Survival after Chemotherapy 2008
Survival after chemotherapy wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. On my first post-chemo night my husband almost called 911. When I had my blood drawn earlier that day my blood counts were so low the nurses could only give me a one-quarter of a dose of my chemo. And by the time I got home all I could do was sit on the edge of a chair and sit still. My sister came over with a brownie cake for my birthday. I could barely look at it never mind eat it and I love chocolate.
A chemical haze had overtaken me and I wondered if I was alive or on my way to being dead. I could blink and smile but I don’t know if my face moved. If I tried to move would I go over the edge and not be able to return. My folks were always my safety net when I was growing up, carefully saving me from my mistakes. They weren’t there to call. I was on my own. I was detached from every thing around me. The inside of my house seemed very remote. I was the eye of a tornado-completely still while the earth turned around me.
As days passed my life was simple as I could do only a few things. I rose, washed up, showered and ate breakfast. My weight was down a lot, fifteen pounds off of my already slender figure. I was stick thin, almost 105 lbs. When I first started to lose weight during chemo I was thrilled but I was now depressed about it. I called my sister to go shopping, wanting something new to perk me up. However my usual size four almost fell off of me.
I could see my pelvic bones and ribs. I was as translucent as onion skin, as thin as dangerous ice. Being too thin post-chemo was often the case and is emotionally taxing as being overweight. My happiness in finishing chemotherapy was as tenuous as holding on to a log in a raging river or a child’s hand that wants to slip away from yours to do something else.
Mourning usually follows an operation that entails removing a body part. I soon realized that it was a normal reaction to to surviving chemotherapy. Although I wasn’t missing any more body parts but I was missing part of my mind. And as days and weeks went by it was not recuperating very quickly. I had chemo-brain. It can be a serious, real illness.
There were no formal support groups that I knew of for chemo-brain like there are today. Chemo-brain really is for another blog post but I do want to address some of it in this post because it affected everything I did and thought, every mood and all my relationships. I was different, I knew that, but what caused it?
There are a lot of changes that happen when you have cancer followed by chemotherapy. Surviving chemotherapy not only depends on infusion nurses and doctors but also your frame of mind. If I don’t know something is wrong or I choose to ignore it I just go on as if nothing has happened. I’m like a bowling ball, hopping from one lane to another not knowing that it was suppose to stay in its own lane. Before I mentioned to anyone that I felt foggy, after a few months I just assumed that I’d outgrow it or it would straighten out on its own. It took well over a year to just recover from my surgery and some of my chemo-brain is still with me. I even use it as an excuse to cover up my senior moments because I don’t want to grow up.
As the weeks and months passed by I began to resume my normal activities. I started back with exercising, ballet classes and walking. Dave and I traveled to Spain for his work. I had a broken left foot that I had to coddle but I was fine. My breathing didn’t seem to be a problem at all yet. I felt very free and happy to be in Spain and wished that we could move to Europe.
I kept plowing into reality but it was much different than after my first cancer. Now I had had cancer twice and I knew that it could return again. I was naive with my first cancer, hardly ever thinking this way. The famous “But not ME” scenario was a very familiar roommate. I felt a sniggering of fear, but what was it really? My memory is fickle and contaminated with facts and semi-facts from the past and all the living that I have done since. And part of trying to survive chemotherapy was trying to discern the differences. It was as arduous a task, like swimming against the tide. I could only do it with the next wave, bringing me back to shore, to only get swept away again.