At Some Point, All of the Joking Stops

This past week was hell.  It’s incomprehensible, really.  I feel as though I’m being a bit melodramatic, but when I look back….

It was awful.

The first few days (when you’re on nausea-watch) were actually OK.  The new anti-nausea drugs are amazing.  I experienced some queasiness (and nothing tasted good) but it was a far cry from my mom’s experience.  I was pretty manic from the steroids, so mom and I spent the first two days going on walks and shopping.  Shopping.  Truly.  I was a machine.  But on Friday, day three, the steroids stopped and suddenly, so did I.

It turns out that I’m one of the few people who really have trouble with steroid withdrawal.  In hindsight, no surprise (I take children’s Claritin for allergies), but I was surprised at how bad I could feel.  I had really, truly believed that I would be one of those people who “skate” through chemo – I’m so goddamn healthy and positive and can bounce back like a champ – that chemo?  Would be tough, sure, but do-able.

I certainly didn’t expect to find myself in some sort of four-day hell, alternating between rage and hopelessness, feeling a sense of loss so profound that I could barely look at myself in the mirror.  I would burst into spontaneous tears, multiple times a day.  Pax would ask, “Hug, Mum?” and I would ignore him.   God, just remembering that makes me feel physically ill.  How could I do that?  To my little P?  I’ve never fully understood depression – true, clinical depression – but I feel as though perhaps I’ve gotten a taste of it.  This…feeling….crept up insidious and cruel, and robbed me of who I am.  I’ve never felt so naked and alone and despondent – totally unable to rally in this “fight” against cancer.  There was no fight in me.  Just tears, more tears, and anger.

On top of that, there was the “normal” chemo stuff to deal with.  The body aches and “flu-like symptoms” associated with Taxotere hit me pretty hard, although it was tough to gain perspective since I was so mentally beaten.  I’ve heard of people comparing chemo side effects to pregnancy:  queasiness, everything tastes and smells funny, exhaustion, etc. This is all true.  However,  the key difference, I think, is that underlying all of the pregnancy symptoms – as hard as they can be –  is this fundamental quality of vitality – you are literally growing a life!  Chemo was a stark contrast – some of the symptoms may have been similar, but the underpinnings are all rooted in death.  I felt sick, in some elemental, primitive way.  I’d stare at my face, not recognizing the look in my eyes.  It would cross my mind that once my hair is gone, I’ll look more animal than human.

This is hard.  So hard.  And frankly, something I don’t want to do again.

You start calculating percentage points:  If I have a 17% chance of recurrence in the next 10 years without chemo….does one chemo treatment account for…another 5% reduction?  3%?  Is that enough?

This is all nonsense, of course. There’s no such thing as “chemo lite.”  (I already asked.)

At some point…things get better.  It’s shocking, really.  How one can be in such a dark, dark place and then – a few critical hours later – be laughing with your girlfriends on the phone, and irreverently referring to those four soul-sucking days as “The Crush?”

Those little cells of mine.  Down, but not out.  It’s amazing.  Already my fervent, “I WILL NEVER DO THIS AGAIN, MIKE!  MARK MY WORDS, I’M DONE WITH CHEMO” refrain is fading, and I’m rolling my eyes at myself.  I can be so dramatic.  GOD.  Because it’s just chemo, for heaven’s sake.  How bad can it possibly be?

One down, three to go.

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25 Responses to At Some Point, All of the Joking Stops

  1. Jeff says:

    My Dear Shana,

    There is really no sugar coating the fact that Chemo can be hell at times. I can only imagine what you are going through. That being said let me offer you a little something you can hold onto when those days get so hard you wanna give up.

