Chemo Land

Wherever You Go - You are There

by Patty Lawrence

(Editor's Note: This is one of Patty's updates to her friends regarding her trip through Chemo Land, the detour that a diagnosis of breast cancer requires.)

Last week marked Chemo Number Three and the halfway point for me. My doc seems to think I am doing better than average. Looking around the infusion room I see a low-set bar, but over that bar is enormously better than under it. As predicted, fatigue is the worst of it and some weeks are better than others.

Chemo indiscriminately kills all fast growing cells. In addition to cancer cells, it wipes out red blood cells (fatigue) and white blood cells (immune system), GI track (nausea) and hair follicles. Often the nurses suit up to mix and deliver the cure. If I were around that poison all day, I’d suit up, too, but it’s difficult to reconcile that what they won’t risk splashing on their scrubs will soon be pumping through my veins.

This journey has provided many odd moments. Some are funny, some not. I’ll shared a few glimpses:

~ When a nurse tells you that you can shave your head but not your legs, you know you’ve entered the Twilight Zone. Okay, I get that bleeding is bad, but some advice was meant to be ignored.

~ Going to the grocery store hungry is a mistake. Going to the grocery store the day your hair starts coming out in handfuls is pounds in the making. Choosing which kind of ice cream was nearly impossible until it finally dawned on me that “all of the above” was an option.

~ When you hair is coming out, a big bowl of ice cream and a shot of Scotch make an excellent dinner. That said, should you find yourself craving this combo, it could be improved with less ice cream and more Scotch. I suspect that Scotch Floats may not catch on quickly.

~ Chemo alters taste buds. No kidding!

~ When your hair starts to fall out, your head tingles and then you hear thousands of cells shouting in unison “we surrender!” Avoid using a brush after this.

I thought scarves made me look like a gypsy until Jordan said, “Mom! You look like a pirate!” I guess the two are more alike than I’d previously considered. Ready for pirate-themed parties on a moment’s notice was not a trick I thought I’d have in my bag, but so it goes.

The chemo cocktail begins with enough Benadryl to knock out an elephant. First, my hands take on a life separate from my body. They remind me of free-floating Halloween hands. Fortunately this only last about 15 minutes but, it’s surreal to watch their clumsy attempts to obey my brain. After the hand tricks, I sleep.

I use every nurse and doctors’ name at every opportunity. After six weeks, they finally started using my name back. Whatever it takes.

My oncologist didn’t blink when I asked him about smoking marijuana for nausea. (Nope, not legal in Ohio.) I think he might know my name now too which is a relief for a number of medically related reasons. Since pot questions and bald heads don’t faze oncologists, I was getting concerned about what I’d have to do to stand out.

Over 18 weeks, I’ve had 35 doctor appointments, treatments, tests, or pictures. I’ve managed to escape appointments during two of those two weeks by leaving the state. Tracking waiting room hours is maddening so I stopped.

You have to be your own advocate. About five minutes after I was diagnosed, my doc list reached into double digits. There are many talented specialists, but no single medically trained person is in charge. Patients and doctors deserve better.

I am very grateful for so many wonderful friends. Thank you.

Now read about Patty's view of abundance

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