A Cancer Carol

Ahhh, the holidays. I love Christmastime. Love it with a passion. However, December has been a little rough in terms of the ol’ chemo side effects. My mood has mimicked Scrooge’s at both the beginning and the end of A Christmas Carol. Two weekends ago I got a call from the mom of one of my good friends (I consider the mom herself to be a good friend). I just love her and her husband to pieces. They took me to see Wicked at The Fox and then out to eat at Bricktops (more on this restaurant later–it’s so good). As we sat down for the show, I thought back to the previous year when I had gone to see A Christmas Carol at The Fox with the weirdo I was dating at the time. He came on strong when we first start dating. He was enthusiastically interested in me, and although I could sense that he was perhaps a bit imbalanced, he was interesting and exciting, and I really liked him. Looking back at him now, he was textbook bipolar. Anywho…I gave him a little shit one time about his insane (self-imposed) work schedule, and apparently I hurt his feelings. He gave me the silent treatment for the next week, but we had tickets for A Christmas Carol that following weekend, so we went. I still really liked Manic Man, but as we sat there watching the show, I realized/accepted that he was so not into me, and I cried. He didn’t notice (I wasn’t sobbing or sniffling, just leaking a few tears of disappointment). He wanted to leave at intermission, so I waited for him in the lobby while he used the restroom. After about 20 minutes he emerged from the men’s room, telling me he had an upset stomach. That was the last time we hung out. I bring this up because as I sat there watching Wicked two weeks ago, I almost had to chuckle a bit with the realization that my life is better now with cancer than it was when I was dating. Tinder is worse than cancer. I prefer having a tumor over dating. I prefer spending time with my mom and a bunch of old people in a chemo pod having poison pumped through my veins than I do going through the cycle of rejection and rejecting that is dating. Like I’ve stated before in a previous post, I don’t believe that the universe has any obligation to make sense to me, but I’m inclined to think that karma may be punishing me for all of the hearts I broke in my younger (and thinner) years. However, along with various chemo drugs, I have gypsy blood running through my veins. The idea of being tied to someone for a lifetime is enough to make me reach for my anti-emetic. I tried marriage once, and it resulted in me being put on blood pressure medication and getting divorced a year later. Can you even imagine me trying to date right now anyway? Here would be my dating profile:

Bald lady past her prime looking for someone to eventually break-up with/be broken-up with. Likes to sleep and watch television for fun. Has no libido. Probably infertile. Lives with parents. Call me, maybe?

So back to that restaurant, Bricktops. It’s delish! They have these deviled eggs that are garnished with candied bacon–> divine! I had a spicy tuna roll, and I sampled the swordfish and prime rib. All were perfect. Then, for dessert, I dined on the best key lime pie I’ve ever been served. Tart and sweet with a macadamia nut crust. Oooooh girl! Who wants to go back with me? Wicked and a nice dinner make for a fantastic Saturday, but this date with my friend’s parents got even better. They told me they were buying me a trip to Alaska! I’ve always wanted to visit the wild and wonderful, untamed 49th state. How amazing is that? I’m going this summer, and I’m equally as overwhelmed by their generosity as I am by my excitement to see the Northern Lights and Denali National Park.

The following Monday after THE BEST DATE EVER was my last round of Adriamycin and Cytoxan (the AC part of my 20-week ACT chemo treatment). It was also my last time at Barnes/Siteman. I had originally decided to go with Siteman because it is “the best” and the doctors there are on the cutting-edge of cancer research. However, I saw my oncologist maybe 20 minutes total; she was more robot than human, which makes sense considering Siteman is just one big cancer factory run by slow machines. Anywho…on my last AC treatment, my doctor wasn’t in town, so the PA was scheduled to see me. However, she was busy, so a fellow saw me. She felt the wrong boob, folks. The wrong damn boob. At first I thought she was just feeling it as a means of comparison, but it became obvious she hadn’t even read my chart. I also told her about the hand pain I was having, and her response was, “that’s weird.” The nurse in the chemo pod later informed me that I have Hand and Foot Syndrome, a common side effect of chemo. All of that, along with the fact that it’s a 25-minute drive to Barnes, led me back to Mercy.

Round four of chemo kicked. my. ass. My response to the four AC treatments followed a pattern: 48 hours later I felt run-down, tired, and achy. There was a weird feeling in my throat. Then, eight days later I would get chills, and then begin to alternate between chills and a low-grade fever; I’d have a sore throat and feel like I’d been hit by a bus. Last week was the most intense, however. Last Tuesday I was so tired at work that I became winded just going over the answers to a grammar review for the final exam. I had to sit down in between passing back papers to students. I went to the nurse to lie down on my planning period, and the chills started. That evening, I got up from my bed to walk to my parents’ bathroom to get some Tylenol PM, and I was winded from the short walk. I had to rest on my parents’ bed before walking back to my own. I attempted going in to work the next day because it was finals week, and all I had to do was administer a test. However, once I got there, I cried to my department head/friend because I felt like shit, so she sent me home. I’ve cried to her more than any other person during this whole process; thank goodness for her goodness.

The other thing that happens in that week after chemo is my soft tissues start to inflame. My hands get hella sore (the chemo breaks through the capillaries), and–ya’ll may wanna stop reading now–I’m gonna go there–my asshole starts to revolt. I’m gonna go ahead and discuss my anal fissures now. This has been the worst part of chemo. When I poop, it feels like the Red Devil is stabbing me in the asshole with his pitchfork. I imagine him aggressively jabbing my pooper, biting his lip with intense concentration, and then maniacally laughing as I apply my Tuck’s pad. Before I poop, I have to psych myself up, and I think of that scene in Platoon where the dude with the facial scar yells, “TAKE THE PAIN.” It was in my most intense anal pain session last week that I reflected on the meaning of true love. I was angry and crying, and my mom brought me some ice for my asshole, as well as a towel to keep my sheets from getting wet, and I knew that was as good as it gets. When someone brings you ice for your throbbing asshole while you ugly cry, and all-the-while she/he thinks you’re the most beautiful, wonderful thing on earth–that’s love. There’s no Hallmark card for that, but that’s what love is.

Consequently, my mood mirrored that of the pre-transformed Scrooge for the majority of last week, but then, on Friday, we had our department holiday party. My colleagues knew that I had been having a rough week, so they made me a present. They created a “How Do We Love Jenny? Let Us Count the Ways” list, and they wrote 110 things that they love about me, and they put them on pretty paper, and it’s the best gift I’ve ever received. My mood automatically lifted. I have been so blessed by the kindness of others since my diagnosis. I am so grateful for the people in my life.

Tomorrow I start my Taxol treatments, and I will do this once a week for 12 weeks. Apparently, this drug won’t be as hard on my system; the main side effect will be neuropathy, and I will lose the remainder of my body hair (If you’re the drinking kind, poor a little out for my brows and lashes the next time you imbibe.)

If you’re the Christmas-celebrating kind, I hope you have a wonderful holiday. In the words of another merry invalid, “God bless us, everyone.”