I can’t explain what is happening to me. In my body and mind calamity has ensued. Some days find me clear-headed and funny, as though the shell of my physical presence is simple fodder for a sitcom that only a few people are privy to. Others are lost to the haze of illness that envelops me at my core. I long for more, for less, for anything but the reality that changes before my eyes at the whim of nothing more substantial than the faint wisps of smokey, hazy dreams of Fate.
I don’t think that I am physically handling my chemotherapy well. It is a truly devastating, grueling process. It sucks the energy from your cells. It is similar to the way an episode of deep depression feels, but so much stronger. It is hot flashes and cold chills raking the body, and an inability to remember words. It is getting dizzy and winded by walking across a room, by the thought of leaving the house. It is sounds piercing the ears, at war with the volume of life and the brightness of it all.
I feel my heart sometimes in a way that didn’t happen before. I feel the medicine that is designed to save my life slowly killing me in a myriad ways. I couldn’t develop a fever to fight off a simple infection last week. At one point, I passed out on my bed while trying to get dressed. I was told that I didn’t look too bad. An hour before, I wondered how close I was to death and if that were possible. But, no, I didn’t seem so bad on the outside, I suppose.
I spent 5 days in the hospital for that infection. I drove myself there. That was because my husband didn’t grasp the seriousness of illness when on chemo. Earlier in the day I had a mysterious swelling in my face and managed to hit a temperature of 100.4, the horrible magic number at which all bets are off and the Emergency Room is your next stop, no questions asked. He told me to take a Tylenol. Because I wasn’t sick enough. When I couldn’t take it any more, he was making dinner and asked if I wanted him to take me. It was a question. Because I didn’t look so bad, not really.
I needed the fluids and the rest desperately. The atomic antibiotics as well, even after the allergic reaction to them caused me to try to scratch the remaining hair off my head. By the by, IV Benadryl will knock your shit right out. I’m not a huge fan of things that leave you loopy and stoned, but, like, for real. I do not like that feeling, but it’s better than itching uncontrollably.
It wasn’t till, perhaps, the fourth day that I had an epiphany, a realization that painted this experience with a brush of a different sort. I realized that I was experiencing something very similar to what will happen when I die. I don’t discuss it much, really, not after I accepted the reality that my life will be cut short by cancer. I don’t know if I have 3 years or 30, but the good money is not on 30. If I live for 10 more years, how many will be filled with more hospital rooms and more needles in my arms and chest? How many times must I detail my bathroom habits for others, or hear a well-meaning care-giver tell me how very sorry they are that I am going through this? How many of my children will I see graduate from high school? From college? How much of that future is destined to be like this, right now?
How desperate I am to not subject myself to another treatment, another moment of this reality! Yet I must. I promised that I would get through this nightmare.
My second round of chemo made everything taste like chewed up paper. I’m not ravenous, but an emptiness prompts me to eat more The doctor and literature assured me that my reproductive system would be an early casualty of the drugs, and that sure seemed to be the case until my period suddenly and viciously made a reappearance. We should all feel like death is gently breathing on our cheeks, only to feel the wrath of a vengeful god of old destroying the remains of our reproductive systems at least once in our lives. It is more impactful when you must regale all of your medical team of this fact multiple times. I’ve never been comfortable giving details of my bodily functions, and am really nonplussed that I now have to do so on a constant basis. So, there I was, my mouth tasting like chemicals and bitterness, as though that emotion were a taste, with cramps, enduring both chemo and a heavy period, drained of all but a faint will to live. That is how I’m experiencing this.
There are things that are funny, embarrassing, heartbreaking, and that are so humbling that I can’t fathom how I will ever be worthy. And I can’t put into words how that all feels, swirling inside of me all the time.