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.