The evenings before I go in for a chemo treatment are often extremely tough for me. I am not going to lie. People often compliment me on my strength throughout all of this. I tell them they should stop by the night before a chemo session and perhaps I would change their view. It seems as though time has this way of slowing down as if to taunt me—dangling the imminent chemo in my face. My mind goes through the motions that the morning is sure to bring. First, I will wake up early enough to place my numbing cream on my port so it doesn’t hurt when the nurses stick me. Then, there will be the agonizing time spent sitting in the waiting room with other chemo patients who demonstrate various stages of the journey. It is inevitable that the patients and I will take hurried glances at each other wondering how are they doing? Are they going to live? How bad is it? Is that their real hair? Then, being called to the back where I first will head to a room to speak with my oncologist about how the last round went for me coupled with the inevitable blood draw to make sure my blood counts are in good shape to go ahead with the treatment. Next, I will be escorted into the chemo room where I will be told to pick my seat, pick my poison. I will look for a friendly face and sit and pray for strength.
Time stands still the night before chemo as I rehearse the coming day’s events in my mind. I can’t help it. There will be a moment, it happens every time, where I sob. Where you can find me just begging whoever is closest to me to please, please don’t make me go back in there again. I will have my moment of sheer terror followed by a brief, almost childlike, tantrum caused by the pure and utter fear of what the next few days will bring me and my body this time. Praying God gives me the strength to hold steady in that chair and pretend the drugs they are pumping through my veins aren’t harming my body so much that it has taken away my hair, it makes my fingers and toes tingle, it makes my bones ache so bad sometimes I have to just curl up and count the moments till it passes. These are the dark hours when I forget I am strong, I forget I am blessed to be in the stage that I am, I forget that so many people have it so much harder. No, the night before chemo I forget that this diagnosis I was presented with is luckily something I have the chance to fight when so many others do not.
Without giving too much detail because my symptoms were quite awful, last week was the worst week so far for me during my entire chemo experience. I had some unexpected side effects from the new chemo drug they switched me to. I went in last time scared but hopeful that the new chemo drug would be the answer to all my prayers. I went in hoping it would allow me to fall back a bit to my old ways. Allow me to have more energy. To be more active. To experience just a few more good days and a few less bad ones. The day after my last chemo I felt good. Perhaps my prayers were coming true!?? The nausea was GONE. The nausea that I had lived with every minute of every hour of every day for the past two months was gone. When I realized this—when I realized that the nausea was gone for good—I was driving in the car with my mother and I just started sobbing uncontrollably and I looked at my mom and I said through tears streaming down my face, “Mom, I made it.” We just cried and cried and looked at each other like we had just won the Gold Medal in the Cancer Olympics and that day was a very good day. I went to the gym and we went out to eat and we had a good old-fashioned girls day and it felt great.
The following day things were not quite so sunny. I started to experience aches in my body that made me sad. I was so stoked that the day after chemo I felt well enough to go to the gym that I didn’t want to revert back to feeling sick. But I was. I could feel it. I was slipping back into something chemo-induced and there was nothing I could do about it. I was faced with another feeling of helplessness when I couldn’t think my way out of it as much as I tried to. I was feeling intense aches in my bones and I couldn’t do anything about it. The following days were filled with more aches. My oncologist warned me of this. He told me this new drug, which is known far and wide as being a cake walk compared to the Red Devil, causes aches in your body similar to arthritis and for about a week or so you feel as though you have arthritis shooting through your entire body. And yes, of course, I was one of those lucky ones that experienced all those aches and more. I could feel every bone in my body. It was as if my bones and I were being reacquainted on a much more personal level.
