Well it´s been two weeks since my last treatment and the emotional trauma and depression of last week seems like a distant memory. It´s strange: physical pain or sadness is a hard thing to remember and describe accurately. Perhaps this is why so many women willingly have more than one child… The way I have felt this week (alive, happy, and full of energy) seems so drastically different from the way I felt while lying helplessly on my couch for days on end.
After my last chemo session the other doctor prescribed some different after-treatment medicines. One of them was a shot in my stomach that was intended to increase my white blood cell count. I was a little confused as to why I needed the shot in the first place since Dr. Majlis always proclaims my blood work to my “Great! Amazing!”, but I am the kind of patient who doesn´t really question what my doctors tell me to do. When I went to get the shot I was pretty annoyed because, first of all, they made me wait two hours in order to get a five second shot. I always find it so amazing that the different parts of the hospital never communicate with each other. My doctor simply told me to go to the outpatient oncology section sometime in the morning, but of course those nurses had no record of me needing a shot and so had not ordered it from the pharmacy yet. Typical… The second reason I was annoyed was because no one told me what symptoms to expect from the shot. When I asked the nurse if the shot was going to hurt, she said “No.” The shot itself didn´t hurt, (unless you are adverse to giant needles piercing deep into your belly) but the days after the shot were not so fun. At first the pain started in my feet and ankles and began to work it´s way up into my entire body. It felt like really bad shin splints and then began to escalate until every bone ached and occasionally sent out shots of pain that pulsed for a few minutes at a time. Doctors always ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 1-10, and usually I respond with a 1 or 2, but this particular pain registered at more like a 7 or 8 on my threshold. Again- all you women who have given birth may be laughing at me since I am sure there are worse pains than this, but I haven´t experienced anything like it before. I certainly never experienced intense growing pains when I was younger, as I´m sure my five-foot-tall stature might have already indicated. Jon, on the other hand, could probably relate pretty well when he grew five or six inches the summer after his freshman year.
When it was evident that the pain wasn´t temporary, Jon and I googled the drug and found out that it causes your bone marrow to grow and expand, which explains the aching bones. The pain alone might have been more manageable if I had been able to do anything but lie uncomfortably on the couch and obsess about not feeling well. Unfortunately, in addition to the aches, I also felt extremely dizzy when I tried to stand for more than ten minutes and was overwhelmed with fatigue. I was completely submerged in the rabbit hole, if you will. Luckily for you readers, I chose to write the blog when I was feeling better instead of during the depths of last week´s depression.
There was a lot of uncontrollable crying last week. Usually I am able to pull myself up pretty quickly after a good cry, but I just couldn´t stop being sad. I think mainly because I felt it was the end of “Eli- Superhuman Cancer Patient”, and the beginning of “Wow, Chemo Feels like Shit!”. After the first three treatments, I had managed to complete small tasks like grocery shopping or walking to Erin´s house, even when I wasn´t feeling so well. This time I had to stop during the middle of a session of dishes because I was about to faint. Grocery shopping was un-thinkable, and I my very VERY pregnant friend (she gave birth yesterday) had to waddle to me since I couldn’t even make fifty feet of the mile long trek. It being the holiday season, I also had a list of things I needed to get done and also a number of events I wanted to attend, but none of this was possible. The key to remaining optimistic while going through chemo is to continue to live your normal life as closely as possible. You have to force all of the unanswered questions about the future out of your mind and focus only on the image of yourself as strong, invincible, and healthy, while feeling anything but. I felt so horrible I couldn´t do any of this.
Last week I lost the mental battle so integral during cancer treatment and my former emotional weaknesses reared their ugly head. Even under normal circumstances I have had bouts of depression where I hate myself and can´t think of anything remotely positive. Laying at home, too lazy/sad/weak to cover my bald head or attempt to dress, I let these feelings of grief overwhelm me. Reading about the school shooting in Newton and scrolling through the lists of online responses to the articles did not improve my mood. I don´t want to get into a fight with any of my Texan readers about gun control, but anyone who thinks the answer to a devastating school shooting is to arm the teachers with handguns is completely deranged. Being a historian, I have often wanted to cry out at the desperate state of humanity, and last week´s events proved to be one of those times. Sadness over that event, coupled with my pain and loneliness, forced the haunting question, “What is the point????” to wash over my body over and over until it became one giant emotional tidal wave, threatening to flood me and anyone unlucky enough to be in my presence. Since Jon was busy with school my dad had to bear the brunt of my sadness during one tearful phone call home. I know that one of the worst things for a father to hear is a daughter pleading for help when he lives thousands of miles away. For this reason I usually don´t call my friends and family back home when I´m feeling sad, because there is usually nothing they can do I and don´t want them to worry. Even when I was going through my divorce four years ago, there were seldom phone calls home. I was hoping to be able to put up the same front during my cancer treatment, but last week it was just a little too hard.
Regardless, I was very happy I called home because my dad was a great comfort to me. Usually when I call he talks for a few minutes and then puts me on the phone with my mom. This time we talked for over an hour about everything and anything. Last year dad had a serious medical scare as well: blood clots in the lungs. We talked about the need to cut back on activities in order to recover and recuperate. We discussed the importance of remaining mentally active while being physically inactive. Perhaps I could do puzzles, or Sudoku, or learn a new language, or take some online classes, or work on my photo books. All of his advice and also his empathy really helped to pull me out of the hole of depression I had dug for myself. I know there are going to be more terrible times ahead, but I also now have the right mental attitude to face them. It is so important to focus on the good days when the bad days are occurring and to realize that the fatigue and pain is only temporary. Because there will be good days after all. My next blog will tell you all about those as well:-) Hope everyone had a happy holidays!