Chemo, Christmas, Chemo! I survived them all.
It was just as I remember. You feel like a Mack truck has hit you. And then for good measure it reverses back over you (slowly) to be sure that every muscle, bone, tendon and cell was equally effected. It only lasts about 8 hours, so I really can’t complain.
I think back to a year ago, embarking on a similar treatment regimen and the path that I’ve taken to get where I am now. I think about my attitude and how I tackled each new unknown. It reminded me of my first attempt at writing.
I was in partial remission, my hair was starting to grow back, and I was in a good place. Zoe had asked if I would write a piece for her blog about my relationship with chemo. I re-read that post today. It was a bit a brain dump and it’s not going to win any literary awards but I’ll share it with you anyway…
Chemo – the Elixir of Life
I might sound strange, but I always look forward to my next cycle of chemo.
The day before I started my first chemotherapy treatment, my boss called to wish me luck. I was still in a state of shock from my diagnosis, trying to deal with the loss of my unborn child, preparing to lose my hair, and potentially my life. I had no idea what to expect, however, deep down I knew that the therapy was essential for my healing to begin and I wanted to start immediately.
My boss told me a story of her experience as a caregiver to her husband, who had fought and beat cancer 20 years earlier. He was incredibly determined and decided to work throughout his treatment. He would even drive himself to chemo and then on to work after his infusion finished. After a few cycles, he had remarked to her that he was surprised at how quickly you could be infused with ‘poison’. She quickly replied ‘it is not a poison, it is the elixir of life.’ It set my attitude towards my treatment and is a story I share with anyone who is about to embark on the same journey.
The notion of chemo as ‘toxic’ or a ‘poison’ is something that had never really occurred to me. I guess it is because I am comfortable around medication, not because I was a sickly child or had chronic illness, but because I am a research scientist and it my job to ensure that the drugs which make it to market are safe and effective. I also know that every drug has side effects. I collect and report these adverse side effects on a daily basis. Everything from aspirin to statins have some sort of side effect on the human body. I know I will experience a variety of side effects with each chemo treatment, so I prepare as best I can for every cycle. We try and have a meal plan with nourishing foods gentle on my stomach for the days following treatment, a hard drive full of TV shows and movies ready for when I do not want to get out of bed, a pill box of prophylaxis medication on stand-by to take if the nausea, insomnia or constipation set in.
My initial chemotherapy cocktail was designed to kill all fast growing cells, so I looked for the signs. When the lining of my mouth became rough and sloughed off within the days after treatment I knew the chemo was doing its job. When my hair began to fall out I knew the drug was starting to accumulate in my body, again doing its job. I’ve been able to foster a positive relationship with the side effects, knowing that the medication is doing what is intended to do.
The chemo I am currently taking is designed to slow the growth of the cancerous cells and the side effects are not as severe. For me this has allowed me some time, breathing space if you will, to get the other areas of my life back in alignment and to ensure that my mind, body and spirit are working in harmony so that natural healing can begin.
Soon after writing this my tumour changed shape for the first time and I my resilience was put to the test. Re-reading this I don’t think I would change any of what I wrote. My attitude certainly hasn’t changed.
And for the record, I had a wonderful Xmas. A quick swim in the pool in the morning, followed by a Masterchef challenge for lunch, an impromptu run fully clothed in the pouring rain and then a movie in the early evening surrounded by those I love the most. A perfect day.