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Cancer Chronicles #8; Chemo Round One

Two weeks have passed since my first chemotherapy infusion. The past few days have been the closest I have felt to “normal” in a while and that feels pretty good! And as an added bonus while starting to fall out, I still have my hair…for now.

I didn’t post about my first round of chemo immediately for a few reasons. One, I just couldn’t summon the energy. This stuff really does knock it out of you. And secondly, I found in the days immediately following, my mood wasn’t particularly great and as my mother has often said, “If you can’t find anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” So instead of reflecting, I distracted myself with a good book and binge watching White Lotus.

As mentioned before, I opted to receive my treatments at U of M. Rogel Cancer Center is huge. 4 stories of labs, doctors’ offices and infusion rooms. It definitely lacks the Zen, spa-like feel of Munson’s center and while it felt like I had stepped into a cancer factory, I reminded myself I was not there for the ambiance, but rather the expertise. After labs were drawn, Bryan and I met Dr. Schott in person for the first time. I liked her immediately. I appreciated how thorough she was and the time she took to answer our questions and explain what to expect. So far so good. Dr. Schott handed us off to her nurse who then took us through “chemo education", a fun conversation that describes the myriad of side effects one may encounter while on chemo.

It was almost time to get started. Bryan and I had a few minutes to go find a quick snack. We set off to find the cafeteria. On the way back I was getting more and more nervous. All the what-if swirling through my head. What if I have a horrible reaction? What if it hurts a lot? Then out of the corner of my eye I saw some photographs hanging on the wall. One in particular caught my attention and I stopped, despite being in a hurry to look closer. “That looks like home.” I said to Bryan of the black and white photo. I stepped closer to study it more. To my complete shock it WAS a picture of home! The photo was of the road I lived off of my entire growing up years! It showed the farm house of our little Polish neighbor, the one who would make a show of hiding behind his mailbox if you drove by too fast; in the background the large trees that crested the hill. I could not believe my eyes. Of all the roads one could photograph in Michigan, this little country road outside the tiny village of Cedar, Michigan was hanging in the middle of this huge hospital. I snapped a picture of it and sent it to my family. Everyone recognized it immediately. It was such a strange coincidence but maybe it was more than that. In this giant hospital, where I felt a bit like a number, it was a reminder to me that I was not; that I was somebody who’d lived a lot of life and was in this place to live a whole lot more. I will look for it each time I go back.

In all honesty, the actual infusion is a bit anti-climatic. You sit there and wait. Drip, drip, drip. There was no private suite or fancy chair. Just Bryan and I, a bed and my IV. And the patient next to me along with his prison guard. Like I said, not the Zen experience of Traverse City but let’s face it, FAR more interesting!

The days after chemo strangely reminded me a bit of the early days of pregnancy. Nauseous, tired and nothing tastes right. One of the medications given is meant to ramp up your white blood cell count. An unpleasant side effect of this is bone pain. For several days following, I felt like I had a case of the flu with all over body aches, some bad enough to wake me in the middle of the night. Thankfully that has subsided and the biggest challenge is fatigue. Attempting to clean my house the other day left feeling like I'd run a half marathon. For someone used to running 25-30 miles a week, this is a particularly hard pill to swallow. Exercise is encouraged but at a very moderate level. Since I don’t have a ton of energy anyway, this is proving to be easier than I would anticipate but I can’t help but fret over how much fitness I am losing in the process.

Each phase of treatment comes with its own adjustment period. This is no different. At times, especially the first days following my infusion, I found myself really feeling the weight of this journey. Having been less than a month post surgery I certainly didn’t start chemo feeling on top of my game. It can be a bit overwhelming to think about how long it will be before I start to feel normal. There is a sense of not quite knowing what parts of my life I should be showing up for. I can find a million things to worry about. Am I doing enough? Am I doing too much? Do I really need people to be bringing us dinner? Should I be at work? Is it okay to go to the grocery store if I am not going to work? Prior to my own diagnosis, my image of someone going through chemo involved laying in bed while someone spoons broth into their mouth. This isn’t the case for me, thank god, but then I feel guilty if I am not doing something productive. It just goes to show that while chemotherapy is a powerful cancer killing drug, it has yet to wipe out feelings of inadequacy. Maybe researchers can work on that. There ought to be some perks.

But what really has occurred to me in the past couple of weeks is that there is no such thing as the road to recovery when it comes to cancer. Recovery implies a return to how one used to be. I have quickly learned that cancer doesn’t allow for that. It simply takes too much from you for you to ever be who you used to be. Instead I think a better term is forwarding. I am moving forward towards a new version who will be changed both physically and emotionally. Not for the worse mind you, maybe just different. Sometimes in life, we invite these changes and at other times they are forced upon us. Either way, evolving is hard.

I think about the young girl who went up that road in the picture thousands of times, the one who would push her dolls in a baby carriage up and over that huge hill, who would speed down the other side on her bike and eventually scare the poor neighbor for whizzing by too fast as a teenager. That girl could not have imagined just how hard life can get sometimes. But what she didn’t know was that she was always forwarding too and the bumps and bruises picked up along the way would only serve her in the long run. That’s what I try to think about. Cancer is taking more than its fair share but maybe, just maybe, it will leave me with gifts I can not yet imagine.

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