Extended Stay

August 4, 2010 at 10:21 PM (Faith, Real Life) (, , , , , , , )

A very dear (and possibly quite intoxicated) friend emailed me this afternoon with a link to Christopher Hitchens’ beautifully worded essay about his cancer diagnosis, saying it reminded him of my writing. While I am highly flattered, and definitely aspire to that level of proficiency (not to mention professional success), the essay did strike a number of chords.

Hitchens speaks of the discovery of his illness as “…a very gentle and firm deportation, taking me from the country of the well across the stark frontier that marks off the land of malady.” This international one-way trip is the most shocking transition, especially for people (henceforth known as “patients”) who were previously healthy and unencumbered by medical interventions any greater than the occasional Advil. With diagnoses like ovarian cancer, what you think at first will be just a brief visit turns out to be a longer stay, with an extendable visa that might last the rest of your life.

For the past few years, I’ve envisioned myself as I always was: a mom, wife, cook, fashion fiend, friend, sister — exercising, writing, cleaning, driving, living my life — who also happened to have cancer. This summer, however, the paradigm has shifted. Now I feel like I’m a cancer patient who also occasionally writes, walks the dog, folds laundry, and makes dinner. My treatment and attendant side effects have gotten more insistent, more interruptive. I have to have my daily meds, straight from refrigeration or a cooler, at the same time every day. Within three hours, I need to be near indoor plumbing. By mid-afternoon, I need a nap. Water tastes horrible, so I have to bring my own beverages. Comfy shoes. Short walks and a place to sit down. (I’m starting to sound like my grandmother. Who’s 103.) I can no longer be the same person I was in that other country.

A part of me longs for the early stages of my illness again, that optimistic sense of purpose and determination, the adrenaline-charged vigor of the attack. Like a Saturday morning, the future was still hazy but full of potential; the fear of the unknown can be enervating but at least it’s a plan. Hitchens is starting chemo for his esophageal cancer, and I wish him health and strength to get through the journey. I miss the innocence and blind optimism and faith in medicine that carried me through that first summer with cancer. But the wisdom and perspective of the ensuing years I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Okay, maybe a clean CT scan. Or a book deal. Hitchens? Throw me a bone, eh?

Photo credit here.

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Give Me a Break

July 7, 2010 at 4:14 PM (Energy, Mood, Treatment) (, , , , , , , , , , )

The trial continues. Week Two of taking the fabulous drug daily, all nine capsules of it, and I’m beat. Possibly from the effort required to swallow nine capsules at once. I’ve never had a problem taking pills in the past, but this really frosts the cupcake. Why, in our era of superb medical advancement and death-defying technology, is this pharma company incapable of cramming 450 mg of my mystery drug into five capsules? Or three?

Aside from increasing my snark quotient, said mystery substance is wearing me out. Maybe it’s all the peristalsis, or maybe I’m just getting old. Or possibly since I’ve been actively fighting this beast for over eighteen months now without a break, I’m losing my elite-athlete-like (ha) endurance. I’m a lover, not a fighter. And I don’t think four weeks off to wash the Avastin out of my system counts as a break. Every time I stop to examine my alternatives, though, I realize: they suck. So back at it I go. But I’m really sick of:

  • Flirting with nurses to make sure I’m the favorite
  • Peeing in a cup
  • Repeating my last name and date of birth to prove I’m really me (who the hell would pose as a cancer patient?)
  • Sleeping with my support stocking on
  • Having the inside of my mouth taste like an ashtray and not getting to smoke first
  • Being too tired to play tennis, swim, ride a bike, walk up the stairs, cook dinner, host a playdate
  • Short hair

On the bright side, I am not bald, throwing up, peeling, recovering from an abdominal incision, or dead. I can still drive, give directions, boss my kids around, surf the internet, and laugh at a dirty joke.

I think I need an attitude adjustment. Possibly an expensive spa treatment. Fortunately, I have one scheduled for Thursday morning. Hope I can drag my sad old carcass in there.

Thanks for listening. We now return you to your previously scheduled Eastern Seaboard Inferno of a day.

At least I can still nap.

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Erosion

May 12, 2010 at 12:09 PM (Energy, Mood, Sleep) (, , , , , , , )

Some days I feel like a regular person. Aside from my daily nap, I run errands, walk the dog, cook dinner, sort the junk mail, fold the laundry. Except for my goofy haircut, you’d never know I am sick.

Today is not one of those days. I’m completely drained. I’m not sure if it’s the allergies (Massachusetts is covered in green pollen) or what, but in my Pilates class yesterday I had trouble completing any of the exercises (that usually make me sweat, but not collapse). It was as if someone was squeezing handfuls of the bottoms of both my lungs. We had a dozen errands to run in the afternoon, and by the time I’d dropped #1 Son off at soccer practice, I could hardly bring myself to heave my body out of the car and climb the stairs.

This morning seems to be little better. At the gym, I had to dumb-down my not-so-strenuous treadmill workout, and still hopped off every five minutes for a water break. At the park, I felt so fatigued I wondered if I’d make it back to the car. Even the dog seemed to know not to make me work too hard, and behaved himself.

At the risk of sounding like Pitiful Pearl, I’m flat. My feet are killing me. My sinuses feel like there’s been a knife fight. And I’m noticing that despite my ability to stand up to the flood of finite treatments and surgeries and to keep on truckin’ in the battle of Me vs. Ovarian Cancer, I’m wearing away, little by little, in the face of a slow trickle of endless chemo and side effects. Is it the Cytoxan? Is it the tumors? My lungs feel funny – is it the metastases? I can’t say, at least not until my next scan (5/19). But it’s getting harder to pretend I can do it all in the four hours a day I seem to be able to stay out of bed.

Gee, I might have to add a morning nap. That’d be terrible.

Photo courtesy http://www.reallynatural.com


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