Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Monday, March 14, 2011
Friday, February 4, 2011
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
—Christmastime (Aimee Mann/Michael Penn)
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
You know / I took the poison from the poison stream / Then I floated out of here
The U2 song, Running to Stand Still, played in my mind on my first day of chemo. I was eager to get started, which is to say I was eager to throw myself off a cliff. There was no way to know what to expect. There is so much information out there: web sites, blogs, discussion boards, personal stories. But the overriding theme is that chemo is different for everyone, and that it is hard.
Two weeks ago today, I sat in a big recliner for hours, Dan by my side, as poison dripped into a vein next to my heart. First, the needle was pushed into the port in my chest with a sharp puncture—the only painful part of the day. Then, one by one, I received bag after bag of fluid: saline, steroids, anti-nausea meds, Benadryl; then, finally, Taxotere, Carboplatin, Herceptin: the reasons for the party. It was seven hours, all told, from first check-in at the desk in the cancer center lounge to the last hug from my oncology nurse, back in the lounge.
My new nurse is a pro. She’s the unit manager, a veteran of more than 20 years. She’s feisty and sarcastic and focused. She was sensitive to what I needed and what I was feeling. We laughed a lot; I cried a little. It’s a good fit, I think, and one more reason to feel confident that I will get through this.
But first I have to get through this. On the ride home, on the edge of fear and in a thick, soft Benadryl fog, I wondered: What will happen to me in the next few days? How sick will I be? Will these changes be permanent?
And how does it feel, once the poison begins to do its work? Pretty lousy. I felt like I aged 30 years overnight. I was tired, weak, bloated, achy and in a dense mental and physical fog. My senses of taste, touch and hearing were diminished. But I did not feel sick to my stomach and kept up with eating and drinking. I have my hair, for now.
Now I wonder: How much worse will it get, the next time and on through to the end of chemo, three months from now? It was hard not to know what to expect, but it may be harder now that I do know.
Chemotherapy is a brutal means to an uncertain end. It’s tempting to think that the end I’m aiming for is to get back to the place where I didn’t have cancer and didn’t even consider it a possibility. But there is no such place anymore. I’ve had cancer growing in me, silently and painlessly, for years, even as I thought it would never happen to me.
She will suffer the needle chill / She is running to stand still
It’s a song with simple chords and instruments—piano, guitar, drums and Bono’s lovely tenor—that builds slowly to a crescendo, then fades. How odd that a song about addiction should be the accompaniment to my first trip through chemotherapy. But I think we have lots in common, the addict and I. We are utterly without choices. She says she only sees one way out, and that’s all I see, too. We are doing unpredictable and perhaps incalculable damage to ourselves.
But she’s running, so desperately, to find a place of quietude where she can be still and let everything swirl around her. She seeks escape; I want to win. I want to put all this behind me, for good. But I won’t be running back to before; before wasn’t what I thought it was. I’m moving ahead, to whatever the future holds, with a little more knowledge and a little less security. Whatever happens, I can’t stand still. I only see one way out.
You know, I took the poison.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
She graduated from eighth grade last week, on a bright and windy day, in a dress of green and blue and black and white. When I look in her eyes, I can see a muted version of those colors. As a toddler, she had eyes of sapphire blue, but by the time she was six, they had paled to a gray-green. Over the next few years, some flecks of brown were added to the mix. Her eyes grew lighter and the outer rim grew darker: twin Saturns with rings, heavenly orbs in milky-white skies. Wreathed by long lashes, they are beautiful eyes, and changeable. Depending on the light, they are hazel, then gray, then green. I call her the girl with kaleidoscope eyes.
Through my comparatively boring brown eyes, I’m doing a lot of looking ahead these days. I’m picturing a future after cancer, and mostly, I feel like I’m looking through a kaleidoscope. There are so many pieces to this process of putting cancer behind me: surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, Herceptin, Tamoxifen. The potential side effects are daunting: nausea, pain or at least discomfort, hair loss, mouth sores, weight loss or weight gain, brain fog, skin damage, lung damage, nerve damage, heart damage. I have an idea of what to expect along the way, but I know I’ll be surprised and brought low at times by complications and repetition and fatigue. And after all that is behind me, there will still be monitoring and vigilance and a lifetime of wondering if it’s really gone.