    Think of the smiling faces that great you every day when you wake up! The ones that get excited when you do little things like crafts, reading a book, going to the park. The little ones who seek out Mommy to make the cuts, scratches, and bruises all better. When only a HUG from Mommy will do! The ones who want nothing but to make you happy when they see you feeling sad or low. When you are having the days where the Chemo is making you depressed and feeling worse then you ever have, remember the first time Pax told you the words “Be Bave Mommy!” I assure you in that simple memory you share with him you will find the strength and will to fight.

    Let me tell you a little story. A little boy and his mother are out on a hike together. While on the middle of the hiking trail they find they have to cross a river. The river however is high and running very quickly due to recent rainy weather. The Mother is a little concerned about the high water and fast current. She is in fact even a little scared but wants to show her son how to face a challenge and be brave so she says to her little boy “Son can I hold your hand while we cross the water?” He thinks for a second looks up to his Mom and with a look of worry and concern says “NO!” in a voice that Mom knows is his scared voice. Then a moment later he say “Mommy, can I hold your hand while we cross the river?” Now, she is confused as she just asked the same question. So, to understand better she says “Of course I will hold your hand, but why did you say no when I asked to hold your hand just now?

    Looking at the river the little boy takes a few moments to contemplate the question while non-stop staring at the fast moving water. “Well, if you hold my hand and we get into trouble crossing the water I would most likely let go so you could swim a shore and save yourself. But if I hold your hand and we get into trouble I know that no matter what you will never let go” The mothers eyes were full of tears as she bent down picked up her little boy and gave him the best hug of his little life. “You see Mommy, you always make everything okay. When I hold your hand I am strong.”

    With that they crossed the river together and over the years they enjoyed many hike together. However, each time they crossed a body of water neither even asked the other they just clasped the others hand and made it to the other side.

    So when you have a day when it seems to be all to much to handle, take your little guys hand and know that together you can conquer anything life has to throw at you.

  2. ajdillinger says:

    Oh, Shana. I am so sorry. I can’t imagine what you are going through but I know it’s awful. I know I would feel the SAME WAY about Pax as you do now, but I am sure he has no doubt of your love for him and has probably already forgotten. I’m astounded, sometimes, at how quickly my son forgives me. I have been and will be praying for you on this journey.

  3. Heather says:

    When my dear friend hit that same wall during treatments for ovarian cancer (I believe it was after the fourth of six cycles) she asked her Dr “Why do I have to do this two more times, isn’t this enough to keep it from recurring?” The Doc looked her levelly in the face and said ; “You need to do this two more times because after that, I NEVER want to treat you again”. That was all she needed to hear and she slogged her poor self through the remaining cycles. Her ca125 markers are now under 8 and her hair is growing in curly and thick. You’ve got this, Mama.
    Also, the best advice I got when I had a bit of a meltdown during my hubby’s surgery/treatment nightmare for lymphoma was from a stranger in the Sloan Kettering gift shop: “When you can think or do NOTHING else, tell yourself ‘Left foot, Right foot, Breathe’.” I used it. A LOT. It was a long haul but he’s in remission for over a year now!
    I know it isn’t easy. It’s effing HARD, but you can, you WILL do it. Some days like a champ, some days like a wimp, but you’re going to come out on the other side and these days will all be a (bad) memory. Sending love and prayers and strength your way.

    • sdraugelis says:

      Heather, thank you for this comment. As I gear up for #2, I’m going to be using that mantra. Sometimes it feels like that’s really the only option.

  4. susan says:

    I am here. With the same strength you would offer me.

  5. AmyS says:

    Hi Shana,
    ANMJ reader here and so I hope you don’t mind I popped over here to see how you were doing but I just wanted you to know that you’ve been in my thoughts and prayers and I’m very sorry you’ve had to deal with all this but for what little bit it helps you have tons of readers and i’m sure tons of people in your ‘real’ life that care about you and are rooting you on!

  6. Sara says:

    You did it, girl! Sucks, but you did it! Way to go!

