Boy does this suck.
I was told early on that the effects of chemo are cumulative and that recovery time and intensity of the side effects increase with each round. Well, at least I can say I was warned.
But before I launch into this blog of my experience, I feel compelled to remind myself that I am not a victim. True, I never asked for this disease to descend on me and wreak havoc on my life. But despite all my griping, bitching, complaining and moaning (and fair warning- this blog is full of ‘em), somewhere deep in me, I know that somehow all of this is perfect. I’m scratching and screaming at times, angry and depleted. But so far, I’m still able to hold on to my beliefs and faith has remained.
As I complete the third round of chemo, the physical toll it is taking on my body has now begun to effect my mind and spirit.
On the physical level, what’s happening to my body is just brutal. This is how I spend the first two days after chemo: I’m in a drug induced fogginess and discomfort like nothing I’ve ever known before. The medications I take to counter the effects of the chemo create their own challenges and I just don’t like the way any of it makes me feel. I’m stoned or drugged to keep the symptoms slightly at bay. I understand some people enjoy being stoned, but not me. I like the way my body feels clear of all medicines and other substances. But there’s no denying that with one puff of a joint, my nausea is tempered.
I can’t eat. I can’t drink. Water, which I normally love now tastes like a horrible metal in my mouth. My body aches and writhes in pain. I can’t concentrate. I sleep, but it’s a fitful sleep. I can’t speak on the phone or text with well intentioned friends and family checking in on me. And at least three times over these two days, I’ll break down into a full on weep fest. Luckily, my boys are used to seeing their mom cry, so this doesn’t impact them too much. (At least I hope.)
By the third day post-chemo, my body is completely limited. Typing at my computer takes far too much energy. This isn’t the kind of tired I would feel after recovering from the flu or a vigorous workout, or one that can be remedied by eating a healthy meal. It’s not just that I’m weak. It’s almost as if all of my muscles have seized up. The drugs from the treatment are doing their job and I am depleted. Moving at all, sitting up, let alone trying to walk a few steps to get to the kitchen or the bathroom is incredibly hard. It’s as if my muscles are just unable to hold my body weight, which has now diminished to an all time low below 120 pounds. When I can stand up, I move like someone who’s learning to walk again, the pain is so intense.
The things I’d turned to that helped me feel better in the past begin to creep away. My always envied shower becomes an insurmountable task. Reaching out to friends and family for support is even harder because I can’t talk. I get dizzy and light headed very quickly. My body begins to tremble- it’s just unable to accommodate any kind of physical activity.
And slowly, my world begins to close in on me. I can’t believe this is my life.
This is where the physical effects begin to influence my mental and spiritual state.
I am trapped. Stuck on the couch. Looking out my window. Limited communication. I am a shell of my former self and feel like a skeleton. Empty. All that I’m left with is my thoughts. It’s painful and no fun. And it occurs to me, I’m being stripped back to the very core, the very essence of who I am.
I cannot serve right now. I cannot support my family. I cannot prepare meals, get my kids where they need to go, love on my boys or my husband. I cannot connect with friends or family. And I am lost.
If I can no longer serve, what is my purpose? What is my value? These thoughts expand further. My boys are growing up. Everything is changing. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing? My husband has his career. As my boys grow, mine is going away. I begin to sense that I’m on the edge of a dark abyss.
This is what I linger on when I’m trapped. This is what cancer treatment is offering me right now.
My thoughts shift to my Dad, who is struggling with his own physical limitations. His mind is still sharp as a tack, but his daily life has been impacted with his body’s challenges. He’s dealing with this every day too. My compassion is overwhelming.
I also think back to the time I experienced going into the dark abyss once before. It was at a retreat where I studied Spiritual Psychology. I was working a process and felt myself moving into a scary darkness. I was terrified. I remember finding a way to utter the words, “I don’t know what to do.” And a wonderful facilitator gently responded, “Allow yourself to go into it.” What? Go into it? I may not come out! I was genuinely terrified. But at that moment, I did it. I let go.
Trying to communicate what I experienced next is challenging. The best way I can express it is that I felt a freedom and a breath like none I’d ever felt before. There was a peace and a sense of … just peace. There was a knowing that everything was ok. After a while, I saw an arm reaching toward me. I wasn’t alone. I’m never alone. Such few words don’t seem nearly adequate to express what I experienced, but it’s the most I have available to me right now.
So maybe all of this is actually offering me something after all? Unlike my Dad, I know that within a few days, my strength will return. I will be able to function again.
I’m not sure what that dark abyss is there to offer me. Don’t know if I’ll find out any time soon. For now, I’m just incredibly grateful to be coming out of the other side of this round of chemo. While I welcome the lessons in my life, I’d prefer for them to come in gentle, gentle ways.
So one more round of this regiment to go and then I’ve been assured that the next 12 are much easier to tolerate.
Until then, thank you for the loving support you continue to offer me. It’s you I meet in the abyss to help me through and I’m eternally grateful.
P.S.- I just realized my bald head is making me look more masculine. Not sure how I feel about that! But it sure is easier to take care of these days.