A sound so wonderful

I drove by Zilker Park last night and saw the preparation for the ACL Music Festival. It is my most favorite thing. Music at the festival is among the most precious memories of my life. The sparkly red guitar sign is a symbol of the thing I look forward to most every year. I felt such confusion as I passed it because it didn’t mean much.

At the end of the day of my first chemo treatment, a bell rang out in the silence and the room erupted in applause and cheering. No one had told us what that meant but we looked at each other knowingly and joined in the celebration. I remember a few tears slipping out, both for how happy I was for her and how far away it seemed for me. She was done.

In just 2 days I’ll be ringing that bell in the chemo room. There isn’t a word in English that accurately describes this sort of anticipation. No music festival could ever be more exciting. No music could ever sound more beautiful.

Saying “I can’t wait” is simply not enough. That being said, I can’t wait.

Beautiful Mind

Who is responsible? Who takes the blame?

Cancer is tricky in that the culprit can equal self. Sometimes I feel like my body went rogue and betrayed me. I feel angry with my physical self for doing this to me. I’ve personified my breast, disassociated with it, and consider it the enemy.

This is tough because it means that I hate myself. I want to destroy myself. I’m my own worst enemy.

I’ve never felt this way and I find it very unsettling. I love myself! It is both defeating and unproductive to hate and love at the same time, in this scenario and in all areas of life. So, I’ve got to work out a plan for forgiveness and reunion.

My boyfriend’s heartwarming response is that my breast is the victim, attacked by a powerful villain. It deserves compassion, not animosity. I am not at fault. I’m grateful to be reminded of this and it does allow me to soften my feelings of self-loathing. By focusing on cancer as foreign or separate, I can move beyond my negative narcissism. Faceless, nameless, and without origin, “it” isn’t me. I didn’t do this.

As I move closer to mastectomy surgery, I find it easier to grant mercy. I’ve started looking at my breast as a friend that will soon pass away. I’ll miss her dearly. I may throw a wake! I’ve also begun to feel gratitude towards my body for overpowering the invader. Perhaps one day I’ll even call myself a hero. Not yet, though. We still have a bit work left to do.

Final round a week from today!

 

02 Rachael

Pot isn’t for everyone I realize. I don’t care for the stuff myself after a rather misfortunate bus trip to Nimbin, Austrailia in college. That was before I got cancer.

The physical and (most surprising to me) emotional effects of chemotherapy are severe. Show-stopping, jaw-dropping, hardest-thing-ever severe. You simply cannot imagine the comprehensive body trauma of this treatment. It is a wonder they call it a cure at all.

Many of the effects of chemo are strangley non-specific. The literature given to me before I began treatment stated such vague expectations as “feeling generally unwell,” a staggering understatement. While my oncology nurse tries her damnedest to treat my side-effect symptoms with additional medicine, she can’t realistically solve general unwellness. Add acute, sporadic depression, the kind that can only be explained by facing one’s own untimely, unfair, unexpected mortality, and you’ve got quite a puzzling medical conundrum on your hands.

There isn’t a single non-addictive drug available that combats all these things at once successfully except cannabis. Texas legalized CBD oil in 2015* but has not yet legalized medical marijuana use. I’m fortunate, however, to have access to both THC and CBD products, even though my means are not always legal. I feel so, so sorry for patients who do not.

Let me be very clear. I’m not gazing into a lava lamp while listening to Bob Marley, giggling and eating Doritos. I’m sick as fuck. There is no charm in my drug use.

A dear friend recently visited a farm in Oregon where they are growing organic, medical-grade hemp for use in CBD products to treat patients with cancer, alzheimer’s, epilepsy, and other debilitating diseases. She was able to name one of the rows after me. There were lots of tears when I got the photo of this beautiful gift, lots of tears.

I want to invite anyone opposed to the legalization of marijuana to pop in on a person with cancer a few days after chemo treatment or spend just 5 five minutes in the chemo room with me. I want you to look into the face of anyone with cancer or MS or schizophrenia or any other of the terrible diseases and disease treatments that benefit from marijuana use and see that pain. Your mind will be forever changed. As more and more lawmakers do these things (and more and more citizens demand they do), I doubt very much pot will be illegal in Texas for much longer. I hope that both the restriction and the stigma of medical marijuana are soon a thing of the past.

