Today I learned one of those little things nobody tells you about life after chemo…
You know all that money and time and pain-management you have invested over the years in a little beauty ritual known as waxing your legs? You know how after many years of such investment, the hair started thinning a bit, growing back a little more sparsely, the roots weakened and eventually (say after about 12 years) these little torture sessions became more tolerable? Well our friend chemo resets the clock on all this. When your hair grows back – right after you have celebrated the fact that you actually have hair to wax again after months without – you will find that those little roots are as deep and tough and determined as praire grass. Just like they were way back in the beginning of your first foray in to the world of waxing.
In a word: YEOUCH!
Still, I’m not complaining. Well I am, obviously, but I’m grateful to have hair at all and what’s the pain of a leg wax compared to the myriad evil side-effects of chemo?
To those of you who are hairless: go baldly and bravely onward, knowing you will one day have hair again.
To those who have hair again: go boldly and bravely back to your esthetician knowing you’ve been warned.
I went for a chest x-ray today. I had requested it, telling my doctors about the ongoing ache in my chest and the cough that hasn’t gone away since I picked up my daughter’s most recent cold several weeks ago.
I have never been the hypochondriac in the family (there are actually 2 of them) but I’m aware that I might be getting a bit hysterical about this. I’m gripped by fear that my cancer may have spread — specifically to my lungs. This fear is of course at least partly due to the symptoms, but I also think partly due to timing: I have just finished chemo and I want to know immediately if I am going to have to go back for more, before I let my defenses down and get too comfortable with the idea that it’s truly over.
Then again, the fear of cancer spreading in my own body might have something to do with the news last week that not 1 but 3 people I know were diagnosed with cancer (lung, breast, esophagus/liver.) I am just reeling from the random unfairness of this disease.
I’m also sure the oncologists have seen this kind of fear-response before. I spoke to my cancer shrink at the hospital today and he managed to make me feel not completely crazy (he’s really very good at that.) I’m behaving like someone who is going to be more attuned to alerts in her body – more likely to react with fear to certain symptoms – because, let’s face it, last time my body had something to tell me it ended up being a pretty big deal.
The trick, according to my cancer shrink, is to try to keep it in perspective. His advice was to get my GP to vet my complaints: ask her to evaluate things that are genuinely worrying me in as fair a way as she always has. I’m lucky to have a GP who will be good at that – taking me seriously, but not indulging my fears. Being a good doctor, basically.
I feel better already. But not as good as I’ll feel when the x-ray results come back and give me some concrete evidence – the good kind. Nothing like a bit of science to augment the psychological stuff.
I had my last round of chemo today.
The chemo room is enormous and always full of women and their husbands, friends or family. I hate the implications of the “always full” part, but I find I’m warmed by this strange community we form — patients, family, friends and nurses, thrown together under miserable circumstances but trying to make it as comfortable as possible.
The first time I went for chemo I cried uncontrollably the instant the IV needle was in. Not blubbering so much as hyperventilating & blinking out big splashy tears. Mercifully one of the nurses had an anti-anxiety pill under my tongue faster than I could say “I’m leaving,” and after a while things settled down into a nice, floaty haze. My husband held my hand for four hours straight.
I saw a woman like that today – she just looked terrified, and her husband held her hands and stared into her eyes, willing her to be strong, or to draw strength from him, maybe. It’s a pretty intimate place, the chemo room.
My husband and I have adapted to life in the chemo room in our own way: the nurses always give me one of the few beds rather than a recliner and nobody seems to mind that both he and I squeeze onto it. It’s very cozy and has been cause for lots of jokes, as we lie there reading the paper and even falling asleep on and off while the chemicals drip into my body. I actually had to elbow my husband a couple of times today when he started snoring. It feels kind of like a typical Sunday afternoon at home when our daughter is napping and we lie in bed just reading and dozing off - except way more public and with an IV drip. And a lovely snack lady who wheels a cart into to the room, bearing juice and sandwiches and cookies. (We should really look into getting her to drop by our place on Sunday afternoons.)
But as cozy and not unpleasant as the nurses have managed to make it for me, I realized the moment they took the needle out today that I’m no longer experiencing mixed emotions about the end of chemo: I’M JUST SO GLAD IT’S OVER.
May it really and truly be the last time.
And bring on the side effects – let’s get them over with too and move on to the next stage of my treatment. Sayonara chemo, hello radiation.
It occurs to me that they probably don’t let the husbands share the beds for radiation. I’m willing to give up a few privileges. But should I ever have the means, I’ve pledged to donate a double bed to the chemo room.
Tomorrow I will be having my LAST chemo treatment.
It’s a major milestone: the chemo nightmare is ending, hopefully forever. I’m not looking forward to the impending side-effects (although I have stocked the freezer with calzones so I’m ready for the steroids) but there is something to be said for knowing it’s the last time. Something like, “Yaaahoo! No more chemo!!!”
So why am I having this weird anxiety about the end of chemotherapy? Why am I plagued by creeping fears and nagging questions like, What if they didn’t get all the interlopers?? What if they tell me I need more chemo?
And weirder still, why am I sort of relieved that I will have to keep going to the hospital for my fifteen remaining Herceptin treatments? I hate being hooked up to an IV. I hate going to the hospital. Yet now that the end of chemo is here at last, I feel strangely comforted that I still have these Herceptin treatments to take me to the hospital every three weeks for about 12 more months.
Am I losing my mind?
I think it comes down to the fear that if I stop going to the hospital and no one is watching the shop, the interlopers could start sneaking in and doing their dirty work again.
Don’t get me wrong, I truly want this to be over so I can have my life (and hair) back. But it’s kind of like Stockholm Syndrome – I hate the way chemo has kidnapped my life, yet I’m kind of afraid to be without it.