Well, it has been a while since I have taken pen to paper (fingies to keys). I have thought about writing a million times, but found myself thinking, but I have already said this when I had cancer the last time. When you zoom out, the overarching feelings of each cancer odyssey are very similar. It can be summed up like this:
Treatment- Goddamn this nightmare
Healing- Fuck me
Those tropes haven’t changed and I suppose I worry that, by rewriting similar narratives, the reader might be bored, or simply choose not to read at all.
All that being said, some things bear repeating. And some of you were not with me on Cancer Odyssey #1. So here goes, a whirlwind catch up. A state of the union, so to speak.
In August and September I endured 33 rounds (which translates to 33 days, almost consecutively), of radiation. My treatment area was my right chest, from under the breast to above my collarbone, over to my armpit and on my upper back, to get the entire lymph node area.
I had heard terrible stories of skin peeling off in whole chunks, infections and utter exhaustion, so I was understandably concerned. I’ll save the drama, it wasn’t so bad for me. Finally, I got lucky with a treatment not entirely kicking my ass. The slog of having to go to the hospital every morning at 7:30am before work for almost 6 weeks wasn’t ideal, but it becomes routine. Laying topless and motionless on a huge radioactive bed while it slowly spins around you making nefarious noises is also rather terrible, but ultimately doable.
My skin became burned. It itched and ached. But compared to other things I have been though, it felt like a blip.
That is the thing about where I am in my cancer odyssey. My baseline for pain, fear, illness is fundamentally different than most people. What might be a 9 for someone else, is a 3 for me. It’s like a barfly being able to drink 10 beers without a hangover- so is my tolerance to medical intervention.
I laid in bed last night thinking about my body. I have had 5 major cancer-related surgeries, 20 rounds of chemotherapy pumped into my body, dangerous levels of radiation, my body was plunged into premature menopause. I get huge shots in my stomach monthly, I have had a cyborgian port in my arm for 6 months, twice, I have no sensation across my entire chest. I do it all because I have to, in order to continue living, not because I am some kind of super-tough heroine.
I had a terrible cough a few weeks ago and needed a chest xray. The tech warned me about the risk of radiation. I just smirked and told them I understood. I listen to my peers talk about their menstrual cycles and I wistfully sigh, thinking about how those days are far behind me and I live in a land of prophylactic barrenness. I stare longingly at women’s long, shiny hair and reminisce about what it felt like to clump my own thick, long hair into a messy bun on top of my head. There is still some muscle memory of what that felt like, and damn it felt good.
Close your ears if you are a relative or colleague- Sex as a typical person knows it, is gone. In order to get that even remotely going is what I imagine NASA Space Command is like when preparing for a shuttle launch. And the launch is almost never successful. It is often utterly devastating and I worry could have catastrophic implications down the line. How long does anyone want to keep a broken car in their garage?
I get knocked down by a diagnosis, treatment, circumstance and keep getting back up not because I am special or better than anyone else, but because I have to. And I want to. I desperately want to watch my children grow up and require therapy from all of the mental destruction I have caused them, cancer-related and otherwise.
The take downs in some ways feel easier to get up from because, unfortunately, I have gotten good at this, but in other ways, getting up from each blow feels like wading through honey. Yes, I am done with active treatment, but over is not even close to an appropriate term.
I will be on life-altering medications for the rest of my life, and will have after-effects of all of my treatments forever. I am also having a Salpingo-Oopherectomy + Hysterectomy next month. This is a big surgery to remove my ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus and possibly my cervix (that is tbd). I will be on FMLA for 6 weeks.
Pivot to–I was watching The Kardashians (I know) last night and watching Kris, the matriarch, cry over needing a hip replacement at 65 years old. That had my blood boiling. She was crying because she was afraid of surgery and she was sad about getting old. I PRAY I can get old and I walk into surgeries like I am headed into a crowded Home Goods. Not ideal, but still exceedingly doable.
I hesitate to even say this out loud, but I now fear that getting old might not be in the cards for me. I didn’t think this way after cancer diagnosis #1. Never blipped on my radar. I feel it now. My body has been though so much. It clearly has a propensity for growing disease, and in order to treat that disease, it has been desperately poisoned and depleted.
Obama was onto something when he named his book, The Audacity of Hope. Except for me, I would change the preposition. The audacity TO hope. Do I even have the audacity TO hope, when so much is stacked against me? I don’t think I am at the hoping stage, I am more at the make it to tomorrow stage.
Hope will come. Maybe tomorrow.