That, unfortunately, was not as bad as it got. That Sunday I had some rather severe intestinal issues and I was unable to eat, sleep, or move for three days. The pain was so severe that there were times when I didn’t think I was going to live through the night. Last Monday night was the worst night of my life. I was in so much pain I was scared that I wasn’t going to die of cancer—the chemo was going to kill me first. I went to the doctor on Tuesday and he helped me through a lot of what I was experiencing. He gave me some drugs that must have dropped straight from heaven above because it helped drastically and by the weekend I was feeling good. No, I was feeling better than good because there is no nausea now and I thank God daily for that.
So, I am sitting here allowing all these thoughts to race through my head the night before I go in for my next round of chemo. I have three rounds left and I couldn’t be more ready to be done. I allow these chemo tragedies to haunt me because I have no other choice. I can’t block them out with the most sophisticated of mind tricks because the pain is all too real, it has all happened too recently, and blocking it out is not an option. I feel all alone on this night regardless of the people with me. I just feel that unfortunately I am the one who has to go in and get this stuff poured into my veins, and as wonderful as my family is they aren’t the ones in the seat so I have a sense of loneliness there—like no one quite understands. But I don’t want them to understand. I do not want anyone to go through this. But that doesn’t change the inescapable feeling of loneliness that comes the evening before chemo. This has become a typical night before ritual for me. I get so scared, sad, and then by the end of the night I feel my strength coming back. The closer the time comes, the stronger I get until the morning before where I begin saying things like “Bring it” to the chemo like the chemo and I are about to get in a girl fight but I have the upper hand because I have that added priceless Latina flavor that makes a girl a little more scrappy in a fight. So, I say my prayers and tell chemo it can just step off because the time has come to own it once again, which I do.
These dark moments last a few hours and I am actually thankful for them. I often tell people I am not thankful I got cancer (obviously) but I do feel oddly blessed by the experience. If I didn’t have these dark days I fear I would not appreciate the brighter ones quite so much. I have always been a happy person but perhaps not quite as genuinely happy as I am now after living this whole experience. When I feel a ray of sunshine on my face, when I reconnect with an old friend, when I see a blond Labrador puppy, I get ecstatic. Every small glimpse of hope, happiness, strength or perseverance that I experience takes me to a whole other level—one I had never experienced before. I feel so blessed to have this life and to experience even the smallest things. I took a walk today in the beautiful weather with the sun warming my body and I stopped at Starbucks and hung out with my mother there. It was a perfect, lazy, happy day. A day I would have taken for granted six months ago. Today, I silently thanked God and smiled to myself because I had the ability to do what I did today.
The night before chemo, I remind myself of this. I remind myself of good friends, laughter, my precious niece and nephew, the beach which I plan on going to immediately after I am all finished with treatment, a January that felt like a March, beauty that can be found in every human soul, a connection you can feel with someone that is so unbreakable that no matter how long you are apart it will always be there. I remind myself that there is boundless beauty in this world and I get to experience it. I have to fight for it, but I get to experience it. And doesn’t it feel a bit sweeter after a good fair fight? Chemo, and my treatment in more general terms, is my ticket to experiencing this one very precious life I get and all the wonder it brings for longer. Hopefully much longer. Chemo also gives me time to fight this fight against breast cancer on a larger scale by joining with other survivors and organizations and really change the nature of this disease. Breast cancer hits one out of three or four women, and to me that is unacceptable. Chemo will allow me to do something about changing that. Chemo is my ticket out of here so to speak. Now I am tired, my eyes are heavy, but my heart is light. It has been a tough mind battle with chemo this evening but I win because at the end of the day I am smiling. I have no wig or hat on but instead my bald head is proudly out for all to see. I will be wearing my pink wig to chemo tomorrow, however, because a man pulled my mom aside at my last treatment demanding to know where the pink wig had gone. I have to remember my fans. I aim to please! I’ve got some good jams on, I am dancing around my house in a giant t-shirt, my bald head is energetically bopping to the beat, and I have a water bottle in hand serving as my microphone. I am singing my heart out and dancing as hard as I can because I feel good and DARN IT I am going to dance while I can. Bring it, chemo.