Survival after Chemotherapy

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.

After losing 15 pounds. Don't forget pictures add ten pounds. I was so pale!
Surviving Chemotherapy


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.

Image result for pictures of skeletons

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.





11 thoughts on “Survival after Chemotherapy

  1. Luiza says:

    I hadn’t considered the loss aspect with regards to the “chemo brain” and I so appreciate you sharing about that. As always, your imagery is just amazing, it really takes me into your experience. Love you!

  2. Barbara Washburn says:

    You are a gift. This describes SO much both in fact and feeling and is destined to help many people, dear Merry. Thank you from my heart for sharing this as you have.

  3. Casey Lupton says:

    So enjoy the clarity of your thoughts and that you can put this into writing….Bravo! This is helpful in many ways to many people. Hugs, Casey

  4. Mary Brady says:

    My dear friend Merry, as I have said before you are an inspiration. Not only to me but to many other’s. Your life’s journey has taken you to many frightening places but you always seem to rise above it. I am so happy that you are sharing your story!
    Love you, Mary B.

  5. Susan McHugh says:

    Merry, this is awesome! As a cancer coach and 2x cancer survivor, your story resonates with almost all the cancer patients I work with. And I will probably use your story if that’s okay with you?
    I am so proud of you!

  6. Marie Saccoccio says:

    Merry- your story so inspires me and brings me back to my own treatment. The feelings come to the surface but also makes us realize that we are never alone. You write and explain so well what you and some of us have lived through- I am so proud to call you my beautiful friend.
    Love you-

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