You grew on me…like a tumor…You spread through me, like malignant melanoma… A Tim Minchin song plays loops through my fuzzy brain as the Taxol drips, 3 drops at a time, into my veins. It’s a love song to his wife: all about cancer and dying. It’s like chemo…bittersweet.
My husband sits next to me, in his uncomfortable chair. I get the recliner because I have the big “C”, but my caregiver gets the stool with a hard back and spindly arms. It used to be my mom sitting there…during the rough stuff: Adriamycin (the red devil) and Cytotoxan. She would talk to me and suffer in silence when I panicked at the thought of someone spearing my chest port with a needle, even if it was numbed up first. It was my mom, who gave her breast up to a 1 cm cancer and who lives today to hold my hand through this process she was able to avoid. I remind myself that I still caught it earlier than most who do a self breast exam, but I am not consoled. I should have been on top of things…I had been getting my screening mammograms since age 35, the recommended ten years earlier than my mother’s diagnosis. Every year…up until chief residency year in general surgery…then everything just fell off the radar. I was in a car crash and got a full body CT scan… no evidence of cancer in the breast. Next year, late for my mammogram by 4 months…boom! Now, I will always feel like I could have found it sooner and maybe had more options. In reality, I will always feel like everything from the minute of diagnosis on is somehow my fault.
But back to chemo…and my fuzzy brain on day 1, as I refer to chemo day, and the way the world sways around me, almost surreal but not quite. It is not Picasso, not Salvador Dali, but close…the sun on the horizon creating a mirage of the road enough that I do not attempt to drive home. That is left to my caregiver for the day…now my husband, now that the drug is more forgiving and the time in the hot chair less. He is recovering from a torn quadriceps muscle…just like Tony Parker, although my husband’s injury is one week earlier and much less enthralling than Parker’s…and he could not sit in the hard chair for hours on end while the Red Devil and Cytotoxan coursed their way through never-ending plastic tubing until reaching my bloodstream. But the 3 hours to get pre-medications and Taxol and the interminable waiting in between are doable to him now.
Mostly, he waits with me until the Grab-N-Go (or stop and shop_cafeteria) opens it’s hot line for lunch and then he leaves to hunt down sustenance. Normally, I stare out the window or talk to my infusion nurse during the times he is absent. It is not long…maybe 45 minutes…but I am flustered by being alone.
I sit in my recliner, with my feet propped up, waiting for his return. Feeling the loss of my eyelashes and eyebrows like a weight with him gone. I am no longer distracted from their loss, and each week I feel a sense of loss in this hour that I have not felt so keenly since last session. Even though I have drawn them on and no one seems to notice…at least not openly. My nails have begun to peel off the nail beds: It isn’t painful, just unsightly, and I worry that I may lose them completely before this is over.
Still, I am not sick like I was with Adriamycin and Cytotoxan. I don’t sleep all day for days 1 through 7 or 9 or 10, only getting into the world again for a few days before the next round of drugs. I don’t need to take Zofran every 6 hours with breakthrough Compazine to fend off the relentless waves of nausea. I do not feel like I am slowly shutting out the world. What I do feel, is anger…for the first time since my diagnosis 2 months ago…and I feel rage in waves…at everything.
The Taxol has released me enough that I can mourn what I have lost and what I have left. I have lost friendships…gone overnight without a whisper to those that have died agonizing deaths, kicking and screaming into oblivion. I have lost my hair…pretty much everywhere except my arms and a few eyelashes here and there as well as the insides of my eyebrows…go figure. I have lost my sense of self being away from my work and my self worth as I transform before my own eyes into someone I cannot even recognize some days. But now, my hair buds have perked up and are sprouting unruly clear twigs from my head and face and legs…which I cannot shave for fear of cutting myself while on chemo and blood thinners. I still have tits…until September. And I still have a ton to be grateful for… like how these are all first world problems and I could be in a hut in some developing nation not even being treated for my breast cancer…and I get it, already!?! I should be thankful, but I’m not. I am just scared and hurt and angry and downright wounded right now.
I have so little left to give to the caregivers who sit across from me, or my daughter, or the clerk at the gas station who can’t stop staring because I forgot to put on my wig in the heat. I just can’t right now, but I don’t want anyone to recognize that I may be too weak. I may be the one who doesn’t make it because I wasn’t positive enough or didn’t fight hard enough…it is all bullshit I want to yell. It is just a disease and what happens, happens and all we can do is to press on with treatment or not. And so I sit…watching the chemo drip into the tubing, knowing I would give up anything if it just works this one time.