* While CBD is legal in Texas, DPS continues to make it difficult to acquire it, including at People’s Pharmacy where I purchased mine.

TKO

This is kinda how breast cancer treatment goes.

Doc: I’m so sorry you’re going through this. But breast cancer is very treatable. The treatment is to be punched in the face every day until the cancer is gone.

You have options. It works best if you’re punched daily by a really strong arm. The more it hurts, the better your chances of survival so we suggest a really solid hook to the jaw. If you want, we can even tie your hands behind your back.

You: Wow. That sounds really brutal. Got anything else?

Doc: There is another option but it is to certainly die a slow, painful death. We don’t recommend that. Do you have a better idea?

You: Um, no.

Doc:  I didn’t think so.

You: Ok, sign me up for the strongest arm you’ve got. And, thanks. I mean really…you’re my hero.

Round 5, over and done. It gets harder and longer and worse and more terrible.

But what is right next to 5? 6. And 6 is the end of this nightmare.

No Mother’s Day

Cancer has caused me to face a great number of things, mostly all difficult, some unexpected. One thing I’ve found most difficult to talk about is its effect on my fertility. I will not be able to have children after this.

How that makes me feel is still in progress. I didn’t have a strong desire to have children for the sake of them. I’ve always maintained that if I found the person I determined worthy enough to combine DNA to create our superior offspring we’d make those decisions together. I was also open to deciding with my partner to remain childless. I intended to put it out of my mind until such partner was discovered and I did. So, when I was sideswiped with the realization cancer would take that option away I didn’t have a plan.

At first I felt that I should do something so I met with a fertility specialist. He had options, the recommended being find a donor and freeze fertilized eggs before treatment. A less recommended option was to freeze unfertilized eggs. These options took time and/or a relationship I didn’t have.

Finally, there were drugs I could take that would suspend fertility in the hope my ovaries would regain function post-treatment (Lupron was one recommendation). This method would entail a very fast, brutal decent into temporary menopause. I considered it. I even spoke with Livestrong Foundation about financial assistance as fertility treatments are not covered by my insurance.

In a moment of courageous defeat, I simply said no. I was too overwhelmed, too scared, too heartbroken for any more decisions or procedures or drugs.

I told myself I don’t have to feel sad about never being honored by my partner to have our children. I told myself I don’t have to feel left out of the pride I know parents feel. I told myself I might not have been good at it anyway. But, that’s a lie. I would have been great at it.

So, I’ve settled into telling myself that something more terrible than cancer would have happened should I have been a mother. For something to happen to your kid is very likely the most painful experience. In fact, I’ve seen this pain in parents that have lost children. I see it in my own parents’ faces as they help me through my disease. I think of cancer as sparing me that pain.

I also realize time is running out for me and perhaps the parent path was just never in the cards for me. I accept the decisions made in my life without regret, including my decision to value quality relationships and spontaneity above the biological gift of bearing children.

I’ve gotten used to the idea of not being a mother I think. When I’m honest with myself, it is a bit of a relief. I wasn’t completely sure I wanted children so really, the only thing taken away is the option. There are plenty of benefits to being childless, benefits I’ve been enjoying for 35 years. I’m sure I’ll be fine and, on the flip side, I maintain families are made of love and commitment, not just DNA.

One thing that continues to bother me, however, is the unfairness with which parents sometimes treat the childless. I may not know what it’s like firsthand, sure. But I can comment on some children’s issues. I do have a stake in the future of humanity after all and I’m not beyond spending time with young people as a non-parent. In fact, I feel I have a lot to offer.

So, parents, please do not pour salt in my tiny wound by assuming I don’t “get it” because I don’t/can’t have children. You never know who might end up feeling you don’t “get it” when you strike a nerve with someone that had their mother’s day taken from them without permission.