These pieces that I imagine, they are broken shards that tumble in front of my eyes as I try to focus on the brightness of life after cancer. Some things are broken already: my body betrayed me, my good habits didn’t protect me. There are a couple of scars already. There is fear. There is still, sometimes, disbelief.
Most of the time, though, I can see through my kaleidoscope pretty well, and it looks good out there, up ahead. The pieces fall into place, and the light shines through to reveal the right pattern, or at least a good enough pattern, one that I can live with.
But my new graduate, Miss A, looks through her fabulous eyes and sees a darker world than I do. She always has: at six she told me that she “never feels joy.” She’s come so far since then. Overall, she’s much more positive and in control of her emotions. She and I have a much closer bond. She makes me laugh with her silliness and her sly humor. When faced with a challenge, she still insists that she can’t or doesn’t want to overcome it—but over and over, she has found the strength and persistence to do so. She’s a high honor student; never the most popular kid, she has a small group of good, close friends. She’s on her way and I think her future is very bright. But, still, there are shadows, times when all she feels are the negatives, when she really can’t see any joy.
So I tell her that this is her nature. I tell her to recognize it and to choose to see beyond the darkness. I promise her that if she feels hopeless, she needs to hold on and wait a bit, and things will eventually get better.
Among everything that I want to teach her, given the time, the most important is to convince this girl of sun and shadows that she can aim her kaleidoscope at the brightest light, and with enough turning and patience, she will see her own beautiful, imperfect pattern fall into place. I’m trying to live that for her, right now. Will she believe it if she sees it?
Thursday, May 13, 2010
A few years ago, my girls and I took advantage of a promotional deal at a drugstore and bought a box of notecards and matching magnets for a dollar. Illustrated with whimsical pink-splashed cartoons of shoes and shopping bags, the theme was “Life is short—buy the shoes.” It was clichéd and cutesy, and not really my style. Carrie Bradshaw, I am not.
Mostly, I’m happiest in my ripped-up Cons. I don’t love to go shoe-shopping, and when I do need to buy a pair, I often agonize about pulling the trigger. I am reluctant to spend the money on something I usually view as frivolous. (Yeah, I know: the shoes I wear would never be described as “frivolous.”) So more often than not, I don’t buy the shoes—or don’t even go shopping in the first place.
Yet, in the first three days after I learned I have cancer, I surprised myself by buying two pairs of shoes. This is pretty much my shoe quota for the next year or two, and I didn’t set out to buy either pair. The first day, the day of my diagnosis, Dan and I took our older daughter to the mall to meet some friends, leaving us with an afternoon to kill. We were five hours into living with cancer; we held hands and called it a date. I idly looked for some short black boots, but instead, impulsively bought a pair of black slip-ons. Two days later, I took that same daughter to look for shoes for her 8th grade dance. I pounced on a pair of sling-backs long before she made a decision.
After my second shoe purchase in three days, Dan joked that I was becoming Imelda Marcos. Recent behavior aside, we both know there’s no danger of that.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, my dear friend Miss M believes in retail therapy, specifically her fave Fluevog shoes. I don’t share her passion, but I can understand it. “They are sweet gifts that I award myself for getting through all this stuff,” she says. In the last few years, she’s lost her husband to addiction, a close friend to colon cancer, and too recently, her beloved, fierce mother. Partly, she salves the wounds; partly, I think, she knows life is short. She buys the Fluevogs.
In the stores, as I tried on the shoes, I thought of two things: I simply wasn’t going to deprive myself of a pair of shoes anymore. Because, yes, life just might be too short.
But, with any luck and as I fervently wish, life might be awfully long. So my other thought was this: “Shoes last. I could have these shoes for five or ten years. I will wear these shoes out.”
Which is why I offer you a new magnet-ready slogan: “Life is long—buy the shoes.”