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Chemo Tips for Cancer Buddies

cancer_card_by_patchSince I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in March 2015, three women I know have joined the sisterhood. Two of them found it early enough to get by with surgery plus radiation, but one is about to embark on a few rounds of chemotherapy. She reached out to me for advice and I realized that I actually do have some. And since I’m ostensibly writing this cancer junk for fellow cancer peeps (what? do I call us “patients” “victims” “sufferers”? If you’re currently in treatment are you a “survivor”? What about my friend that beat Stage 2 only to have it metastasize three years later in her lungs, brain, and bones? Is she a “former survivor”? Because you can fight and hold off and delay, but ladies and gents, you don’t survive Stage 4), I do believe it is time to bust out my…

CHEMO TIPS FOR CANCER BUDDIES!

  1. Say goodbye to your hair. Don’t listen to anyone (hi Mom) who suggests “Maybe you won’t lose your hair!”. You’re going to lose it. You can cry about it, you can turn it into a party or you can do both. Most people shave their heads when they reach some point of critical wispyness. It’s a matter of taking charge; of doing instead of being done to. Each of my three kids plus my husband had a go at cutting my hair and then using the clippers. And it was fun. It actually was. I believe it really helped my youngest (age six) deal with the way Mommy’s look was changing. I’d imagined a sobbing breakdown once I got a good look in the mirror, but that didn’t happen. It turns out my skull is rather nicely shaped. My Dad reports that my great-grandmother upon meeting me as a baby declared my head “perfect.” IMG_1884
  2. Embrace the bald. Try out crazy wigs. Enjoy hats. Go straight-up cue ball. 99% of the time I keep covered up so as not to freak people out, but if I need special treatment or consideration somewhere I have absolutely no shame about whipping my hat off. You just don’t say no to Chemo Girl. Also, enjoy the benefits of bald. Take super quick showers! Save money on shampoo, conditioner, unguents and elixirs. Take back all the time you won’t be blow-drying, hot-rolling, or flat-ironing! No more bad hair days, baby!

    Rocking the chrome dome during Round 3

    Rocking the chrome dome during Round 3

  3. Embrace the other bald. Enjoy smooth never-need-shaving legs and armpits (remember the quick showers I promised you?). Two more words: Free Brazilian.
  4. Be selfish. Seriously. You can do no wrong right now because you have cancer. You won the Lottery of Suck so you get to take long naps, avoid housework, bail on social engagements, not sign up for shit at the kids’ school, hog the remote, hog the covers, eat the last cookie, and just let everyone else deal with “stuff.” I mean, don’t be a dick. Just…act like a dude for a few months. (Kidding. Sort of.)
  5. Invest in Imodium and flushable wipes. The chemo-shits are bad, yo. You are going to poop like you have never pooped before and your little butthole is going to beg for mercy. So do yourself a favor and baby your bum. I’m serious about the Imodium, too. Keep some with you at all times.
  6. Don’t go to chemo alone. Remember all those people that offered to help when you announced your cancer? Now is the time to take them up on it. Choose someone to accompany you to each round of chemo. Someone to pick your ass up at home, drive you to the hospital, sit with you and amuse you, and then drive your ass back home. If you’re very popular you can have them do shifts. Chemo takes a long-ass time. I planned to do a bunch of stuff during chemo (sleep, do my nails, read), and ended up doing none of them. I chatted with my friends and the nurses, munched on snacks, played with my phone. You know what? I had a good time. I laughed a lot. Take your friends and host a chemo party.

    Me and Amy. Best friends since 1973!

    Me and Amy. Best friends since 1973!

