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Back in the Saddle Again

Cancer treatment is a bit like childbirth. When it is all over, you forget the pain it took to get through it. I suppose both are a celebration of life, right? So I am afraid that I forgot the details of the chemo experience after having a respite of a year and a half. Call it selective amnesia. And getting a different cocktail this time means new surprises.

I hadn’t expected the huge IV bag of steroids given as premeds. The nurses always laugh at my description of getting Benadryl pumped into you, which lulls you into the most pleasant state of relaxation, a quick trip to la la land, only to have those ‘roids making you willing to sell your first born for a ham sandwich, preferably with a side of cheese fries. It makes for a good two-minute comedy routine when I tell it, complete with grand hand motions. Someday, I may take my act on the road.

There is the obligatory visit from the pharmacist, who describes what kind of poison she is about to concoct for me in her secret lab and finishes with a stern warning to drink a gallon of water in the next few days to flush out the toxins, which will, incidentally, produce orange-colored urine. I can hardly wait for that show. She furrows her brow and describes the possible heart damage, and I make a mental note not to claim that. The nurse practitioner then moves in to my little cubicle to describe the potential side effects before presenting me with pages and pages of things to avoid. She casually mentions chemical burns. Really? I smile sweetly and nod my head as they talk: I have already visited Dr. Google, so I know what I am up against.

I wonder if I can adjust to lukewarm showers instead of hot bubble baths and if drinking a steamy mug of coffee will really cause mouth blisters. I’ll try to remember the rinsing regiment. I think of the ridiculous number of cute sandals I own, waiting to be worn as soon as the weather gets a bit warmer. I try to imagine myself in something practical and soft that absolutely causes no rubbing of the skin. Nothing stylish like that in my current inventory. I'll also add some loose flowy dresses to my shopping list since my skinny jeans, which are getting tighter and tighter, will no longer work. Perhaps, I will become one of those glamorous women who lounges all day in a silk caftan while entertaining visitors and sipping herbal tea. But that image is tainted when I am also reminded that I will be losing my hair. I’ll check Amazon for a matching turban to complete the ensemble. I have already figured that wearing a wig will be taboo since there is that friction thing. Mani and pedis are off the list, too. The last bit of vanity I have left is being smashed to bits right before my very eyes. Damn cancer. I had prided myself for “looking good for my age.” That was before; this is now. And yes, it is true what they say about pride.

I was the first patient who checked in that morning and was home by mid-afternoon, thanks to an efficient nurse, who didn’t play. And after a short cat nap, I got a second wind, fueled by a steroid feeding frenzy, a strange combination of nausea mixed with crazy hunger, an appetite you might expect from being marooned in the wilderness like on Naked and Afraid. And as I took random bites of appealing things I had grabbed from the pantry and refrigerator, Pac-man style, I fixed myself a Miralax cocktail, stirred, not shaken. I did mention side effects, right? I got in bed where I cried nonstop for a full hour, unable to maintain the dam of emotions that burst for whatever reason. And then, like a faucet that was simply turned off, I took a deep breath and stopped. My husband made the mistake of coming to check on me, and I talked his ear off until well after midnight, when he begged for me to let him get some sleep. I thought that I was being witty and entertaining, along with profoundly wise, but apparently not, and when I mentioned that this is how my girlfriends and I gab when we have our three-hour lunches, he mumbled something about being happy that I had those kind of relationships. I think that he was secretly relieved that they took some of the pressure off of him.

I tossed and turned most of the night, solved all of problems of the world, wrote this blog in my head, visualized being healthy, calculated how many days until it would be all over, and prayed, prayed, prayed. Those darned steroids. I am, it seems, super sensitive to them. Just my luck. And I have been on prednisone eye drops for cataract surgery four times a day for over a month. Even the optometrist was surprised when I complained about a six-pound weight gain and moon face, which I attributed to those drops. Some scholarly article confirmed it. At least I got bionic eyes out of that, so it was a fair trade. I am pretty sure that I am vibrating at some high frequency by now that only wild animals can hear. As a result, I was up far too early than I wanted to be. Maybe the super-charged nausea meds will bring me down a bit. I get three of those magic pills, one per day. I hope I don't drop one down the sink.

It isn’t pleasant to be in this place once again, fighting both the side effects and the cancer at the same time. I think of all I have subjected my body to since I was diagnosed, especially over the past six months. But I am strong and my resolve hasn’t waned, nor has my will to live. I seem to say “it is what it is” a lot because that’s my acceptance mantra. But I also say “Thy will be done,” too. I know who The Physician-In-Charge is, and I trust in His benevolent care. I have walked through this Valley several times, but never alone. And that is more comforting than anything.

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