Anxiety was at an all-time high yesterday, I will be the first to admit. Lots of tears, lots of yoga breathing and self-talk. None of it was working. Like not at all. Tears during breakfast out at restaurant, tears in the car, just could not pull it together at all. The fear of the unknown can render one completely powerless and unable to deal positively with situations for which we need to be strong. My sister and mom were absolutely rock solid: perhaps messages like this one helped?
I finally caved and took a very small dose of a mild sedative. Not something I do often, but let me just say that after several days of high anxiety taking over my life, I was profoundly relieved to be able to come down off the ledge and deal with what was coming. And, after all of the intense sleepless nights, the irrational fear that almost had me booking a flight to Anywhere-But-Here, this experience was completely manageable. I think it would have been really helpful for me to see a play-by-play prior to going in. Here’s my version.
Firstly, let me start by explaining what happened to my diet over the four days prior to Chemo #1. I am not a huge meat- eater. Certainly not a red meat-eater. I usually have red meat about once a month or so. So, ordering steak for dinner on Friday night, having a burger on Sunday afternoon and another one Monday with my Dad on the day before chemo (this may become a tradition) and then following it up with a STEAK for breakfast the day of chemo was highly unusual for me. I don’t know if my body was telling me to get strong, and I’m certain it will be different for everyone, but all the kale and spinach in my fridge has been coldly ignored by this carnivore. So far, it seems to be working.
I brought mints and candies with me to chemo – which have become ‘chemocandies’ in my head now. I happen to be one of those people who immediately taste anything injected into my body – saline, tin, red devil, you name it. Some do, some don’t, of course. I do. I probably went through about 30 of those little mints during the two hours that I was there. I would highly recommend these ones.
I would also highly recommend warm feet, and company. But I also saw many people there looking very solitary with curtains drawn, and still others who slept through the entire thing. It is a very personal journey.
I went in expecting the absolute worst, and so everything I have experienced since has truly been a lovely surprise.
To start, I got two separate bags of anti-nauseant medication. I had also taken one in advance. It seems to have worked for me, and so I highly recommend taking whatever they recommend. They’ve done this a few times, right?
Then comes the ‘red devil’. This is pretty intimidating stuff. Can burn your skin inside and out, and requires all sorts of precautions on the nurses’ parts and means that family has to kind of ‘step aside’ for a moment or two. It apparently feels quite cold when it first enters your system – but my nurse put a warm towel over my PICC line and I felt fine. They inject this part manually, so that they can have control over how fast it enters your system and how you’re feeling. Again, I felt fine. (Crazy??) Once two tubes of this are put into your system, they hook you up to a drip for an hour that contains another chemo medication and you sit and rest. I actually drowsed off for a bit. Bell dings, and you’re free to go home.
I am now 24 hours plus past, and although I know I am likely to crash and be intensely tired and need to sleep, I think I’m managing the nausea part quite fine. I liken it to being pregnant. My stomach is very…specific… about what it wants and what it doesn’t. I smelled my mother’s coffee this morning and announced “And…i’m off coffee!” I have had toast twice today and will likely have it again tonight. I may get crazy and put some avocado and cheese on it. I’m not going to say I’m ravenous. But what I can say is that I have been up all day, have been functioning all day, and, more than I have for the past, well, ever, I feel like I can get through this next phase. That red devil is knocking out cancer cells as I type, and I’m sipping tea and blogging. Not so bad. And that PICC line I freaked out about is going to be a total pain in my a$$ for the next 16 weeks. But I sure loved having it yesterday. With all that anxiety the last thing I needed was to be poked and prodded again. It really did make the chemo treatment simple.
The lessons for me are these. Sometimes we need a little help getting to where we need to be. The fear of the unknown is the worst part of almost all difficult things we have to do in our lives. Once we know what we’re dealing with, just about anything is manageable.
I’m looking forward to having some time off before the next treatment. I know my body needs some time to heal before I can do this again. But for Round 2, I will be better rested. I will be less fearful. Maybe I won’t need the help getting to where I need to be. Maybe I will. I’m okay with either. I will come armed with what I know I will need: my family, my mints, and my moccasins. Visitors welcome. Warning: I will likely be hairless by then. All talismans will remain present.