  7. Be a wuss. Look, for no reason at all you drew the short straw and got cancer. You don’t have to be a tough broad or a good soldier or a warrior woman. All you have to do is GET THROUGH IT and you’re a rock star. So don’t try to keep doing PTA shit when you want to curl in a ball and cry. Curl in a fucking ball, girl. You deserve a good cry! If your heart races and you get the cold sweats changing the sheets on the bed? STOP. Sit the fuck down and let someone else do that shit. You have cancer. Or sleep in dirty sheets, who cares! What’s the worst that can happen–you already have cancer! Honestly, here’s a secret. When you have cancer people are required to be nice to you. They’ll tell you you’re beautiful when you look like a damn gargoyle and they’ll tell you you’re brave when you’re a blubbering puddle of self-pity. People don’t judge the cancer-striken. They just thank fuck it’s not them.
  8. Say goodbye to food. If the nausea don’t get you, the chemo-taste will. Food will, for increasingly long periods of time as your chemo progresses, be the enemy. You won’t want to eat it, smell it, or have anything to do with it. And yet it will become your prime obsession. Because you know you need it to rebuild your good (non-cancery) cells, and you haven’t eaten anything except for a raisin in three days. So all day you will ponder this ponder: What could I eat? What could I choke down? Strolling through the aisles of the grocery store can help here. If something catches your eye, take it home. Take three or four or a dozen “maybes” home and try them. Something that was fine last week might be a no-go this week, so keep trying. Chicken broth and dill pickles were the only thing that kept me alive during the back half of chemo. dill pickles
  9. Find what works for you. Now is not the time to try and “power through” anything. If you hurt, take a pain pill. Your doctor will give you the good ones because people don’t fuck around with cancer patients. If your nausea meds don’t work, try another. Try ginger candy. Try pot. Try acupuncture. And if nothing works, just keep reminding yourself that this is not the rest of your life. Chemo comes to an end.
  10. Make friends with chaos. You’re the one that keeps the trains running, right? Who makes the appointments and keeps the social calendar and is the organizer and the arranger and the scheduler and the cleaner-upper. Well, the trains are going off the rails. People will try to “pitch in.” But your immediate family is suffering too. They aren’t running at full capacity either because they’re worried and trying to be strong and crying when they think you’re not looking. So. Do you want to spend 4 or 6 or 11 rounds of chemo feeling like a failure watching the laundry pile up and the homework get left behind and the mess accumulate everywhere you look? You do not. This is where that laminated Cancer Card comes in. You play it and you play it hard. Mostly, you’ll need to play it on yourself. Your bones ache from the bone-marrow booster shot you got to keep your white count from plummeting. Is this a good time to mop the kitchen floor or scrub toilets? It is not. Sit the fuck down, pull up a blanket or a pet and watch a Law & Order: SVU marathon. You can clean your house when your body isn’t involved in chemical warfare with a deadly disease. smile and nod
  11. Smile and nod. Don’t kill. People are going to suggest things to you that will make your blood boil. That refined sugar gave you cancer and that your penchant for peanut butter cups is tantamount to a deathwish. That supplements or prayer/positive thinking or Corn Nuts are more effective at killing cancer than medicine. That drinking smoothies and eating lean protein will help you feel energetic through chemo–never mind that you can’t drink water without gagging. Don’t argue, don’t punch them. Just smile and nod. They do mean well.
  12. Connect with cancer buddies. Find people who have been through it or are going through it. Because they are the only ones who understand what this feels like. And they aren’t the ones sending you emails about how you gave yourself cancer by drinking soda or living near power lines. They won’t change the subject when you talk about being afraid of dying. You can tell them how you REALLY feel, not just “oh, fine.” They won’t discount your aches and pains or try to “solve” you. They get it. Find these buddies and keep them close. And when you’re past this shit and you’re a “survivor” reach out to the newbs and be there for them.

Next time: Chemo Tips for Family and Friends.

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Chemo – The Halfway Holla

Usually, I’d think about updating the blog and then I’d say, “Well, I’ll wait until I have more energy. Until I feel a little bit better.” But this time, I’m not doing that. I’m going to write this post when I’m at my lowest point because that’s part of cancer too. Not just the “big moments” of shaving your head or your friends cheering you on, or the first round of chemo. I’m talking about the shit in between. That’s what today is about. I had my third round of chemo last Thursday and then a weekend filled with birthday celebrations and wonderful friends. Today I don’t feel like a warrior. I don’t feel like I’m doing battle. I feel weak and useless and yes, a little fragile.

