Bring It, Chemo

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.

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23 thoughts on “Bring It, Chemo

  1. Hang in there, beautiful! I know this is hard….my friend talks about the dark hole she goes into, but we are willing you to get through this…. so, enough of telling you that you are strong. WE will be strong for you! We love you ladies that are going through this hell…..

    • O.K., so we’re heading to chemo this a.m. too…..I stopped reading too soon because I was feeling badly for telling you how strong you are….but, forget that YOU ARE, still…..anytime you need us friends to take that for you…we’re here…..

  2. Thank you, Abby, and prayers are with you. Your “therapeutic” is my “cathartic” vicariously laying to rest remembered fears and embracing with thanksgiving the other side.

  3. Abby,
    First, God’s got this for you and with you. “Bring it” is right. Your post reminded me of a song called “Bring the Rain”. I think you could switch the word rain for chemo.

    Secondly, you’re beautiful in your picture. I had a dark place this last year and I thought it wasn’t OK for me to admit my weakness and that perhaps my glass really was half empty. I have learned through that experience it’s OK to be half empty because that’s where God meets me and does the rest when I just simply couldn’t. I felt alone in the experience but I truly believe God sends us people who have or are experiencing these same events and feelings. Looks like you have a friend in this experience above, Debbie Haas. God is good.

    Finally, I just had to tell you (though you do not know me but I’ve learned of your story through Becca Townsend Freeland and Heidi Reiner), you are an inspiration to me and so many. In 5 days I will be placing HOT PINK hair extensions in my hair (in honor of your hot pink wig my hair stylist made for me), putting on a pink and grey running skirt, and lacing up my running shoes for YOU and another girl (Gina McReynolds). I am racing my half marathon at “The Run for Donna” in Jacksonville, FL. I had a custom race bib made with your names. You can find me through Heidi and Becca on Facebook if you’re interested in seeing the pics. I’ll make sure to tag them in the photos. I’ve never ran a half marathon EVER and am not really a “runner” but I never have given up the challenge to do this because you guys have inspired me. The statistics ARE NOT ok and I’m going to fight to change them through running with the Mayo Clinic. There are so many of us who do not know you but are praying for you.

    God’s got today for you!

    Erika Reiner

  4. Beautiful bald, beautiful pink hair, beautiful spirit! I can only imagine of terror of willingly putting poison or pain in one’s body. As I nurse, I have given the drugs and taking seemingly healthy people to terrible places. I can’t even think of it without hope for heaven and peace. Love your blog and am cheering you on in prayer. Praise God, that you are not silent and are tough!

  5. You go, girl! I love your writing. I love your spirit! I’ve missed your blogs, but I haven’t missed an opportunity to pray for you. I will be praying today that today’s round doesn’t flatten you as much as the last round. I’ll be counting down with you to that last round!

  6. You have a beautiful head, Abby! Be proudly bald!!!
    You look beautiful and you are beautiful. Courage has nothing to do with being afraid, but everything to do with moving ahead despite the fear! Without doubt you have to experience each day in a way no one else can fully understand, but also without doubt you are being lifted and held in love and prayer from a mass of folks who love you and your family! I am one of them.

  7. What an awesome way to finish the night dancing and singing your heart out!:) I remember all sorts of craziness back in high school:) We sure had a great time w/ tons of laughs:) Sport that pink wig today and light up that chemo room w/ your infectious charm:) It’s amazing how God allows tragedy to help us find good. The mind is a powerful tool, so even if there are dark moments, you have your God-given spunk and positive thinking to help pull you out. I’m excited about our upcoming excursion and can’t wait to see you!! It’s awesome to see you embrace your sexy bald head as well:) Luv ya Abbs!!!!!!!

  8. Oh Abby, I’m thinking of you constantly. You are still an inspiration to us all. Thank you for all the honest sharing you do each time you write. The details are so real. I love you girl, and only hope and pray for the best for you. God loves you and so do I.

  9. Dear Abby,

    I am profoundly touched by your raw emotions, struggle, courage, faith and sheer grit. You are attacking the enemy head on with God in the lead. You don’t know me personally, but you grew up with my sons at SVA, Greg and Jared. As you may know, we lost Greg to suicide a few years ago. Below is a poem that was included in a book about my story. I felt God nudging me to send this clip to you. I “see” you in this one, just as I see me only our circumstances are different. Tragedy is a tough gig and not one we relish, but with the power of God on our side, we boldly go forth to do His will no matter what it may be. God has you nestled up close to His chest and enfolded in His massive arms. You feel His heart beating and His breath upon your cheek. This picture has given me much comfort over the months and years. Maybe you, pink wig and all, can picture yourself snuggled up in the bosom of your God. You are a daddy’s girl. You are God’s daughter too and therefore, a Big Daddy’s girl. Write me if you like at impossiblejoy@yahoo.com. Keep blogging. Keep on keeping on. Blessings for your healing. Deuteronomy says God saves and heals and you can take that promise to the bank of heaven. Love, Anita

    In Reckless Abandon

    When Simon Peter realized it was Jesus, he left his buddies
    to work the fishing nets and dove into the sea.
    John 21:7, MSG, paraphrased

    Peter couldn’t wait for the boat to be rowed to shore
    where His Master stood.
    In reckless abandon, he dove into the water
    and headed for shore.
    No thought of his clothing, hair and makeup (from a female
    viewpoint) or whether he could swim in the frigid, choppy waves.
    He had only one thought on his mind . . . he dropped everything
    to see His Master—his best Friend.

    Is that what it takes, Lord?
    Absolute, earnest, utter, even reckless abandonment of self . . .
    to drop at Your feet in complete and total surrender of my will?
    You mean I have to give up everything?
    This is not about my emotions or circumstances or surroundings.
    This is about looking eyeball to eyeball—Creator to created—and
    finally realizing there is nothing, positively nothing,
    I value more than being Yours.

    I have a desperate need and only You can fill it.
    So give me the courage to dive headlong toward You.
    Help me keep my eyes on You, stroke by stroke, until I stand
    before You, dripping, breathless, but ecstatic.

    Take my will Lord. It’s Yours.
    Love,
    Your Daughter

    ~Shattered by Suicide, Amazon.com

  10. I am sitting in the grocery store parking lot bawling my eyes out you beautiful, honest girl! Abby thanks for lifting me up today with your infectious gratitude! Cheering you on from Utah!
    Love,
    Rachel

  11. You are amazing!!! I know your mom, we used to work together at the hospital. I am in a different department these days though I get talk with her every once in a while-always business though. I didn’t know about this. I promise to keep you in my prayers 🙂 God is good!!! Be sure to message me if you raising money for breast cancer-you can count on me.

  12. I am sure it must feel very lonely at times but you are never alone. I hope you can feel the presence of angels with you whether they be spiritual beings or caring humans such as your Mom and Dad and all those who love you. We are all thinking of you and praying for you and asking that your healing be complete. God bless you as you walk this very difficult path. Looking forward to the post of your last chemo!! Hoping the next one will be a lot easier.

  13. You are a BEAUTIFUL person on the inside, as well as outside! You continue to be such an inspriration to SO many! Praying that God will continue to keep you encouraged!!!

  14. Thinking of you & praying for you Abby. I enjoy your blogs. It’s tough to go through dark
    valleys but we can count on God to be there with us.

  15. Abby, you are beautiful with and without hair! I am bald now, and my daughter tells me that, and I am starting to believe her, so I hope you believe in your still present outer and innner beauty. Thanks for sharing your feelings and journey. It helpls everyone, especially those of us who are experiencing chemo too.

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