The Last Chemo Session

The last chemotherapy treatment is DONE! I have so many thoughts and feelings about it that I don’t really know where to begin. For starters, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on this whole journey. More specifically, on my first day of chemo.

I was terrified. Who wouldn’t be?

Of course, being me, I put on a brave face for my mom, the chemo nurses, for myself. I’m sure it didn’t matter how cool and calm I thought I sounded. They could all see right past it. There is no way to quiet the fear in your eyes when you feel like one of Pavlov’s dogs about to get a painful shock you can’t get away from.

I remember being scared that the needle going into my new port was going to hurt. I remember my oncologist looking surprised at my mermaid colored hair. I remember thinking that receiving chemotherapy was going to physically hurt me. I remember thinking “Get in. Get out. Be done.”

Of course, it’s not that simple. It’s never that simple even for an easy case like mine. I remember a lot of the fear from that day, but I didn’t process any of it at the time.

I didn’t process those awful things because a lot of good came from that day as well.  I remember my sisters coming into my chemo room with a big gift bag filled with stuff from friends and family to make my chemo treatments easier. I remember all the love and support my friends sent me through messages and snap chats. I remember being excited when I found out getting a needle in my port didn’t hurt at all!

I remember a lot of joy from that day and I am so grateful for it. I have met some of the most incredible people on this little side quest of mine. They are truly amazing. There’s this one person, one man, I met only briefly on the last day and he may have been the most significant person I met. I’m not someone who believes in aligned stars or fate, but I met this man and his family and had one of the most important conversations I believe I’ve ever had.

While my mom and I were in the waiting room (the last time we were waiting for chemo!), a man sat in the rocker next to my mom. He was in his late 70s, early 80s. He seemed to be nervous. I got up to go sign my mom and I in for our session and as I did, he began to strike up a conversation with my mom. When I returned, so had his wife and daughter. I sat down and joined in on the conversation. I learned that the man was about to go through his first chemo session. I looked at his daughter and she seemed to be incredibly nervous. She and I swapped some medical stories and hospital horrors before she asked for advice on how to combat chemo side effects on behalf of her dad.

My first thought was, “Hah! You fool! I know nothing. I haven’t done this enough to know anything about combating these side effects. You should ask literally anyone but me.”

And my second thought was, “Dana. You’re an idiot. You’ve been doing this every two weeks for the last six months without a break. You have no hair. You’ve combatted extreme nausea this whole time. Your skin is probably more white than a ghost. You know at least something.”

So I told them what worked for me and explained that all cancers are different, so to are chemo side effects and that they should find something that works best for them and stick to it. Most importantly, they shouldn’t let this disease overpower their minds. Then the nurse called me back for my last session, I wished them well, and went on my way.

As I sat in my chair receiving my concoction of various toxins, a horrifying thought came over me as I was reflecting on the conversation I’d just had:

Cancer will never end.

I’m not saying that I’m going to have cancer forever. I’m done (thank goodness). I couldn’t be happier to have that portion of my life be over.

But cancer didn’t start with me. It didn’t start with my friends and family who survived their cancer and those that didn’t. It didn’t start with the strangers that sit in the waiting room. And it’s not going to end with us either. And that is what is so terrifying to me.

This needs to end.

So my cancer journey isn’t over. I am going to take some time to recover and then do anything I can to help find solutions. Whether it be volunteering or fundraising or something in the middle, I will be there helping others find their cancer freedom as well.

I walked into Marshfield Clinic with fear, but I can assure you I left with determination and it because of that man and his family and I don’t even know their names.

So here’s to cancer freedom! May I have it for life and may many others get to celebrate theirs real soon!

 

Until Next Time,

Dana

I Never Knew…

 

(DISCLAIMER: This is my experience with chemo side effects and is not the same for all who undergo treatment)

I never knew that I wanted to be tired. I wanted to feel that drag in my step after pulling an all nighter working on homework. I wanted to feel the pull in my eyelids as I chugged a coffee and trudged to my morning class. I am a night owl and I always have been. I thrive in the evenings and late at night when my mind can wander and expand on its own accord. I could spend hours working on one project or another and never lose steam until the sun rose. Once I completed that all nighter my second favorite activity was coming: dreaming. I love to dream. To know that my subconscious is still trying to surprise me around every corner of my own mind is an incredible thing. And when I wake, I will still be tired but satisfied and ready to go. That sensation of tired meant that I worked hard and I accomplished my goals I set out for myself. That sensation meant that I would get to sleep really well the next night because I earned that sleep.

I never knew that I was using the word “tired” wrong. No. Not wrong. Too lightly. I never knew that there was a spectrum of tired. There’s the tired that you want and then there’s a tired that exists that you can’t control. It is so extreme on the spectrum that it hangs precariously off the edge of the tired scale. Any little puff of air will push it right over. This is how I feel every other week. Uncontrollable exhaustion. I never knew that there should be a new word invented that is stronger than “fatigue” or “exhaustion.” Exhaustion is not strong enough to describe the sensation of needing to sleep after chemo (or I assume any other medical treatment). The sleep after chemo is empty for several days. There are no dreams or knowledge of time passing (even though you’ve been out for almost 19 hours). You can’t focus. You’re unmotivated. Your body is weighted down so heavily you’re unsure if you will ever leave your bed again. Being awake for more than a couple hours is a challenge. I never knew how badly I wanted to be awake. I never knew.

I know now.

I know now that it’s important to take care of yourself. To listen to your body and give it what it needs even if it isn’t what you want. If that means sleeping for 22 hours or stretching out sore muscles, then that’s what you do. Maybe it means you have to take some cold medicine to prevent the sniffles. Whatever it may be, listen to your body. You can’t ignore symptoms of illness because that cough could be a lot more than a cold. I know that when you take care of yourself, you will feel better. After a few days of intensive sleeping after the chemo, I become a functional human again and I can be awake and do what I want to do again. I don’t know what would happen if I were to push my body past its limits and I don’t want to know. That’s dangerous. Not just because of chemo but because a person’s body can only take so much stress before they collapse.

I know how to prioritize now. I know that my body and health come first. Resting and healing is more important. My education can wait. This blog can wait. It’s not that I won’t get to them, it will just take a little longer than normal. But I will get there.

I know that whatever it is you’re trying to push through isn’t worth the risk. You only have one body. Pushing through illness and exhaustion is not worth it. Go and rest. You won’t perform your best when you’re feeling sick. Go and take care of you. Everything else can wait. You will get there too.

 

Until next time,

Dana