Tomorrow marks a pretty important milestone: a year ago I started chemotherapy for my cancer. For my family and I, it was a long walk into the unknown. I had no idea how it would impact my day-to-day life and health, or if it would hurt, or if I’d be barfing all over the place every five minutes.
Jen and I took an early morning walk last week at the beginning of the first real cold snap, and it made us both think of chilly, dark trips downtown to be at the chemo ward when they opened the doors. That was a major strain on us, on Finn, and on our friends, who were gracious enough to take her in every morning to make those trips possible. I don’t miss those mornings at all and I’m sure my family would say the same.
Chemotherapy is like visiting a closed country for a lot of people; you hear bits and pieces of stories but rarely do you get first-hand knowledge from a fellow traveler until you’re already there. And of course, it varies from person to person depending on what flavor of the Big C you’ve got.
Hopkins had a very pleasant chemo ward when we were there (well, the ward was nice; the waiting room was no better than the DMV) set up with little pods where patients could lay down while being treated. Apparently now, since they’ve moved the entire cancer operation over to a new shiny building, it’s even nicer (my last checkup was over there, and the place is like a museum, in a good way) but I hope I never have to compare the two first-hand.
The process of infusion was pretty anticlimactic in my experience. I’ve said before that my radiation treatments were harsher than the chemotherapy was, and it snuck up on me quickly toward the end of the second treatment cycle. We went in, I laid down, they hooked me up to a weird pump, and we hung around for a couple of hours. I did find that the idea of food got sketchy around the middle of the week and there were certain foods I did not want to think about at all. In this respect I can say that I have some small understanding of morning sickness; where once I had a cast-iron stomach, the mere smell of some foods was enough to make me feel like puking.
I hated being hooked up to all of the pumps, especially when radiation poops set in, and I’d have about 30 seconds to hustle my ass to the bathroom before the dam burst. Doesn’t sound too bad at first, but after the fifth time in five hours it sucked. I hated being dependent on those beeping, grunting boxes and all of the fucking tubes strung between us like tangled headphone cables. I hated the smell of the cleaning solution they used in all of the rooms, and the stink of the chemicals most of all, especially as they leached out of my skin.
I still have souvenirs from my experience. There’s still a port embedded in my chest, which comes in handy for blood draws and random visits to the ER, but looks gross and hurts when it rubs under the strap of a backpack. The odd numbness in my right kneecap is still there, and most likely never going away. I’m still taking Eliquis to avoid any clotting and will probably continue for the foreseeable future, even though my resting blood pressure is already low enough to cause alarm to unwary nurses.
But my hair is back, and my strength with it, and I’m optimistic for the future. I feel good right now, and I hope that continuing scans come back clean so that I can live life to the fullest, grow old with my family, and continue learning how to be a better human.