Returning to treatment has been both emotionally and physically difficult. I had conveniently forgotten how it feels to have poison pumped into my body and watch as each drip slowly moves down the tube, through my port, and into the vein which leads to my heart. This first infusion was over seven hours long, and the time passed slowly as I sat there tethered to the pole which held my medicine.
This is a new protocol called “dose dense.” I now understand why: it is potent. I suppose that I had developed selective amnesia when it comes to the subsequent side effects, even though the medical folks provided me with a fat stack of papers describing the “what ifs.” I try not to dwell on them. Perhaps it is human nature to conveniently forget the pain that is far too difficult to remember; the mind steps in to protect itself at such moments.
I’ve been asked how chemotherapy feels. Most people are afraid to broach the subject, but my friends want to know. I have struggled to describe the physical and emotional punch that it packs, but I will try.
You are given intravenous pre meds to prepare your body for treatment. Two are for nausea; one is to prevent stomach ulcers; and the other is to prevent inflammation. In other words, they give you little bags of Dramamine Pepcid and steroids, followed by Benadryl. Yes, if is much like being on a roller coaster, but truth be told, it isn’t altogether unpleasant as you become stimulated and then, very groggy. At that point, the gates to "lala land" open and you become a compliant patient. Usually.
Then come the chemo meds. I was told once that the reason that the nurses suit up and wear gloves during the delivery is because what you are receiving could literally burn a hole in the skin. Scary to consider that this is what they are about to inject into the body, and so, a saline solution accompanies the chemo drug to lesson its potency.
And then, you wait. The true effects of chemo begin the next day.
Earlier today, I was thinking about my teenage years and one particularly stupid experiment with alcohol. I was a young college freshman home for the weekend. I had gone out with a group of friends to a place that had live music for dancing and a bartender with a generous pour. Because the drinking age was eighteen, the management wasn’t too concerned with checking ID. And so, on any given night, the place was packed with underage kids trying to be cool and adult-like.
I was usually pretty good at pacing myself because, in spite of my professing that I was an adult, I was a little scared of my momma, who would have had a fit (Yes, it's an appropriate Southernism) if she had caught me drinking. But it was inevitable: one Saturday night, I partied a little too hard. I will spare you the details, but the price I had to pay for my overindulgence is a lot like the way chemo makes you feel. Miserable. And hungover.
So this morning, I woke feeling awful. with a dry mouth and an upset stomach. And illogically, between the waves of nausea, there are strong food cravings for sugar and carbohydrates, the things you aren’t supposed to eat. (French fries anyone?) The digestive issues alone are like a little slice of hell. My muscles hurt as though I have been lifting weights far beyond my physical ability, and my bones ache. (Remember growing pains as a child? Imagine adding an inch or two of height overnight.) I feel like I have been hit by a truck. A big one. And I am tired, life-altering tired, in spite of just having had a full night of sleep. This is what chemo feels like. It kicks you down the street like a tin can. It robs you of the strength and motivation to do much of anything because your body is fighting the assault. It sucks. But it also potentially saves.
Chemotherapy is like a really bad hangover without the preceding good time. And unfortunately, there is no “hair of the dog” either. I’ve been in bed for the past three days, but I prefer to think of it as being in “energy saving mode.” And I am determined to get up and get out and get well, to engage with life in whatever limited form I can. I look forward to it. Maybe tomorrow. I’m suddenly craving Chinese food.