On Fridays, I seem to wake up with a little more time to reflect. Chemo starts a little later in the day and I don’t go into work, so I can lay there and take an inventory of my physical and mental self. First, I start with “Do I have cancer or was this a really bad nightmare?” Check. Cancer it is. On this particular Friday, I wake up feeling pretty good: physically the ever-present headache has not settled in yet, it typically is triggered by the lights or sounds of the start of the day. My left foot still feels odd with the neuropathy causing the “asleep” feeling in my four toes all the time. But no muscle pain, no bone pain, no headache. Pretty good, all things considered. Then I realize that, of course, it is day 21. Today is my triple dose day, and the days leading up to the triple dose, I feel the best: so close to normal. So close and then we start the cycle again.
Emotionally, how am I doing? I probe my brain like a sore tooth. I’ve made some really significant decisions over the last couple of weeks, and, while extremely tender, they feel right. Hard, but right. I still can’t believe it, but I announced my retirement at work, and I will be done at the end of June. I have struggled to keep up with work; some days I don’t think I can finish the day. Other days, I get in the zone and can work for hours without thinking of anything else. But in fairness to work, to myself, to my time, to my family, retirement needs to happen. And while I thought the decision would be hard, it wasn’t. It was a no brainer. Of course, the repercussions of the decision: finances, how to live my best retirement, what it means for where we live, etc. All of those pieces are complicated and lots will need to be sorted out. In fact, I am finding that my health, appointments, insurance, bills, and then figuring out social security, medicare, and retirement… it is a full time job in itself.
As I get out of bed, the headache now making itself known, I think about how I will prep for the day. How I need a v-neck so nurses can access my port easily, but with long sleeves to keep me warm during chemo. The computer needs to be charged because there a few work items that I can get churned out during the down times. I need my noise-canceling headphones, a charger for my phone, snacks, and water. It all gets put into my pink “Chemo Shit” bag which I sling over my shoulder and into the waiting car.
My dear neighbor, Kay, is my ride to the medical center. Strep throat has grounded my two friends in Maple Valley and they were unable to come over to keep me company during “the triple.” But I am half way through this 6-month process and I know what to expect. The routine is to check in at infusion reception and get taken back for my blood work to be tested prior to any chemo being ordered. The nurses get the blood through my port, and then the port is ready to go to receive the pre-medications and chemo in the next couple of hours. The port is so much more comfortable than accessing veins and pushing poison through them each week. Since this is my 12th consecutive week of chemo, I chat with each infusion nurse. We know each other well after spending this much time together, and then I go back to the waiting room which has patients waiting for the infusion center, along with patients that are checking in for their colonoscopy. It is difficult to tell who is grumpier, but my money is on the colonoscopy patients.
My blood work comes back showing that my body can receive chemo – I’m good even though the numbers aren’t perfect: liver (high), platelets (normal), potassium (low), and magnesium (low). I have a meeting with my oncologist where we go through the same inventory I took in the morning: the status of my physical health and mental health. Fortunately, my oncologist knows me and my case so well that it is easy to go through the symptoms and what we are trying. She congratulates me on my decision to retire, and smiles her soft smile because at the same time she knows it had to have been a tough decision for me. After the appointment, it is back to the lobby as the oncologist releases the order for my chemo. Finally, I am brought back into the infusion center where my sweet nurses have procured me a private room. The triple dose day can go as long as 7 hours, and being able to sleep, work, and read without the 30+ other infusion patients and their caregivers is a big blessing. Today we have added an i.v. of magnesium and my bone strengthener, so, with all the pre-medications and the Herceptin, Perjeta and Taxol, I am closing down the hospital tonight.
Sure enough, 12 hours after waking up in the morning and wondering if having cancer was all a bad dream, I am back into bed and pumped full of the chemicals that will kill the fast-growing cancer cells, along with other fast-growing cells I need for digestion, energy, and cognitive processing. I will sleep hard in spite of the i.v. steroids given to prevent any allergic reactions; the stress on my body will pin me to my bed and make me glad I wear a CPAP machine that pushes air in and out of my mouth. It never hurts to have a little help breathing when you sleep that hard. Another day is done. Another day of battle has been won. Be thankful for that day. I am thankful.