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I’m beginning to suspect that the chemo side effects are cumulative. Like they might get worse with each round. And I further suspect that no one tells you this because it would be too discouraging. Well, I’m going to tell you: this sucks ass. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this bad in my life.

My stomach…oh man. It’s just so unhappy. It’s not that food is unappetizing, it’s that everything–including plain water–tastes absolutely vile. It’s not even nausea anymore, maybe, or I’ve forgotten what it feels like not to feel like shit. The bone pain is the worst it’s ever been, too. Usually I get it in my hips and a hot bath and Tylenol take care of it. This time it just keeps hurting and it’s in my shoulders too.

And the hot flashes from the chemo-induced menopause? Those are fun. Every 15 to 20 minutes ALL NIGHT LONG I wake up and either throw all the blankets off, or put them all back on. And the fatigue? I guess that’s what it is, though it feels more like weakness…it’s overwhelming and I’ve become rather addle-brained in the last few days as well. Today, I nearly walked into the back of a car that was reversing in a parking lot. The most annoying thing is that it’s summer time! I have stuff to do! I want to be out and doing stuff instead of cowering in my bed feeling sorry for myself. I have the girls’ bedroom to redecorate but I can stand up long enough to fold a basket of laundry. And, and, fucking and…

Anyway, this is the view from halfway through chemo. I was really excited to hit that milestone, but it’s getting harder to see a time when all this cancer shit will be behind me. I spent some time speaking with Dr. Cap before chemo last week and we talked a bit about surgery (though he’s not a surgeon) and stuff. I was under the impression that if I had a mastectomy instead of a lumpectomy (remove the whole breast, not just the tumory bit) then I would be spared radiation. But Cap says with this cancer–and because my lymph nodes are involved–we’re throwing the kitchen sink at it.

So I still have to figure out what to do with my boobs. I mean, let’s consider the options: I can have a lumpectomy and hopefully my right boob won’t be too disfigured. I can have a mastectomy and then have reconstruction. But then, like, I have lopsided tits? One that’s a wonder of modern science and one that’s fed three kids? No thanks. What about skipping reconstruction altogether? But what the fuck do I do with one boob? Just for shits and giggles go Google “breast reconstruction after mastectomy” and see how those images grab you.

I told my mom that my strong feeling right now is to lop both troublesome fuckers off and just be flat-chested the rest of my life. She seems to find this mildly horrifying. Maybe because, at 74 years old her rack is still pretty impressive. But I like the idea of wearing tank tops and spaghetti straps. I feel like I’ve been a prisoner of my boobs since the tenth grade and what freedom! But maybe I’m deluding myself.

Then I asked Dr. Cap a question that may be actually deranged. I’m fully expecting this treatment to work and that at the end of this process I will be NED (No Evidence of Disease) aka cancer-free. What concerns me is the possible return of the cancer. Because once you’ve had it, the chances it will come back increase. I asked Dr. Cap, basically, Should I leave a boob for the cancer to get if it wants to come back? So it doesn’t go for my liver or brain or bones? “Because,” I told him, “if it comes back somewhere else, I’m fucked.”

“Well, I wouldn’t say you’re fucked,” Cap said, which tells you how comfortable he’s become with me and my weirdness, But he did allow that in that eventuality we call the cancer incurable but that many women can live ten years with a stage 4 diagnosis. “But, you’re only 46. That probably doesn’t sound that long.”

No. It doesn’t.

How do I make myself as invulnerable as possible? How much piece of mind can I purchase with chunks of my body? Because I’m willing to give whatever it wants. Take my boobs, take my ovaries, take my uterus…I don’t give a shit, I was done with them anyway.

Anyway, I have wonderful people supporting me and pulling for me, and I don’t mean to be a downer or disappoint them. But this is for you, future reader, who maybe feels the same way and then feels guilty about dropping the Go! Fight! Win! pompoms because you feel like ass and just want all of this to go away.

Fuck you, cancer, for ruining my summer!

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