Tuesday, May 31, 2016

That Woman in the Mirror

This is the bottom, right?

You know that saying "scraping the bottom of the barrel"?  That idea of not being able to go any lower?  Actually, I don't know that I believe that's possible.  I think there is always a "lower" to reach.  We might not be able to conceive of it in the midst of some current horror, but, really ...

... there's always a lower.

But right now, I feel like I'm living the bottom of my life.  I might be wrong, certainly.  But ... relatively speaking, I'm living my barrel bottom.  And that's an odd feeling.  You might be surprised but this really isn't a negative nelly post. 

Really. NO.

Think about it.  If you truly feel that you're living the bottom, you truly have no way to go but up.

Chemo is changing me.  I look in the mirror these days and don't recognize myself. 

If you're in the midst of this mayhem, or if you're just beginning it, let me give you hope (even if it might not seem like I can at this point).  You'll get through this.  It might be the hardest thing you'll ever do ... but you will get through it and you'll be stronger when it is finished.

When you look at yourself in the mirror and laugh ... laugh because you can't imagine feeling worse about your appearance than you do at that moment, then that is one less thing life can take from you.  I looked at my reflection in the mirror and laughed.  It's truly ridiculous.  I've ballooned up in weight during treatment so far.  I'm at my heaviest ... EVER.

I should be a linebacker. 

And I'm bald. 

Fat and bald.  That oh so heavenly combination.

So what else will cancer do to me before the end?  Take a few toenails or finger nails?  That's possible on Taxol.  Bring it. 

More pain?  Fine. 

Weird eyesight?  Tingling pain in my hands and feet?  Possible.

Life is surreal at the moment.  I never would have thought I'd be in this shape:  bald, fat, with tingling feet, an often bloody nose, and twitching right eyelid. 

You know what?  When life becomes this, I say fuck it.

Okay ... life, you can mess me up.  So now what?  Seriously, what are you going to do to me now?

Take it all?

There's something oddly freeing about that thought.  The idea that I feel so foreign from myself.  I never imagined ever seeing this image in the mirror.

That woman in the mirror?  She's going to get stronger. It's not going to be easy.  Sadly, it won't be a movie-like montage ending with me in the best shape of my life. 

That woman in the mirror?  She's taking it one week at a time.  Seven more Taxol treatments to go. 

Often, she's taking it one day at a time. 

One hour at a time.

Putting one foot in front of another.  [I was NOT expecting Santa Claus is Coming to Town to flash into my head just now but you get the idea.] 

That woman in the mirror?  Soon she'll be walking out the door.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Red. 3 Hearts.

"Excuse me. I'm sorry to interrupt you ..."

It was Saturday, mid-morning, and I was sitting in the middle of my favorite café - Real Food - reading on my Kindle and enjoying an omelet (avocado, bacon, Monterey Jack) with toast.  I'm reading the fourth book in The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan and was concentrating on Rand al'Thor's escapades so it took a few seconds for me to realize the woman was talking to me.  I looked up and saw a thin blonde woman, my age or a bit older, holding a to-go container, and wearing a blue-checked shirt and dangly earrings. 

           - she continued -

"... but I was sitting over there and ... well, I read energies..."

Say what?  What is happening?  Who is this person? At least, these are the questions I'm fairly certain were written across my face.

"... and you have SO MUCH energy surrounding you.  I just wanted to tell you.  And I drew what it looks like."

My attention is fully on the woman now.  It isn't every day that a stranger comes up to you and tells you that you have lots of energy surrounding you.  And certainly not when you're wondering when in the day your most recent round of chemotherapy is going to zap your ... well ...  energy for the day.

My cancer was caught early but it's an aggressive form and I'm half-way through treatment.  I'm bald, anemic, and my feet hurt.  To say this was not the 2016 I expected is an understatement.

The woman produced a napkin on which she had written:  "Red. 3 Hearts."  And then she drew the same along with an eye peeking up from just beneath the hearts.

"So much energy.  It's a good thing."

I was stunned.  I know I said, "Thank you," but hadn't even begun to process what had just happened before she was gone.  Poof.  Out the door. 

She was leaving and already putting her to-go container in a little red car directly in front of the café when I realized that I would regret not thanking her again for this odd but fantastic little exchange.

I got up, weaved my way through the tables, went outside and asked if I could thank her again.  We hugged.  I told her that her words meant a lot to me, especially with "this" - my "this" included a general wave toward my head and its vague yet explanatory baldness.

She stopped, looked me directly in the eyes and said with a self-possessed confidence of one secure in their knowledge, "Oh ... you're going to be fine."

And just like that, I believed her.

What a wonderful gift to give a complete stranger.  God bless her. 

And God bless the color red, three hearts, and a shot of hope during a rough year. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Drumroll please .....

It's here. That day.

No .... not THAT day but still a good one.

After my infusion this morning, I'M HALF-WAY DONE WITH CHEMOTHERAPY!

