On And On

Scans are scheduled every few months in the beginning, and eventually, annually.  The doctors don’t abandon you just because the treatments are over.  You’re followed for years, so that if cancer reoccurs, they may catch it early enough.

My surgeon, my chemo-oncologist, and my radio-oncologist continued to follow me for a few years after the treatments were over.  Suffice it to say, I was still at the hospital often.  But visiting with the doctors and having stuff actually done to protect you from cancer, are very different.

They would poke and prod at my belly, check my glands around my neck and underarms, and my surgeon always has me take a lung X-Ray on the day of his visit.  The extent of our exchanges was limited, so there was really no reassurance that cancer hadn’t reoccurred.  Only the scans and occasional gastroscopy were comforting enough.

 

In my third year of remission, my chemo-oncologist told me, “I want you out of the hospital.”  He said that if the surgeon was continuing to review my case regularly, I would not have to return to oncology.  “Usually, with this type of cancer, it will return within the first two years.”

“Really!”  Was I safe now?

Don’t Let It End

The countdown for the remaining sessions couldn’t come fast enough, until my sister, Susy, said, “one more to go!”  It seemed like a good thing to her.  Theoretically, it should have been for me as well.

Despite the sufferance during treatments, the end of chemotherapy is filled with internal conflict.  You’d think I would be ecstatic about no longer having to go through those dreadful weeks of vomiting continuously, having diarrhea for days, mouth sores that felt more like needles, and extreme weakness – and it all feels worse with each passing treatment.

There was some relief about knowing I didn’t have to endure the long hospital visits, the disgust of receiving such potent medication, and laboring through each day.  But ask others, who have also completed cancer treatments, if they fear that there is nothing left to stop the cancer from growing.

“I’m on my own.  What do I do now?”  I thought.

My last treatment was completed in April, 2005.  I should have felt reinvigorated, right?  But I didn’t.  For months after, I was still experiencing many of the side effects, like the tingling in my feet and lower legs.  The awkward sensation prevented me from putting my feet to the pavement, so I didn’t want to walk much, even when I got some strength back.

Then there were the ongoing lessons of how and what to eat.  This consumed me daily.  I would realize at the end of the long day that all I’ve done was prepare food, eat, and lay down for almost two hours each time to digest.  I was tired all of the time, and nausea continued to be a daily phenomenon.  Housework was out of the question, so for some time, we hired a cleaning lady.

 

Even suffering is welcomed when we feel protected.  I can imagine many other situations we put ourselves through just to avoid getting hurt, troubling some one else, being alone, fearing an outcome.  

Help those around you jump from their box, and see the world in a whole new light – a brighter light.  

Patricia

The Song In My Head

I could barely say a word.  Speaking was at a minimum during this period.  Nausea consumed me already, and talking made it worse.  I often had to cut telephone conversations because I felt the gagging begin.

The children were usually playing and watching television at that time.  They always watched the same shows.  One of their preferred daily entertainment was Barney & Friends.  The big purple dinosaur would gather his friends at the end of the show, and they all sang and gestured the “I Love You” song..  I grew so tired of hearing it, but couldn’t bear to take it away from the kids.

After my ordeal was over and I was less confined to a couch, I would hear the song when Isabella watched it on the weekend.  I was spared during the week, once she was at daycare three days a week in late 2005.  “Oh my God, I can’t take that song any more.”  What a horrible reminder.  I had been brainwashed to feel torture at the sound of those lyrics.  It didn’t have any thing to do with the dinosaur, and I was grateful my daughter had the television, colouring books, and toys to keep her preoccupied.  But there was a sense of disgust from the association of being so sick and forced to watch it.  A similar feeling I get from being in the oncology department on the fourth floor of the hospital – a blistering reminder, even today.

The week following chemotherapy was the worst.  That’s when all the amenities were made available to me – painkillers for whatever would hurt;  nausea pills that didn’t seem to have an effect on me;  mouthwash for the sores that lasted the entire week;  hemorrhoid cream that never eased the pain when the diarrhea came;  and let’s not forget, the bucket for those uncontrollable urges.  I became engrossed with symptoms that seemed to last an eternity.  Day in and day out, I was a zombie to the meds and a slave to the side effects.  The end of each session couldn’t come soon enough.

Lucky me, my menstrual cycle always began when I had my chemo.  For some women, the cycle stops during chemo, but mine never missed a beat!

 

Have a wonderful day!

Patricia

Chilled To The Bone – Part 3

There was no feeling as I received radiation – certainly not like chemo.  At least in the very beginning of radiation, there was no immediate reaction to the treatment.  I had little disgust about the protocol, since it was like taking a scan, but I was never emotionally crippled by the procedure.

For some reason, whenever I receive an X-Ray, I close my eyes, thinking the radiation won’t damage them.  I realize it’s silly, but I also did it during these treatments and scans.  If you could have seen what the radiation did to my skin…  Why I continue to close my eyes perhaps relates to my crazy thinking that my already very bad eye sight will worsen.  My eyelids won’t do a thing – logically, I understand that, but it’s a reflex.

The skin along my scar grew from bright red to dull, dark, and crusty with each session.  One day, I was shocked to see it as black as the night, as though some one took a torch to it.  Scorched and flaking skin, washing the area was impossible.  This lasted for months, but eventually the skin colour returned to normal.

By the time I returned home, I was drained and nauseated.  My mother-in-law saw it in my face as I stood by the entrance, “You’re tired, right?”

My mother would just look at me, then took my coat and helped me off with my shoes.  Any visitors who were there greeted me at the door, like they were waiting for the mail to arrive.  I was so happy to be home, but too sick to express it.  I just wanted to lie down, so I washed my hands in the powder room on the way to the family room, and finally lay down on the couch, right next to my bucket.  Repeat.

Chilled To The Bone – Part 2

When I had just radiation on Mondays, Susy would give Mariano a break, and take me to the hospital herself, since it was her day off.  She would grant me the same assistance upon arrival at the hospital, by dropping me off and getting me into a wheelchair, and then go park her car.

A technician would already be waiting as I approached the quiet area of the third floor basement.  Open-aired with bare walls and sporadic stainless steel, it was so clean and tidy, even near the dressing rooms – a minimalistic vibe I enjoy.

Once my robe was on, I headed into the large room.  “It’s so cold in here.”  I don’t even remember what they replied, but it was always uncomfortably cold.  Thankfully, I was only in there for fifteen minutes.

As I lay on the cold metal bed, two women approached.  One helped me get comfortable with pillows under my head and knees, so I would stay put;  the other checked the markings on my torso, and would use her red marker to darken those that had faded.  They were quite friendly and accommodating, trying to lessen the dim experience.

Then the women went to the back room, and, as I lay still, the two plates that gave off the radiation circled my torso for several minutes.  Hopefully, it was burning off any cancer cells that the surgeon may have missed or that may have grown since the operation.

 

See you again next week!  Thanks for staying with me…

Patricia