angela. You are a refreshing woman. I’ve always admired those who know how to work with their hands & the earth. Terminology that is probably second nature to you brings your writing to heart. I hadn’t heard/read the word “nettles” since leaving the farm area where I lived.

      I would be honored for you to use this blog – it both warms my heart & saddens me that you relate so well. I do ask to please link & give credit to this site. Thank you for paying such a high compliment. I fear you are right, many do not live. We are so blessed. Just after losing a close family member to cancer, an older woman gruffly accused over Christmas dinner, “You’re the only one I know who’s ever lived!,” as if it was an outcome I didn’t deserve. A reflection of her grief, I’m sure, but it too was a double-edged sword.

      You may or may not relate to a second post: https://spotintheroad.wordpress.com/2016/04/23/the-peaceful-hum-of-a-reckoning/. God bless you, Angela.

      Like

  2. Hi, I appreciate your honest description of your suffering during cancer treatment. Congratulations on being a Cancer Survivor. I too am alive even though I had fourth stage cancer, six years ago.
    Sincerely,
    Angela

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Congratulations, Angela! Fourth stage is nothing to take lightly and six-years is a wonderful mile marker! God bless & care for you. Thank you so much for reading & for leaving your comment. It is always a special honor to meet a Sister Survivor.

      Like

  3. Glad you came out alive! It sounded awful what you went through. I have lost a few loved ones to cancer, so I have only seen it, but up close, and it is rough.
    The medication being so expensive…I found that outrageous. Perhaps cause I live in Northern Europe, and we have a maximum amount per year that we have to pay for (necessary) medications, I think it’s something like 300 US dollars that is the maximum each year, for a citizen. If it goes higher, the government pays the rest. But then we have high taxes, of course.

    I’m sorry that you still suffer from side effects. You described this extremely well in your post, I especially liked the way you said that you need a reasonable time limit for suffering. That is very relatable! I think many people can’t stand it when suffering just goes on and on. Take care and be well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is so kind of you, thank you for it. I am very surprised today at what I hear of less-than-admirable survivals, given advancements in treating cancer. It causes me to seriously question what’s really happening.

      I know cancer touches so many lives one way or another and I am saddened to hear of your experiences. I am so sorry for your losses. That should not be. Though I went through suffering I am alive & reasonably well. For that I am very grateful. “Survivors” do have a heartfelt kinship with one another, but, as much, with families of those who don’t survive.

      Europe sounds considerably more protective of medication costs. My discontent lies with the pharmaceutical companies, as I don’t find paying ludicrous taxes a reasonable solution. I realize companies need reasonable profits to develop new drugs (assuming that is what they do with it), but unreasonable is unnecessary. People DO deserve alternatives. We have some programs that will help offset costs, but they’re not easy to find, they varying & sometimes are prohibitive in their qualifications. My medication list is long and I do get a couple of breaks on others almost as bad, so I’ve no room to complain :).

      Thank you again – your visit is a pleasure.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you, yes it is always hard to deal with these things, losses. But everyone must go through it unfortunately. We can only do our best. I hope you get to keep your health intact now, and in the future! Take care. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I was 55 and at the point of believing I would die from it (which for good cause did come later), I gave great contemplation to my life regrets. The only regret I had was the narcissist & allowing him to be so abusive – he was even worse then (myself being more vulnerable). But I say this to say, the ONE thing that made me cry was thinking about the sadness family would feel in losing me. I’m sure your loved ones experienced similar. Keep them in good standing in your heart, if they’re anything like me that’s all they really wanted. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I understand.. yes, the people close to me were 25, 33, and 50, when they passed away. All too young to leave this world.
            I completely understand that you would feel the narcissist was a true regret. Very understandable. I feel that way too, even now. That I should have left so much sooner than I did. But, we can never go back in time, so we must try as much as we can to look forward instead. Even if it acn be hard. I am glad your family got to keep you, safe and sound in this world. Wishing you all the best for the future. Hugs. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

            1. There is something profound about searching one’s life when faced with what they believe is certain death. Until then my attitude was “I always have time” to fix the wrongs in it – suddenly I didn’t. Oh, wow, how I hated that I’d wasted so much time letting myself be miserably abused, letting him rob time with (isolate me from) loved ones, yada, yada, yada. I clearly recognized that I owned being the enabler of those decisions. It was an epiphany.

              Gradually recuperating, my attitude changed. I began standing up for myself, for mutual considerations I deserved, for not allowing him to be abusive in taking so much from me. I’d been blessed with reprieve and I wasn’t going to my deathbed a second time harboring that sort of deep regret. In the meantime I tried to find blessings in what the marriage had provided during that suffering time. At least I had good insurance (which was critical); I had a sound place to live; I didn’t have to worry about working when clearly I couldn’t, yada, yada, yada. Conditions could’ve been a lot worse than just suffering the emotional ones.

              The moral of this story goes to your last blog about suffering under a narcissist yourself, as much as it does to this post: Do what is right to do today, in planning for all of Your tomorrows. Don’t find yourself at the end wondering why the heck you so ignorantly invested all of your goodness in someone who found it only temporarily self-serving before discarding it and demanding more. Invest in Your lifetime well lived. There isn’t time to make it right later.

              Liked by 1 person

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