The 3 Week Chemo Cycle
Week 1 was full of anxiety: anxiety of not knowing what to expect. What side effects will I have? What remedies are available for me? How will the cancer cells in my body respond to treatment? The day of chemo came and went and the unwanted and dreaded guests of side effects showed up without any courtesy; all manner of sores, tastebuds obliterated, digestive tract issues, skin trouble, headaches, nausea and all. At least I know the devil now. One can always find an upside.
Week 2 was full of phone calls to BC Cancer Center for doctors, nurses and pharmacists in order to get control over the side effects. Slowly but surely, the symptoms responded to medication. I noticed that we were treated like royalty at our local pharmacist. I have a feeling that at the end of this journey I could apply to be a pharmacist.
Royalty I am! For the first time in my life, I have a direct line to a doctor, our oncologist. Again for the first time, different professionals of BC Cancer Centre – the nurses, specialist doctors, dieticians, a pharmacist and the nutritionist- called me to make sure that I was alive and well.
In our efforts to distract ourselves from the many side effects, we’ve selected a few long-running Netflix series. One of them is Downton Abbey. I must say I almost feel like I am one of that nobility upstairs encouraged to complain about this and that. How’s your sleep, how’s your eating, how’s your energy level, any dizziness, any shortness of breath, any chest pain, how’s your digestion, how are your fingers and toes (any numbness or purple marking), and so on.
Week 3: My energy is almost fully back. So is my appetite despite my wacky taste buds. I consciously fatten myself up to gear up for next week’s chemo (I lost 3 kgs during week 1). I used to think that my life without spicy food would be miserable and it turns out to be untrue. Spiciness to my tongue right now is just an unpleasant sharpness and I have cut it out entirely and I am not miserable. We live and learn! Håkan on the other hand keeps a little jar of crushed chilli peppers permanently now on the dining table to stave off the bland.
Some side effects are more stubborn, so our trips to the local pharmacist continue. So deepens our friendship and loyalty. We could choose to go to a more convenient store sometimes, yet there is this feeling of familiarity that is so comforting in this unfamiliar land of cancer. When you stand on a shaky ground, you hang onto anything stable. Plus, to Håkan’s delight, they provide freshly popped popcorn to cheer their customers up and it always does.
I was informed that the hair loss starts about now, and sure enough I’ve start shedding. Picking up and cleaning my hair around the house becomes part of the routine. It will be a week or two now before it’s all gone.
We hold dear certain images of ourselves and when they change, slight panic sets in and we introduce some ways to hold onto that image. Say we are getting old but we have a youthful image of ourselves. Wrinkles show up, we buy wrinkle creams. The hair greys, then we colour our hair.
I think of those days when I panicked about a small pimple. There is such an over-emphasis on appearance. Aging has its own momentum and with aging, I’ve also gained ‘perspective’ and gotten much more relaxed around my appearance.
Not that appearance is completely unimportant, but that it is a part of who we are. Our whole self is much more than appearance. The ability to forgive ourselves and others for our many deficiencies, to learn to see things from a broader perspective, to understand that nothing is really black and white and the truth is so often multi-dimensional, and the speed with which we let go when things are not in our control. I live less in my head and more as part of this universe. Understanding that interdependence is where things are at, beyond self-reliance.
With pressure building on my head, literally and figuratively, I wonder about my next move. We prepared head coverings of various sorts – a beanie, a scarf and even wigs to help ease the change. On the one hand, it is scary to think of the change. On the other hand, I can almost look forward to the evolution and revolution.
Next week we’re back to Chemo Week 1 of the cycle. I am told that it might be easier this time because now I know what to expect. I am also told that the chemotherapy gets progressively harder with each dose. Maybe it will be both. Just how life works. Contradictions and imperfections at every turn. And how glorious is that!!??? Or is it? Yeah, it’s both!
Meet you on the other side……