I’m frustrated. My hair is falling out. My eyelashes are thinning again. I don’t know why. I’m months beyond chemo and surgery. I should be past this! It makes me realize how not past this I am. That dark cloud hovers in my peripheral.
I tell my cancer team about my hair loss. They recommend I see a dermatologist. This is puzzling. By puzzling, I mean infuriating. They sure were good at making my hair fall out. But, making it stop or growing it back isn’t interesting to them. It is the ultimate in passing the buck. It is KMAGYOYO. It made me cry.
I get it. They did their job. I’m not going to die. But now I have to live.
For the first time in my life, the sensations of life and living are distinct. I always used to live to the fullest. I really did. Life and living were one in the same, an effortless marriage I took for granted.
Now I’ve had the experience many only have towards the end of their life…the slow decent into just hanging on, not knowing if you’ll get to come back. Chemo really takes you there. It is unspeakably difficult. The recovery is snail paced. I’m impatient.
The doctors solved my one big problem but created a million other, smaller problems that I’m now trying to sort through. And I realize that I’ll be sorting through them with just my worries and my calendar. Time, it seems, is the only real cure.
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!
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.
Every 3 weeks, the day before the chemo treatment, a dark cloud settles over my otherwise love-filled, supported, happy life. Describing it is difficult. Now that I’ve finished round 3 and am at the half-way point for chemo treatments, I see it more as a Pavlovian response, more emotional than physical.
Harry Potter fans would know it as a dementor, sneaked away from Askaban, searching me out, sucking away my happiness until it appears I may never feel it again.
A friend lent me Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. He describes going into a darkness so thick and palatable that you breath it, feel it on your skin, taste it. You walk through it like fog. Some don’t make it out to the other side. That’s how this feels.
I cry. A lot.
I’m dealing with cancer well though. I daresay I’m resilient. But each treatment my optimism and positivity are tested for a few days and, dammit, if chemo isn’t stronger than me. It gets its way.
One reason for this is that cancer has taken away all my nifty coping mechanism. My fitness routines that doubled as meditation are no longer an option for me during treatment (aerial silks, yoga, dancing like a fool in my living room). Alcohol is seriously restricted. Even comfort food like enchiladas and filet mignon are no longer in my arsenal. It is a cruel reality, even for a person I used to consider tough as an ox and multifaceted as a diamond.
I’ve watched all my castles fall. They were, indeed, made of dust.
Fortunately, hopefully all this mess will make me laugh someday. When it’s all over, I’ll let you know.
Do you remember the worst day of your life? Prior to this I didn’t. I had a vague recollection of a few really terrible experiences but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what day it was and the precise itinerary.
The day of the biopsy I told my boyfriend that I was currently experiencing the worst day of my life. But there was a worse day after that and an even worse day still.
I think now that we’ve begun treatment and that most of the shock has faded away I can catalog those earlier days as the worst. The way they described my illness and the way it would be treated was numbing and sharply painful at the same time. Learning about what would happen to me was far worse than what is actually happening to me. To be certain, the mind is far more capable of pain than the body.
I was in the chemotherapy room last week with my friend. We were cheerful, chatting and laughing. It was Friday. In walked a woman with her daughter. She was recently diagnosed and was doing what they call a “chemo teach.” Thinking back to my “chemo teach,” I felt enormous empathy.
She looked pale, mechanical. Her daughter was doing all the talking. Her daughter was carrying the binder full of terror the oncology nurse gives you and was taking notes. Her daughter smiled at us.
My friend and I felt like old pros. We both remember that day well. She had asked all the questions, carried all the stuff, and took careful notes that day. I could barely work a pencil. She had chatted politely with the other women in the chemo room. When I had opened my mouth to speak, tears came out instead. It was the worst day of my life.
It was a relief to know that was behind us. Here we were, in the very room that had scared me so much, giggling about nipple reconstruction and planning champagne for lunch. We had gotten past that terrible day.
I wouldn’t have been able to convince the woman having her worst day that it gets better so I didn’t try. Instead, I told her that I was using Latisse to try to keep my eye lashes during treatments. “I hear it works,” I said, like I know all about it. I saw a quick flash of curiosity in her eyes. I hope I was able to give her something to think about, instead of all the scary stuff, on her drive home. I hope her worst day is behind her.
Ok, Body, not cool. I thought we were friends. I treat you with kindness and respect (whiskey notwithstanding). I compliment you every single day. I never talk shit. And most importantly, I trusted you. You bitch.
You have a made a terrible, terrible mistake, one that will never be forgotten.
But we can fix this. You need to work at it though. You need to work your ass off. And I’ll work at it too and together we’ll make this right.
If you do this for me, I’ll forgive you for everything. I promise. I’ll give you another chance and we’ll be close friends again. I won’t hold it against you. You just fucked up. Nobody’s perfect. I know that. Just make it up to me.