The C Word – Part 7
The third week after my first treatment was GLORIOUS. I felt amazing, my appetite was fully restored, I had SO much energy, and our gig at the resort went perfectly! It was a blissful week.
But then, Round Two began.
Round two of chemo was not nearly as tolerable as round one. Firstly, this time the IV was placed into the top of my right hand, rather than a few inches up from my wrist as they’d done last time. So I couldn’t do any knitting. Instead, I had to sit there with my arm immobilized. And the pain in my veins this time was pronounced. The IV site itself was super sensitive as well, so my whole right forearm was really painful. The nurses tried to put heat on my arm to alleviate the pain, but because of the way the IV had been placed, I couldn’t tolerate any pressure on the arm whatsoever. Not even a warm towel. So, for the last hour of my treatment, I just sat and cried. The nurses felt terrible that I was in pain but there was nothing they could do. They closed the curtains around my pod so no one had to witness my misery.
I’d done a bunch of food prep on Monday so there would be meals available when I was too tired to cook. Tuesday was pasta – which I threw up. Wednesday was a homemade chicken pot pie – of which I couldn’t even eat one bite. And I barfed again. I haven’t figured out the trick of staying hydrated and nourished the week of treatment. When I can’t eat or drink anything cold or cool, and the nausea is so pronounced it feels like I’d been punched in the stomach repeatedly, I don’t know how to stay nourished. And PLEASE do NOT say, “Ensure” or “Boost”. Firstly, most have dairy in them so I can’t drink them, and more importantly, they are FULL of refined sugars and corn syrup. The absolute WORST for your health. My smoothies have been my answer to those over-prescribed sugary beverages, but I can’t drink anything that cold for a week following treatment. What’s a gal to do?
The day after my treatment I was attempting to do some graphic design work on the computer. From time to time as I was working, my hands, especially the right one, would seize up into twisted, immobile claws. It’s terrifying to suddenly lose the use of your hands. I’d run them under warm water and rub them briskly to get the feeling back. The cold sensitivity in my fingers was even more pronounced this time, too. I had trouble opening pill bottles or jars. Sometimes I couldn’t feel my fingers, making it difficult to pull cards out of my wallet. And touching cold items in the grocery store or the fridge is still painful. Even ten days after treatment.
Thursday, I managed to make my way into Vancouver to work a few hours at The Rio Theatre. I nibbled crackers and crystallized ginger during the day. That night I hurled again. Friday, I didn’t throw up, but that’s when the diarrhea kicked in. YAY!!!! I sent Doug out for Immodium, since that’s what the nurses had told me to take should that side effect present itself. And boy-howdy, did it ever! Again with the violent and toxic bodily fluids? This was not your garden-variety diarrhea! Truly horrendous. Doug and I went out on Saturday for a few hours, but other than that I REALLY needed to stay near the comforts of our home bathroom. On Saturday I also decided I should try to eat a hamburger. I rarely eat red meat but it occurred to me that perhaps I needed some iron, so we drove through A&W. I nibbled on that hamburger all day long, until I fell asleep on the couch and Velvet the cat apparently swooped in for a taste as I found the remains unceremoniously dragged under the sofa. When I tried to take my evening dose of the oral chemo medication – surprise, that hamburger was up-chucked. (Or chucked-up?)
So now it had been five days of being unable to keep hydration or food in my body. The instructions I had from the chemo centre said to discontinue the oral chemo drug and call your oncologist if you were vomiting for more than 24 hours or if you had diarrhea for more than 48 hours. But they didn’t have any number to call on the weekends, unless you were REALLY bad, in which case you were to go to the ER. And I wasn’t vomiting NONSTOP – just once a day. Other than that I basically stayed in bed. I was too exhausted for anything else. I lay there imagining what it would be like to have morning sickness every day for nine months and I felt like maybe throwing up once a day for one week out of every three wasn’t so bad? You can see how my logic was flying out the window.
By then I was so exhausted and malnourished that Fear found a way to creep back in through the cracks. Fear is the foe that I fight most strongly against. My morning meditations and mindful yoga are the best tools I have against it but my first line of defense is strength and I can’t fight ANYTHING when I’m that weak and malnourished. I talked to a couple of friends on the phone on Saturday evening and just crumbled into a teary-eyed mess. One of my friends who cared for her mom during her battle with cancer asked if I was “still taking the anti-anxiety medication” to which I replied, “no, they never gave me a prescription for anything like that, although another friend DID give me a few Atavan pills just in case”. I’d taken a half a pill way back when I was coping with my diagnosis, but since then I hadn’t taken any. My friend was very shocked they were not part of my treatment plan. There had been a series of questions on the oncologist’s intake form which were meant to gauge my level of anxiety, but since I’d been managing it so well prior to starting chemo, I guess they decided I was emotionally fine. And truthfully, I don’t like taking any pharmaceutical that I don’t HAVE to take. But my friend said I should give it a try. The way she put it: “they don’t really make you feel better, but they make you care less about feeling crummy”. So, after an existential, cathartic, full-body-sobbing cry, I took one.
Sunday morning, I felt MUCH better. And ravenous! I had been hungry all week, but fearful of eating anything which might make me throw up. I’d let the fear of throwing up take over my psyche so bodily, it was causing me to throw up from just THINKING about it. Mind over matter. I found some packets of electrolyte drink in the medicine cabinet and mixed one with water and juice and sipped on it until I felt a bit hydrated. Then I was finally able to eat a decent meal, and get some energy back into my weary body. Six days later. I’d essentially lost an entire week.
Ten days after treatment I was eating and drinking all right, but my hands were still sensitive to cold, so cooking became a little more challenging. Just the act of cracking an egg sent that splintered glass feeling through my fingertips. Which made me wonder if this side effect would end up going away eventually, or if it would always be with me. Neuropathy. My Mom’s never went away. She had a hard time writing because of it. I remember how her handwriting changed and became frail and strangled-looking. I realized just how much we take our hands for granted. In addition to all the tasks they perform for us every day, I also use mine for sewing, creating, cooking, gardening and general creative crafting. Having limited use of them would be difficult and frustrating to say the least. But right now, my focus is simply survival. And I know in my heart that neuropathy or not, I will always find a way to adapt, survive and thrive.