As I get deeper into the cancer treatment process, I need a certain mind-frame and energy level to finish what I start to write. Feeling good happens but is unpredictable. This is primarily due to the dizzying quantities of medicine that they’re giving me, both the chemotherapy itself and the drugs that help with my body’s reaction to it. I’m repeatedly low with both my white and red blood cells counts (0.1 white cell count and 7.5 red cell count: low enough to have nurses whistle out loud when they check my reports). In a little over a month, I’ve gotten over my freakiness towards receiving blood and had 4 blood transfusions, giving me a new appreciation towards blood donors. Since my white cell count is so low, I caught an intestinal bug, vomiting and with fever, and was shielded off into the neutropenic ward of the hospital since I had no immunity to fight bacteria. In all of this, I had to delay chemo sessions, which is distressing because you lose sight of the finish line.
They say that writing helps you–the creative process is healthy. But it’s hard to write so off-kilter. While recently composing a diary-entry, my pencil stopped mid-word and I drew a straight line horizontally across the page, closing my eyes and laying the pad next to me on my bed. Exhaustion blanketed me.
I want to answer well-meaning questions like: “How are you doing?” But it’s hard to answer accurately without sounding like a downer. By writing, I’m hoping that I might help someone in the future with what to expect since I’ve had such a mixed experience with what I’ve read. All the information is out there—online and in books—but it’s jumbled and impossible for me to compute. You’d think that the disease would unmask several common truths. Thus far, it’s felt like a 1:1 relationship with a mean and unforgiving bully. I feel at times like a tormenter is stripping off the outer layers of myself and all that’s left is raw and unrecognizable.
Often I think cancer is trying to crush my spirit. Before, I had been willing to suspend it for a long while. Thinking: “Cancer has messed with the wrong girl” now feels brazen. At least I predicted my naiveté. In my experience, cancer was an unknown and then it unveiled itself to me. It came unbound—swinging unsuspecting blows. You hear: “cancer’s a bitch” when you’re thrown a punch. That somehow doesn’t really capture it. I’m in awe of cancer—of what it’s doing to me. And then what’s weird and confusing is every once in a while, I feel great—a fleeting ghost of my former self. I go to lunch for a friend’s birthday or out to dinner, wearing my wig and a hat and painting on eyebrows to pass for normal. Soon I’m back in bed, woozy again and gray in hue. I wonder if I’ll get back to me, ever, on a permanent plane.
Right now I’ve finished 15 chemotherapy treatments (4 Carbos and 11 Taxols –unfortunately seem to be allergic to Taxol) and I still have one more Taxol this round before I segue into the second chemo phase—8 weeks of bi-weekly AC. Nobody says nice things about the AC. What I find to be the hardest, right now, is there is no finish line in sight. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be finished in mid-February with chemotherapy. I still don’t know what surgery I’ll have nor how many weeks of radiation following. But February keeps getting pushed back due to curveballs, like delays in chemo. I can’t plan for life when it can be normal again, free of this cage. I’ve tried to live more in the moment, but perhaps since my body is feeling so lousy, my mind gropes for an unmovable finale somewhere on a calendar.
The doctors are happy with my progress and I’m grateful for that blessing. The finish line waits even though I can’t see it. I am lucky with the care I’m getting at UCSF and for friends and family—who are pulling me through this storm. For the holidays, Mauricio and I will get a sneak peek into what it’s like to be empty-nesters: the girls are joining the Prieto family on an amazing tour of Argentina and Chile to celebrate my in-laws 50th wedding anniversary while we hopefully cross off more chemotherapy treatments here at home. While not being with our daughters over the holiday will seem unnatural, I’m thrilled they’re going. A small victory over cancer.
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 1)
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 2)
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 3)
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 4)
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 5)
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 6)
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 7)
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 8)
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 9)