Thankfully Chemo #1 happened on 2/14 without any complications. Some people are allergic to the meds and need to stop treatment or slow down and power through. Thank God that wasn't my situation.
There were two other new patients starting chemo in the same room. I was nervous having hair in the chemo room - I had hair guilt. It was nice to have two others with me, all of us with hair, this time. Next time we see each other we likely won't. A cancer reality.
I felt fine the day of chemo and the day after; no side effects at all. On day 3, as expected, nausea, fatigue, and joint pain set in. The anti-nausea medicine and the seasickness bracelet helped. Sleep was easier to experience once I began taking Tylenol for the joints.
In Jr. High I was a cheerleader; we learned an amazing move where we jumped in the air and landed on our knees with our feet tucked under us. It didn't hurt. We thought that was so cool that we did it a lot. Our cheer advisors told us we would regret it, but we were teens who knew everything and kept doing it. Hey cheer advisors, you were right. I regret it. Arthritis, I see you coming for me. Do you ever feel too young to be so old?
There were a few things I noticed about Chemo #1.
The emotional toll on some people who love me was harder than I expected. It was touching and sad to know that they were hurting for me. I knew things were going well; they didn't. Since I was relieved that things were going well, I was in good spirits. My friend Katy calls chemo the nectar that heals, so I held on to that perspective. I was alone with my thoughts, a book, and a journal with no interruptions for 5 hours. In some ways, it felt like a day of self-care and solitude. It was such a lovely space that it was easy to forget I was there as a cancer patient. It was similar to fetal monitoring I did with Sara or sitting in a waiting room. I could forget why I was there.
The two other newbies were napping halfway through the treatment. I could barely sit still. Drink water, go to the bathroom, repeat x 100, walk around after sitting for hours. They were crashed out like babies. My mind began comparing how I was "doing chemo" compared to them. Oh precious mind, you keep me on my toes. A new mantra was needed; "I'm not doing chemo wrong. I'm not doing chemo wrong." How insane is that? The minute I saw that I was doing it differently than they were, I assumed I was doing it wrong. There is a jewel of wisdom for non-cancer patients in this story. It's ok to do things differently. It doesn't mean we are wrong. Also, Benadryl affects people differently.
When the physical symptoms hit, I couldn't forget I was a cancer patient. THAT was hard. There weren't respites of relief, no break from the heaviness. There was no avoiding that I had cancer, which sucked. The moments when I'm relieved from this new reality are precious. My counselor showed me the good side of denial. It was the first time I considered a good side of denial - most of my denial had not been helpful. He explained that when things are so heavy, we need relief. We can't stay in the place where we emote and feel all the time; it's soul-crushing and too heavy. Denial becomes a gift in those moments. It's what allows me to laugh with my girls, pay attention to a football game with my husband, and read a book. Complete denial would not serve me well, but the moments when I can forget about cancer are a gift. Treatment recovery days make that hard. Thankfully there are only 3 days when I feel bad. For some, it is much harder. My heart and prayers go out to those warriors.
The many former/current cancer patients in my life inspired me during these days. Their strength gave me strength. Their resilience through their cancer challenges gave me the resolve to handle the side effects and get up and be present in my life even when I felt sick. To all the warriors, people who fought cancer 20+ years ago, 5 years ago, and my fellow warriors who are still fighting, you inspire me. You showed the way with your courage, will to live, positive attitude, grit + grace. I hate that we are in the Cancer Club together, but I'm thankful for your life + example. You are mentors and you don't even know it.
Another physical reality of chemo was my physical healing journey since November. It's the craziest domino game ever. When I had the mass removed in December, I still had scabs, swelling, and numbness from the breast reduction in November. When I went in for my breast-reduction post-op check-up, I still had staples in my stomach from the mass removal. At chemo #1, the steri-strips from the mass removal were still on my stomach. When someone would typically be able to focus solely on physical healing, I was prepping emotionally for the next big medical procedure. It's surreal. Processing it through counseling, writing, and journaling help, but it's hard to know how a body and mind will respond to that type of cumulative trauma. Taking it one day at a time, as present as I'm able, and trusting that God will carry me through whatever is ahead. As He has already.
Getting chemo #1 at Hoag Lido.
Wearing my Beauty for Ashes t-shirt from Mercy House Global.