  7. emilyj67 says:

    You did it! Jumped into the river. (I’m an anmj reader also; saw the link to this blog.) My most helpful thing I thought of to tell my kiddos during chemo was ‘yep, mama feels/I feel miserable right now, but it’s the medicine that’s making me feel bad, *not* the cancer.’ It’s miserable and survivable and go go go.

  8. Kimberly says:

    Your description of depression matches my experiences with PPD; and it makes me sad that you have to experience it on top of cancer/chemo.

    I did go shopping today, right after reading anmj for inspiration. I bought three pairs of awesome shoes in your honor.

  9. chez says:

    You are an immensely talented writer and a brave woman. Brave does not need to mean warrior. Brave to me just means doing what you need to do, even if part of you is screaming inside and holding onto the walls with claws. An escape risk. Still, you continue forth. Thank you for sharing your experience. xo

    • sdraugelis says:

      “Brave to me just means doing what you need to do, even if part of you is screaming inside and holding onto the walls with claws.” YES. Yesyesyesyes. Thank you for this.

  10. Hello! I am hoping over from MODG blog through way of Mom Jeans.

    I really wanted to hear another young woman’s perspective on chemo. You see I just finished my own chemo journey in November. I was diagnosed in May of 2012 with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I was stage 2 and Hodgkin’s of course is very treatable. After reading about your first chemo treatment it reminded me so much of my own. I thought it was so do-able and then day 4 hit and I wanted to die. After my first treatment I actually ended up in the hospital. My liver started shutting down and the mouth sores had become so bad that I couldn’t eat or drink for 3 days. Here is that story:
    I went through ABVD chemo every other week for 4 months. I was declared cancer free in March of 2013 and we were able to get pregnant that month with our first child who is due in December.

    I guess in all this rambling I wanted you to know that it does get better and it does get worse. You get better at figuring at how to cope, about preparing yourself/body/life for treatments. The treatments begin to wear on you as well. Knowing what you have to deal with when you step into the treatment room, what you are going to deal with after the chemicals enter your body and the monotony of feeling unwell can get to you. I highly recommend planning something for the end of treatment to look forward too. I threw a huge shin dig for myself after chemo as a No Mo’ Chemo/30th birthday party. It helped keep my mind on the positive at the end of my treatment.

    I will be checking on you and your journey and I really wish you health and happiness.

    • sdraugelis says:

      Thank you for the encouragement! Love your success story (as hard as it was)…and the fabulous idea to throw a party when it’s over. You earned a big ol’ shindig, Chicky. Great idea.

  11. Amanda says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this Shana. Impossible to write down what I am feeling as I read this and feel closer to my Dad who went through something similar at a far-too-young age. (I was super young and spared the gory details. This makes me feel closer to him.) xo

  12. Jean says:

    I, too, experienced the depression with chemo eleven years ago. I just sat in my recliner and cried. The doctor prescribed an antidepressant which helped so much. The thing that tasted best to me when everything else tasted terrible was an icee from 7-11 or a convenience store. Hang in there. This, too, will pass!

  13. Theresa says:

    As the mother of a child who needed chemo, I will flat out tell you that chemo sucks! Steroids are pretty sucky too. You think the terrible 3s are bad, try them on steroids! Makes my head hurt just thinking about it.

    Right now, you’ve got a foot in the Land of Limbo. Or what I lovingly refer to as LOL. Its that place where you’re just waiting and waiting. But you have a plan of attack. And that plan will get results. And that’ll help get you out of LOL.

    The Pollyanna version of the stats is that when they tell you there’s a 17% of it reoccurring, it also means that there is an 83% chance of it NOT reoccurring. Thats 83% without chemo. I wonder what the odds are with chemo. That 83% alone is worth doing the other version of LOL.

    • sdraugelis says:

      Yes. Yes it is. It’s hard to remember that sometimes, but you’re right. And I’m so sorry to hear about your little needing chemo. I can’t even imagine. xoxoxo

  14. Pingback: Deep stuff | Amy Reasoner

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