I guess it’s pretty safe to say that the week following chemo, I’m incapable of forming complete sentences-verbally and in writing. The entire week has been a blur to me.
My sister-in-law Marthan came by Monday night to bring us “a mess”, as they say here in Appalachia, of her famously fabulous green beans, bread and butter pickles, strawberry rhubarb jam, and some home grown tomatoes. Even with the strange metallic taste that chemo leaves in your mouth, they tasted delicious! Food is always the perfect gift. It says, “I picked/cleaned/stringed those vegetables and cooked them with love for you so you can spend your time getting well.” Simply perfect. We ate half the pot before she left!
Steroids (to prevent allergic reactions to the chemo) were pumped through my veins before the chemo infusion. Unfortunately, a common side effect is insomnia. I also had to take more of them orally the day before and after the infusion. I can only remember having to take steroids (Prednisone) once in my life when I got stung by a jellyfish in Kiawah, SC. The only side effect I remember was gaining nine pounds in four days.
I remember sitting comfortably in the beach chair reading my book. Jeff, Lauren, Jesse, and Jordan were having a great time playing in the ocean. I prefer to watch the waves from dry land. I haven’t been the same since I saw Jaws when I was around eleven. Even while watching from the safety of dry sand, I will always see imaginary shark fins circling my loved ones. But on that day, I saw all four of them waving their arms, “C’mon in, the water feels great!” After a lot of coaxing, they talked me into joining them where the water was up to my shoulders. After about 15 minutes, I felt a strange electrical jolt on the top of my foot. “Oh my God! Get me out here!” Everyone follows me out, surely convinced that I would have a something a little more serious than red welts on the top of my foot. It felt like someone had poured gasoline on my foot and lit a match. It was then that I remembered an episode of Friends. The group was at the beach and either Monica or Rachel had gotten stung by a jellyfish and Joey pee’d on her leg for relief of the pain. That’s all I remembered. “Jeff, pee on my foot. Now!” He looked at me incredulously. “Huh? What?! I don’t have to go!” Lauren eagerly stepped up to the plate, as if volunteering to make chocolate pies for the homeless. At that time, I allowed my 21 year-old daughter to squat over my foot and urinate on the welts. “What’s it feel like? Any better?” someone in the group asked. “Nope. Feels about the same. Like it’s on fire.” I went to the pharmacy on the island in Kiawah. The pharmacist took one look at my foot and said, “It looks like a Portuguese Man-O-War sting to me. What have you tried for relief?” My face turned as red as my foot, I’m pretty sure. “My daughter pee’d on it.” He howled with laughter. “Friends episode, huh? It’s a myth.” He suggested vinegar, which only gave minutes at a time of relief. After a trip to the ER, I realized that I’m very allergic to jellyfish stings and this would require steroids.
I don’t remember feeling “wired” or having acute insomnia that week, but I do know that I never had to call the doctor begging for a prescription for sleeping pills like I did last week.
So back to my week last week….
The doctor on call prescribed a low dose of Ambien. I’m in constant amazement at the decisions I’ve made since D-day. It’s as if everything I’ve learned…my entire belief system…has been turned upside down because of fear surrounding the Big C. I feel like I “caved” and sold my soul to the devil.
Tuesday afternoon, I was worn out from, well, just breathing. I dozed off and had the most vivid and realistic dream of my life. I won’t go into the scary details, but let’s just say I woke up screaming and my chest felt like it was being squeezed by a vice. I was relieved to be alive, but terrified that I might be having a heart attack. I was literally paralyzed with fear and couldn’t pick up my phone that was only three feet from me. About an hour later, Jeff came home to his train wreck of a wife. He called the “after hours” oncologist on call who recommended going to the ER. I began to think that the chest pains were actually a panic attack (another first for me) and decided against a trip to Highlands Regional Hospital. I later talked to Dr. Moss, who suggested I quit taking the Ambien. Apparently, for some unlucky folks, it can cause vivid nightmares. She also mentioned that the worst of the Neulasta side effects happen on day 5 (Bingo!). Remember, Neulasta is a medication used to help stimulate the white blood cell count in your bone marrow. Dr. Moss said that there is a lot of bone marrow in your sternum and the Neulasta could have been the reason for my chest pain. Apparently, Ambien + lack of sleep + Neulasta + chemo + negative thoughts = a very bad combination for me.
She suggested substituting the Neulasta shot with an antibiotic next month but I would just need to be very careful to avoid crowds. No problem. I have twelve days until the next treatment and I’m already dreading it.
The icing on the cake began Thursday night when Buddy was up all night vomiting. Apparently while frolicking on our hillside with a young, energetic troublemaker neighborhood dog, he wandered back home with his butt literally dragging the ground. He can’t walk on his own and he hasn’t eaten since Thursday morning. He spent the day Friday at Country Hills Vet getting blood work and hooked up to an IV for fluids. They sent us home with an anti-inflammatory and anti-nausea medication and a receipt for a $305.50 bill. We still have to hold his back end up with a towel so he can walk and he still hasn’t eaten. Maybe he’s having sympathy chemo pains and nausea. After all, he is a Momma’s boy.
Now, for some good news. Despite the fact that I still don’t sleep much, I’m feeling a little better each day. This should continue until my next treatment October 3, when it’s time for round two. The oncologist’s office says that my hair should begin to fall out after I begin the 2nd round. In Europe, many chemo patients wear “cooling caps” which prevent the toxic drugs from penetrating the hair follicle cells (my very unscientific explanation) and the patients don’t lose their hair. The FDA hasn’t approved it here. There seems to be a question about whether the icy cold cap would prevent the chemo from killing any stray cancer cells in the brain. Makes sense to me. That’s the only reason I haven’t ordered one online, stuck it in a freezer, and worn it under a wig so Dr. Moss wouldn’t know.
Meanwhile, if any of you are experts with scarves and how to wrap them around a head without looking like a do-rag, I welcome a lesson. I did buy two wigs, but I’ll probably not wear those unless I leave the house, which seems to be only for doctor appointments and occasional trips to the store or post office.
Beginning today, I have vowed to start juicing again. I always feel better when I eat and drink fresh fruit and vegetables, but the idea of the prep and clean up has been overwhelming. I’ve been in survival mode, drinking Ginger Ale and eating saltine crackers and Basmati rice. Ugh. “Survival mode? How does that make sense?”, my mom would be saying now. My guess is that cleaning up my current toxic waste site body might be my best shot at survival.
So…be expecting to read more from me these next twelve days. After that, there may be another dry spell.