The C Word – Part 6
About seven days after my first Chemo appointment, my initial side effects had finally subsided. The nausea subsided first and my appetite came back, thank goodness. The cold sensitivity in my throat was finally gone, but the sensitivity in my fingertips only decreased. Now when I touch cold things, my fingers feel like they do when they get numb from the cold and then start thawing out again. That hot/cold prickle sensation. But at least I was able to make my healthy smoothies again, and get things out of the fridge and freezer without the assistance of oven mitts.
And then, we had to say goodbye to one of our cats: Snowy. He’d been suffering from Chronic Kidney disease for over two years. I’d been making homemade food for him and we were giving him medication and supplements. We also had started giving him subcutaneous fluids at home every other day. But he was still getting weaker and weaker; thinner and thinner. And in spite of our putting multiple litter boxes and puppy pee pads around the house, the urgency of his urination was causing him to go in random places around the house. It wasn’t his fault, of course. He just couldn’t make it all the way to a litter box every time. When we weighed him, he was only seven pounds. That’s less than half of what he weighed about a year ago. He had been the largest cat we’d ever had. Not any longer. He had begun hiding from us and our other cat Velvet, only coming out to eat or go to the bathroom, then running back to his hiding place. When I couldn’t even get him interested in eating his favorite treat in the world, I knew it was bad.
Putting down a pet remains to me one of the most difficult experiences in life. Our pets trust us to care for them. To make decisions for them. They have no choice, really. So making the decision to say goodbye, even if it is to end their suffering, is heart-wrenching. It brought back all the grief and heartache from my mother’s final days. And my father’s decline after his stroke. And made me fear the time when someone may decide that it’s my time to go. We cried all that day and the next.
A couple of days later, I had my FINAL wound care appointment and they removed my bandage! At last, some good news! My scar was finally healed and so I finally looked at it. Well, looked at it ON PURPOSE. You may recall that I accidentally terrorized myself by seeing it when it looked like horror-movie prosthetic makeup. My new belly-button is interesting to say the least. The incision went around my navel, and a couple of inches south, which they had kept open with the packing to heal from the inside out. So, what I ended up with is sort-of a freaky double-navel effect. I remember as I was healing after my laparoscopic surgery back in 2006 I had a gig to perform my Tom Waits Fan Dance at The Cutting Room in my late, great friend Bonnie Dunn’s show “Le Scandal”. There were still stitches in my navel, so I fabricated a little jeweled button I could attach to my navel area with liquid latex. It was my little homage to the era when women’s navels were considered vulgar and had to be covered onstage. Remember Barbara Eden’s Genie costume? I don’t think I’ll be able to wear any jewels in this new navel. But I do plan to wear it, and the rest of my scar, with pride.
Having my wound healed and getting beyond that first round of side-effects, I felt better than I had since before my surgery. Brimming with energy to get back to work creating joy and magic for others. I found new creative inspirations starting to make their way to the forefront of my mind again. The ants had returned to my proverbial pants!
Looking down at my navel also makes me think of my mom. For many reasons. Firstly, because she fed me through that navel for nine months. But also, because after HER first cancer surgery, she no longer had a navel. The cancer had spread even there, so it was removed and stitched up. She used to joke that she was like Mork from Ork because he also didn’t have a navel (he was hatched from an egg, naturally). I can’t go through this journey without thinking of my mom and her journey. But I am working hard to separate my experience from hers.
We lost mom to cancer in 2017 and then my dad to a stroke four months later. At the same time, I was also dealing with the loss of my artistic community, which had begun to spiral towards its inevitable implosion. And earlier that year I lost my mentor and one of our beloved cats. There was just too much grief for me to process. I went into a kind of emotional hibernation which I just couldn’t seem to dig out of. So, I finally decided to find a grief counselor. The one I found is wonderful – a calm, grounded, insightful, healing presence. I’ve been working with her for two years now, and she is invaluable to my journey, especially now. I try to see her monthly. My insurance covers about 4 visits with her a year, and I pay out of pocket for the rest, but to me, it’s like getting a massage -only it’s a massage for my mind and spirit. It’s totally worth the extra money. I wish everyone had a counselor they checked in with once a month. I wish we could rid society of the negative stigma of getting professional mental and emotional support. I wish the healthcare system prioritized mental health and its effect on physical health. I wish a lot of things.
