Going through chemotherapy is a battle against your body, mind and time. All at once and never seeming to end. I am not one of those lucky people who sail through it and yes, I admit I might have an occasional, envious loathing of those that do. But what I've learned from this third round of chemo is that everyone is unique and I'm normal. Well, relatively normal.
Battling my body
After my third round of AC, the parade of side effects and the impact of three rounds of chemo on my body made me feel horrible. Each day felt like some new issue came up and I was even more exhausted, which I didn't think was possible.
The good news (finally!) is my recovery time was shorter. After a week I started to have some good days. A good day means no significantly weird or annoying side effects, I have energy to walk outside, I eat and sleep better and I'm able to have conversations with people instead of cats.
During this round I had scary withdrawal symptoms from Ativan (Lorazepam) which helps with nausea, sleep and anxiety. I didn't know this drug is so powerful and addictive. You take so many different prescriptions with cancer and you're so happy to have a potential fix that you forget to ask what are the side effects and risks. And yep, the people treating you don't always warn you. Lesson learned and no more Ativan.
The string of good days this week makes a huge difference. I see the light at the tunnel end finally. Even though sometimes I feel like my body has completely betrayed me, I have grown an amazing respect and appreciation for the little things it does. I never thought I'd be so happy to have a normal mouth after a week of a severe dry mouth— holy crap, it's a miracle!
Battling my mind
If I say cancer, what do you immediately go to? I'm betting you likely think of death. As a cancer patient I think it comes into my head almost every day. I can't help it. I don't want to. It's not that I'm ruminating on it, have a negative attitude or feel depressed. It's not that I think I will die. It's that sometimes I'm scared.
Then you combine the scary thoughts with having only a handful of days where I've felt somewhat good in almost 6 weeks. It makes it difficult to stay positive and have faith that I'll feel good again.
I wondered if what I was feeling is normal. I wanted to find someone as miserable as me who turned the corner and had the happy ending. Hopefully lots of them. I joined a cancer discussion board and read posts for hours at a time. With each post I'd check if they had a similar diagnosis. Are they as miserable as me? Maybe. Maybe not. Oh crap, she had a recurrence and it's now stage IV. Oh, that was three years ago. Is she still alive? As you might guess, this was not a good idea.
I met with a therapist, Dr. L, who specializes in cancer patients. The funny thing with therapy is that you do most of the talking. She listens. You stop word-vomiting and realize you've used up half her kleenex box. Awkward pause. Then she asks a simple question and offers her insights. Angels sing and clouds part and you magically have clarity. She assured me it's completely normal (phew!) to feel what I'm feeling. I'm also unique so no one is going to have the same experience as me (and no more web searching or discussion groups!).
The best thing Dr. L asked me to do was to separate emotion from fact. The fear, anger and sadness are understandable but they're not reality. There's nothing that says I won't be fine. Simple common sense but sometimes we're so in the weeds (or on chemo) we can't find it. Every day I now write down all the scary thoughts or emotions with no judgment or guilt and then list out the facts. Right now that's working.
I have to cut myself some slack. The chemo is messing with my brain and I can't trust it. I'm not me. This is me on drugs. Some seriously poisonous stuff. There's times when it's a struggle to think of a word, continue a thought or remember to do something. It's called chemo fog and I seem to be deep in it.
I've gone from busy working mom to someone who rarely leaves the house and on bad days, rarely leaves the bed. That dramatic change is hard. It's taken me a while to let go of the type-A expectations of what I should be able to do and accept that some days there's very little I can do because it's out of my control.
Not being able to do much makes time go by extraordinarily slow. The days feel like a hurdle to get over rather than something to experience. You're just trying to get through the side effects and kudos for showering and being able to get food down. Each day is about getting to the next chemo infusion so you can get to the next one and the next one.
But slowing down has a lot of upsides. You see the details in the world around you that you were too busy to notice before. It's much easier to filter out the negative and see love and kindness in others. It gives you a chance to sort through your personal chaos and find peace and gratitude. It feels good that all this is making me an even better me.
My last AC infusion is this Friday! It marks making it through the most toxic stage of my chemo. Six weeks down and I'm still battling. Woohoo!
A shout out to all of you for keeping me in your thoughts and sending me good vibes. I'm so grateful for all the love and support.