Cancer comes with its own world and vocabulary. When you find out it is inside you, you just want it out as soon as possible. You cannot see past getting it out. Before you can get it out though, doctors need to be sure of what you actually have and what surgery you need (if you can even get surgery).
Depending on what you have and where, you have your surgery. Depending on the surgery, you are given a follow up treatment plan. The treatment plan might include chemotherapy and radiation like mine did.
When I began chemo, I was most concerned with my immune system and having to potentially go to the hospital with any temperature over 100.4. With two school-age children who often get sick in the winter, I was very concerned about this temperature cut off. I also wanted the chemotherapy to finish as quickly as possible. When you first sit down with an oncologist, be prepared for a lot of negativity. I think it is because they worry you will say "no" to the chemo. Trust me, if I thought for a second that I did not need chemotherapy, I would have run away immediately after hearing just SOME of the side effects.
For my cancer, I was prescribed 8 rounds of chemotherapy in 2 week intervals across a total of 16 weeks. Do you know how many days that is - I did - I kept a running count in notebooks, on calendars and any notebook in my reach. I remember sitting on my couch before my first round wishing there was like a live in camp where my children could move and live during the 16 weeks. I knew it would be very hard on them to see me broken and tired and I just knew I would be broken and tired. You rarely hear of chemotherapy patients who are not...
I do not google my stuff - I know the danger of falling down the WEBMD hole and diagnosing myself with imminent death so I stay away from any thing that resembles web searches. I went in for my first round and watched in awe as the chemo nurses (who are all amazing) covered themselves head to toe just to sit and inject me with the red devil - the "A" in the "AC" combo chemo that I was going to get for the first 4 rounds; the second 4 rounds were Taxol.
Here are my quick tricks on getting through the interminable rounds of chemo:
I was lucky enough to get all of these rules in advance by someone who is my Guardian Angel - someone who went through it and was linked up to me by my treating hospital. She explained everything to me and even started texting me to get me to start drinking the water 3 days before my first treatment. I would not have survived chemo without her advice.
Do you have any hints or tips for chemotherapy?
Oh and after my first one, my 6 year old cried because he could not handle seeing me so tired and in bed early in the day. I worked full time through the full 16 weeks and only missed a few days due to complications. I did not have to spend any time in the hospital with fever, because I followed the rules, particularly rule number 6. I made my countdown with sticky notes on my wall when I had 68 days left until my last treatment and each morning would pull off a number. When your number gets small enough for you to see it visually, do the same if you would like - it helps you realize time is passing when you are in the fog of chemotherapy.
As someone who has been self-sufficient since (almost) birth - an oldest child who helped raise younger siblings from a young age and who has always been an "old soul" being in the position of needing help is akin to torture.
Unfortunately for me, though, being diagnosed with cancer meant help is needed. There are appointments and decisions to be made that young ears should not be privy to until they need to be told. Then there is surgery and treatment plans that need to be handled and trying to care for anyone other than yourself during chemotherapy is a joke.
Someone told me shortly after I was diagnosed that this would be the "year of you" meaning that I would now, for the first time in almost my whole life, have to put myself first and take care of ME.
As a mom for the past decade and a caretaker for others my whole life, this is not something I thought I could do and it was oddly freeing in a lot of ways. I went from being a helicopter parent to looking for people to take my kids out without me hovering nearby.
I learned to let go and just try to stay as well as possible, which is kind of a trick when you are getting poisons pumped into your body every two weeks. I would love to tell you the 16 weeks of chemotherapy "flew by" but that would be a lie (sorry but more on that soon on how to survive chemo).
There are people in your life that would surprise you - both pleasantly and unpleasantly and I know you would be as surprised as I was about who steps up and who runs away. There were the people who told me, "I will be there with you every step of the way." who then disappeared for months. There were those who told me straight out to just call them when I was done with treatment (and not before).
Then there were the people who just stayed - who if I did not answer my phone were at my door to make sure I was alive. I had a lot of pleasant surprises during my time as a newly christened "sick" person -this is just it, you go from being healthy your whole life and running everything to boom being broken down and unable to function or look in a way you recognize as you.
There are the people who stepped up from far away and who never let a day go by without just checking in on me - which means so much still.
Having those constants - the people who stand by you and just treat you like you and not like some weird infected alien is a blessing and it makes you realize how lucky you are - cancer or not, you are lucky. You have a team, people to help in any way you need.
The "in between" people are those who say, whenever they see you, "Anything you need, just call me." - those are hard to place and handle and not to diminish their words because I assume that is what I would have done if my acquaintance Sally (for instance) was the one who was diagnosed and not me. Sometimes I felt bad for not calling on them but I do believe as a "strong" person, I did not want to bother anyone.
So in the time between, I think about how I formulate my next life - because being super focused on family and raising my children is not enough to support my identity as friend, wife, business owner, teacher and more - I know I need to expand my horizons and figure out what will make me most balanced now.
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