When people want to know if they can ask me a cancer question, my response is always I’m an open book and so far I have fully shared as much of this whole experience as I possibly could. Except for one really ugly part.
I wanted chemo.
From the second I was told it was not recommended after my first diagnosis I was disappointed. No, I didn’t tell anyone how I really felt. Yes, at the same time I also felt complete and total relief that I wouldn’t have to go through the hair loss and the vomiting and all the things I thought chemo was that are now so surface level it makes me laugh. I wanted chemo to save my life but also because deep down I have always felt like I “got away” with cancer; that I didn’t really have it. At cancer support events I’d find myself envious of those who looked like cancer patients because I didn’t. I looked exactly the same the entire time except some weight gain but that could as easily have been the result of a happy relationship where we both enjoy food as much as from not working out the same after the double mastectomy. I have three giant scars you can’t see unless I choose to show you.
Losing my hair became a cancer badge I weirdly wanted without really considering what it would fully mean.
The truth is chemo seemed like a part of the cancer journey I didn’t “get” to have and I have felt so guilty for the last two years when people would ask me if I had to have chemo and I would say no. Catch myself feeling shameful over being lucky. Embarrassed for being blessed. Regretful that I was able to cut it all away instead of having to kill it from the inside out like a real survivor.
I’m on day 7 of chemo and I don’t want this anymore.
This is the most difficult thing I have ever put my body through. How do people do this with children? How do children do this?! I am completely and utterly unable to function for days. The symptoms ebb and flow hourly so I never really know where I’m at. I’m paranoid all the time. One moment, I feel relatively fine and the next I’m sweating profusely, my hips are aching like they are widening underneath me, and I pass out in a groggy sleep for hours at a time. I walk funny, like I’m unsure of my legs underneath me. I’m nauseous but I’m hungry. Or maybe my stomach is just cramping from the constipation. My mouth feels and tastes like I’m Flick in Christmas Story and my tongue is stuck to a frozen metal flag pole.
I’ve lost 5 pounds probably of muscle. Foods that taste amazing for one meal are the most nauseating thing the next. My beloved cat Gordon goes from being my biggest comfort to the most terrifying, germ infested, smelly beast I know he isn’t.
My body is starting to break-out in big ugly red zits from the steroids.Walks feel great until they don’t and make me feel like my tank is on empty. I can’t think straight. Everything is cloudy. Not clean white clouds but ugly, dark, storm-a-coming clouds ready to take everything down in their path.
Recently I’ve seen breast cancer story lines in different television shows. A Million Little Things and Dead to Me show some of what its like but what they don’t show is how chemo wrecks havoc on your life. How it takes all the plans you had for your life and puts them on hold for months. For some people years. This reality would be a really boring show.
Gina, sitting on her couch, reading a book if her eyes will let her or listening to a TV show if they won’t, crying in the shower saying “I’m ok. I’m ok.”, avoiding thoughts of the future that were stolen from her by her own reckless desire for stupid chemo.
I will feel stronger in the coming weeks. Then my hair will fall out. I will gain more energy, have less pain, and return to some sort of normalcy. Then I’ll have to go in for Round 2. Then Round 3. Then Round 4.
The thought of having to do this cycle to myself again and again and then one more time is so painful I can’t let my mind think about it or I will cave. Throw in the towel. Turn my poker cards over, show my frankly shitty hand, and fold.
So where do I go from here? I learned a very humbling life lesson I will earn over the next three chemo months: love the life you live and never take the lucky breaks for granted. I have an amazing support group who spoil me with gifts and time and I appreciate all of it. I continue to try and find the good in all of this. I am currently cancer free and this chemo is preventative for any lingering cancer cells that might have escaped technology’s eye. My family is here. Jesse is here. My friends are here. I am young(ish) and strong. My apartment is cozy. My job will be there when I can go back. I can try alternative pain management. This will be over someday. But right now where I really go is back to bed.
Because I’m exhausted.