Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Long overdue update

I apologize for not updating my blog last week like I meant to...the truth is, I tried to write an update several times, but every time I'd try to describe the experience, I'd start feeling sick. Fortunately, I'm feeling much better now and can talk about my last marathon week of chemo without feeling like my stomach is going to revolt on me.

So, the nausea finally hit me last Thursday. I woke up, ate breakfast, threw on my "Chemoutfit" (I kind of hate myself for typing that a little bit), went to the hospital, was led to my little chemo suite, and as soon as the nurse left the room I made a beeline for the bathroom and got violently ill. As I wasn't expecting this to happen, I suspect I ruined Captain Crunch with Crunchberries for me for life. It was like what I imagined chemo might be...horrible and Exorcist-like.

That day, I went through treatment, dozing through quite a bit of it. I was able to keep my stomach under control once I put on my headphones and listened to my iPod, which did a decent job of drowning out the sound of my IV pump. I used to not mind the somewhat rhythmic noises it made, but now it just makes me feel sick (kind of like the band Offspring. How do you go from "Ixnay on the Hombre" to that Weird Al style on "Americana" in one year?). The tough part is, looking back on my early morning ruining of Captain Crunch with Crunchberries, I didn't know what music I could safely listen to without ruining for life by associating it with chemo sickness. I also didn't want music that was super slow or super hard, so I had to find kind of a middle ground...settling with a mix of The Shins, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, and Jack's Mannequin. When I'm going through treatment, I guess I need the type of music that makes for awkward concerts...the music is too slow to rock out, but too fast to just sway, leaving the audience in a weird, bouncing motion.

After treatment Thursday, I was done. I went home, forced myself to eat some mac and cheese, sent off an e-mail to my EMT professor letting him know I'd be missing class that night, and went to sleep. I seemed to drift in and out of sleep all afternoon, evening and through the night. Although spending 18 hours in bed sounds appealing at some points during your day, it's really pretty horrible...especially when your mind is on a constant loop of "OK, think of something besides chemo and foods that make you feel sick. Nope, don't think of that. Nope, don't think of that. OK, think of anything...waves, the ocean...and you're just relaxing on a....where the hell did that Burker King sandwich come from? Stop thinking about that, you're going to make yourself sick!"

The next morning, it was more of the same, but in a different order. Wake up, get violently ill, go to treatment, listen to bop rock for five hours, go home, play "Chicken" with thoughts of foods that make me sick and doze. By Saturday, I was able to move around a bit more, but not much. I watched TV nearly all day and felt pretty successful when I was able to eat some chicken nuggets and tater tots. Sunday was a little better, but definitely not 100%.

Oddly enough, today is probably the first day I feel like I'm back close to normal (or the "new normal" I've been able to redefine through this experience). I had my onc appointment yesterday, and it was nothing but good news: my neutrophil count is back above 2,000, so I don't need to worry as much about getting sick, my white blood cell counts are good, and I'm on the downhill slide for my treatment. My onc even managed to schedule my CT scan and port removal before December ends so that it can all be counted under my "out-of-pocket expenses" on my 2011 insurance, which is huge for me since that'll probably hit my cap and save me some cash.

So, that's where I'm at. I'm nearly back to normal, and I've only got one chemo treatment left now...next Tuesday, and it's only Bleo, which takes me about an hour and the only side effect is jittery legs from putting Benadryl in my IV.

While the past five days have been horrible with nausea, it really hasn't been anything unbearable at all. I noticed that, whenever I worry about throwing up, that all disappears after it happens. I freak out, feeling like crap, not wanting to throw up, and then when it happens, I realize it wasn't that bad and I feel a whole lot better. The only downside is, after I'm done I look in the mirror and see this pale, bony, sweaty bald guy looking back at me and I think I've encountered one of the vampires from "I Am Legend," which is a bit unsettling. Fortunately, now I know that Captain Crunch and Burger King is like garlic for these beasts, so that should be able to keep them at bay.

I'll wait to get really introspective on this entire process until it's officially over, but looking at the point I'm at now and where I've come from, I've been pretty happy with all of it. Cancer is a bit of a roadbump, but it really hasn't been the "show-stopping event" that I thought it might be. Total tally, over the course of my diagnosis, surgery and treatments, I think I've missed four days of work. During that time, I also managed to get through my 135-hour EMT course (although it's not finished...my final test will be a couple weeks after treatment ends), launch a couple of new projects at work and continue the minimum amount of updates on my Civil War-era house that allow me to feel not completely worthless. Of course, nearly all of my productivity happened on weeks where I wasn't going through "marathon chemo," but I'm still happy with how it's been going.

So that's where I'm at right now. Nearly back to normal, excited to eat large amounts of food this Thursday, and counting down the days until my final treatment is over and I can get that last CT scan to see if my cancer is totally gone. If it's not, no biggie...I know now that I can handle chemo (even with some nausea) and if it requires surgery, so be it. It's not like there's anything more I can be doing, and if this experience has taught me anything, it's that you can only do so much with what life deals you. An obstacle isn't made any easier to overcome by worrying, crying, griping or getting angry. The only thing I've found that makes a tough situation easier is laughing about it and doing what you've got to do to put it behind you.

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