What do four distinctive scars, bald head, ridged fingernails like tree rings, peripheral neuropathy, and eyes whose outer membranes sloughed off, oh, and one eye with a blind spot spell?
You got it: C-A-N-C-E-R.
Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Invasive: they got that right; It DID feel like an alien had invaded. My Body. My Universe. Unwelcomed intruder: GO AWAY. YOU SUCK.
That was Nov. and Dec. 2011. The tumors were gone, but I still felt invaded, especially after the port was implanted. But other than a growing pain in my neck on the same side as the port in my chest, I couldn’t complain. No digging around for veins. No damaged veins from the chemo drugs. The best part: Chatting it up with the chemo nurses as they drew blood or hooked me up weekly for my dose of whatever. Six bags of drugs, delivered over the course of 3.5 hours. Drip. Drip. Drip.
Can life be lived one drip at a time? Seems so. Acquaintances were struck up; stories shared; doctors compared. Everyone agreed the clinic’s four oncology nurses were the best. And those electronic reclining chairs: Heaven coated in naugahyde!
We “shared” certain characteristics as well: Layers of clothing, heavy socks, blankets, hoodies. That pale, wan, washed out look; we shared that, too. Some opted for wigs, others hats, kerchiefs, baseball caps, or more feminine caps made especially for those of us under the influence. Other than wearing a lovely felt fedora and only on the coldest of days, I opted for the Bald-Headed Lena look. Otherwise I flipped into hot flash overdrive. No, thank you very much.
Drip. Drip. Drip. January 18th, 2012 the first rounds of chemo started. It was spread out over several days to monitor my reactions to the drugs. To see what I might be allergic to. I passed with flying colors. I graduated to the full cocktail: Herceptin, Taxotere, Carboplatin, Kytril, Benedryl, Decadron. The good guys and the bad. All meant to keep me alive.
Quality of life was something else. And definitely put on hold for awhile.
Drip. Drip. Drip. May 1st, My Graduation Day, last treatment of the big guns Taxotere and Carboplatin, should have been a celebration. Less than 5ml into the Carbo and I started itching: hands, arms, legs. Eagle-eyed and lovely chemo nurse turns on a dime as she passes and sees me scratching. “When did that start?”
“I don’t know. It woke me up.” Scratch. Rub. SCRATCH!
And just that quickly my drip and everyone else’s were shut down as four heads turned to me.
“How are you feeling?”
I open my mouth to answer and all I can do is rasp in a breath. Orders were barked out, something about 50ml of benadryl, STAT! And one set of feet race off to get the syringe. The next thing I know my oncologist is rubbing my shoulder, soothingly telling me I will be fine as she listens to the detailed timeline of events. (All 1.5 minutes of them.) I can vaguely hear another nurse talking to the operator at 911. I am asked another question. My mouth opens and now I gasp a rattling breath. Another quantity of benadryl is ordered and given faster than you could say, STAT. I feel it enter my veins and settle in. My breathing eases, the itching lessens.
“How can we reach your husband?”
Breathing has become my life line. I don’t want to jeopardize it one bit, so I raise my hand holding up two fingers, then three, then five, and so on. Lovely, life-saving nurse calls the numbers out as another dials. She looks at me when I am done and smiles conspiratorially. “Smart girl.” Behind her I hear, “She’s alright now, but you need to meet her at the emergency room….”
My poor husband. Heart stopping moment number…. We’ve lost count, but he’s been a rock throughout and I realize I love him so much at times, that it hurts. The kind of hurt that keeps on giving.
So much for my graduation day from chemo. Soon after the Herceptin stopped when I should have had weekly doses for a year. Something to do with edema, light-headedness, and decreased ejection fraction ratios. Oh, dear. Two out of my four cancer killers nipped in the bud.
No more Drip. Drip. Drip. And the port has been taken out. But I keep looking over my shoulder, you know, to see if something is gaining on me. And it might be. I just won’t know for awhile.
In the meantime… I count my blessings and concentrate on breathing. Deeply.