                        *frantic happy dance*

Okay ....but really *happy but slow head toggle to an invisible beat*

This will be number 8 of 16 total. 

I'm heading there soon with my little sister.  Here's hoping for good blood numbers, an easy port access, and completely uneventful icing, drugging time. 

Plus, my new home is looking better and better thanks to all of my fantastic help moving and setting things up.  I hand in my old keys later today.  I see much unpacking in my weekend.

But first ... chemo.

Water? Check!

Star Wars chemo quilt? Check!

Cryotherapy study week-long questi........ uh....... well shit.

                         *looks around at boxes

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Sleeper Must Awaken ...

"Without change, something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken." ~ Duke Leto Atreides in DUNE by Frank Herbert
I'm sleeping.

That's what it feels like, this post three of twelve Taxol infusions.  I realized recently that I've not written anything here this month.  My final thoughts on cancer were of my fear of my first Taxol treatment - the unknown.  My final writing was about Robin - her death, her memorial, her loss - and how she still feels present.

Robin's memorial was beautiful.  People gathered in shared emotion, some spoke, many listened, and throughout it all, life seemed surreal.  What a year it has been.  Facing the truth of mortality - your own or that of a loved one - is at once surreal and terrible.  Comforting where the circumstances ensure that continued survival of a loved one means pain and suffering with no complete healing.  I'm 45 years old - prime middle-age (if such a thing exists) - so I'd love nothing more than to ignore mortality.  Most of us do most of the time.

We walk though our days without a thought of death being around the corner.  We make breakfast, drink our coffee, half-listen to the news of the continued horrors of war and famine then jerk in greater recognition of a threat of snow in May.  We scurry to jobs, fret over bills, and wonder what to do next. But so often it seems we are only blurred images of ourselves.  Have you ever had the experience of being fully present in a moment?  Some of you are surely better at this than I am.  I'll find myself sitting - perhaps drinking a coffee - and suddenly feel completely present.  A ladybug crawling up the side of a table outside Starbucks jumps into my consciousness and becomes one of the most substantial things I've seen in a long time.  I remember that moment.  Why did that moment make itself felt? What was different?

Taxol is messing with my reality.  Cancer is messing with my reality.  My focus right now is - and I've been reminded repeatedly that it must be - on getting through treatment, trudging through each day and staying "healthy" (she writes with a grimace).  Healthy means not getting ill on top of the chemotherapy side effects; healthy does NOT mean staying in any form of decent shape it seems.

Right now, chemo demands that I lather feet and hands in Cetaphil Cream to curb damage from the drugs.  My mouth, primarily my tongue, feels foreign, thick and sore.  Not horribly so, just annoyingly so.  I rinse my mouth multiple times a day with a combination of water, baking soda, and salt to curb any sores (thankfully I've had none of those).  I put organic coconut oil on my scars - the 5 inch one under my arm from checking my lymph nodes and the roughly 12 inch winding road scar surrounding Frankeboob - and on top of my bald head.  I have hair that keeps trying to grow, bless it, but it is sparse, course, and/or in patches, which will not do pig, no, not at all so I occasionally shave it.  I was relatively pleased with my head when I first lost my hair. 

Now I just want my hair back.

I want to not feel like Varys from Game of Thrones anymore.

[No offense to the talented Conleth Hill.]   

Perhaps I'd feel differently if the Grand Rapids Comic Con were around the corner.  But it's not.  And I want my hair back.  And energy.  And the ability to walk long distances without putting $&#*ing cream on my feet. 

I'm sleeping.  I'm going through the motions of each day, both amazed and appalled at how quickly time is passing.  Amazed because it means an end to treatment.  Appalled because I wonder where on earth the time has gone.  Probably the same place my body has gone.  My mind, too.  Away. 

I'm in a holding pattern except the hole I have to dig myself out of at the end just keeps getting deeper.  I long for a day that I pick in the future when I'm back to normal - with hair, without my current amount of body fat, with energy - when I can truly celebrate being back.  Being present.  Being awake.  I don't feel like I can set a date for this now because, quite frankly, I don't want to jinx myself. 

The people surrounding me during this time continue to be amazing.  My family, friends, coworkers have repeatedly humbled me with support.  I know what Robin meant when she tried to describe how difficult it was to accept the support.  I'm truly doing nothing more than what I need to do to survive.  We do what we must.  You would, too. 

Chemotherapy for me continues into July.  After that, I'll have six weeks of radiation.  After that, a Dr. Livingston will lift Bride of Frankenboob (my right breast) to look at the same horizon as Frankenboob (what's left of my left).  I'll try desperately (and fail) not to say, "Dr. Livingston(e), I presume?" when I first meet him.  Finally, I'll have a new "base" mammogram taken next January or so.

The new normal.  With changes.  The sleeper must awaken.

And awaken I will.

With non-lopsided boobs. 

And hair.

Lots of hair.