My mom was rather passive about her healing. She read everything that was given to her and took their recommendations, but didn’t do anything “outside the box”. I’m sure that’s partly because she was exhausted, and partly because she was a scientist at heart. She trusted western medicine. I was always the hippie-child of the family who was into alternative health. She was a medical technologist: a lab tech in hospitals. She worked the night shift for years because the pay differential was higher and the family really needed the extra money. And like me, mom always enjoyed working on her own. So the night shift was attractive to her for that aspect as well. But as a result, she was sleep-deprived for years, which took a toll on her body and her quality of life.
Another thing about my mom that you have to understand is that she never liked to spend money on herself. For anything. She was one of the first people to have contact lenses back in the sixties because her job required looking through a microscope all the time, so she needed them. But mom wore that same pair of contact lenses for over twenty years. THE SAME PAIR! Then she developed an ulcer on her eyeball… MAYBE BECAUSE SHE WAS WEARING THE SAME PAIR OF CONTACT LENSES FOR OVER TWENTY YEARS!! She’d even accidentally vacuumed up one of her contacts years ago and dug through the dust-bag to find it. AND THEN KEPT WEARING IT FOR TWENTY MORE YEARS!
Once when I was home visiting, mom finally admitted she needed a new bra. Because she’d been wearing the same one – that’s right – FOR OVER TWENTY YEARS!! So, she asked me to help her shop for a new one. A new ONE. Singular. Her old bra was a Platex cross-your-heart bra from before the advent of underwire. Just criss-crossed elastic under the boobs to hold ‘em up. I’m pretty sure that bra was older than me! We went to Shopko and I kept bringing bras to the fitting room for mom to try on. She claimed all of them were too small. They felt too tight and binding. Well of COURSE they felt tight and binding, I said. The rubber in the elastic of her old bra had DISINTEGRATED LONG AGO. I tried to explain to her that she’d basically been wearing a tank top with a clasp. We finally found one that was vaguely agreeable to her so we bought it, but mom still refused to throw away her old one.
As a teen when I wanted to start wearing deodorant, she told me to just rub a bar of soap under my arms instead. It was good enough for her when SHE was a teenager, after all. She was brand-loyal to certain things and decided that Noxzema was the only way for me to wash my face. When I told her that it burned and stung (and I think CAUSED me to break out) I asked her if I could get Clinique, because all the girls with sensitive skin used it. Mom told me to just rub my face until it was red with a dry washcloth because she’d heard on some talk show that was Katherine Hepburn’s beauty regime. (Uh, Mom, have you SEEN the broken capillaries on that woman’s face later in life??) I mean, I appreciate the sense of frugality she instilled in me, but it sometimes bordered on martyrdom.
All that being said, mom and I have a lot of similarities and I miss her hearty laugh every day. I miss calling her up and telling her a funny story so I could HEAR that laugh. But I realized how important it would be for me to really separate my journey from hers. I’m trying my best to be active and not passive. There is a modicum of trust which has to be present in a situation such as this. You have to rely on your doctors and specialists to make the best recommendations for your care, or be willing to question them if you don’t agree, but I refuse to just follow blindly. There is just as much MIS-information on the internet as information. Probably MORE these days. So, I don’t torture myself by death-scrolling around the web. I have a couple of trusted sources I go to for information, and I listen to my body and offer it whatever nourishment and support it seems to need. Morning meditation has been a good way for me to check in with my body and breathe healing through it. Yoga has been a great way to understand where my body is at physically and to spend some time honoring it. Cooking is a good way for me to feel active about my nourishment. Getting a solid eight hours of sleep or more every night is a big part of my regime. Writing helps me clear my mind and stay focused. And performing gives me a sense of purpose: making people happy with my talents just utterly feeds and replenishes my soul.
I went into my calendar and mapped out my chemo treatment dates to estimate my good days and bad days for the upcoming months so I can try to schedule my life. I know that some of the effects will be cumulative and I’ll probably have more bad days thrown in as I move through the process. But I’m hoping that if I can just stay ahead of the curve with my side-effects, I’ll be able to continue to be creative and productive through this process. I may need to lay low for one week out of every three, but those other two weeks of each cycle I hope to keep making some big-time magic in the world!