Sunday, 2 September 2012
Jumping in the deep end
Yesterday I had my first "low" day in ages, trying to get my head around Chemotherapy starting tomorrow. It's simpy terrifying, but today I'm much more upbeat, and mingling with that sheer terror is a real sense of excitement too. The next four months are unlikely to be my best end to a year ever, and the likely side effects are enough to invoke nightmares, but the drugs themselves will race around my circulatory system hunting down and destroying any stray little cancer cells that might have escaped before my tumours were surgically removed. If it does its job properly, that just has to be a really good exciting outcome.
The bad news is that in two to three weeks I'm likely to be totally bald. I've got horrid hair, and it's never once in its life given me a good hair day, so I'm really looking forward to seeing the wig lady - whatever she come up with for me is bound to be better than my real stuff. The other miserable things about chemo is that it can pile the weight on - up to 25 pounds in some cases, and it can cause your body to age by about 10 years. Bald, fat and haggard might not be the best look ever, but it's a far better look than being dead.
Cancer cells are far busier than most cells in the body, multiplying really quickly. Chemotherapy has been designed to seek out and target any cell that is extra-active, so it is pretty effective as an oncology treatment. However, other cells in the body that also multipy quickly are also wiped out by chemo, and as well as hair-growth cells, these also include the cells forming the lining of your mouth and digestive tract, your finger and toenails, as well as your white blood cells. You can feel the effects of this about 10 days after getting chemo, and can develop very painful mouth sores and also have virtually no resistence to infection so you can become life-threateningly ill even from some relatively innocuous infection like a headcold. That's all on top of the symptoms that can lay you out flat for the first 4 or 5 day, when constant vomiting coupled with total and utter exhaustion can try and spoil the first week.
There is no choice, the only choice I have is how I can appoach it. Deep breath, jump in the deep end and swim like crazy while you think about all the amazingly brilliant things waiting for you on the other side of the ocean, and at the same time still having the resources to notice the beauty of things that come your way during that swim for your life. That's my ideal approach, but whether I'm mentally and emotionally strong enough to be that upbeat all the way through the next four months remains to be seen. I have a feeling there are likely to be days when despair and hopelessness threaten to drown me along the way but I'll just have to take it a day at a time.
I'm still doing really well on keeping up with the healthy diet and altogether I've lost just over 7 pounds in weight which I'm really proud of. Lots of home cooking with fresh organic ingredients - bread, sorbets, soups, stir-fries and salads with hardly a chocolate in sight. (OK so there was a tiny moment with a packet of maltesers). When I'm not cooking I'm sometimes on my brand new exercise bike - I've now used it everyday for over a week. Yes really, I have. I've also been cleaning and reorganising the kitchen this week to find spaces to accommodate all the new ingredients I'm using. Homemade muesli is delicious, but finding places to put all the jars you need to hold the stuff that makes it up is such hard work that it's enough to make you want to call it a day, and go back to the Rice Krispies with lots of sugar on the top.
The other breakthrough I've started to make is about my mastectomy scar. It's about a month old now, and before surgery I thought I had come totally to terms with the whole idea of losing a breast. I thought I was completely philosophical about it, and would just be glad that that big tumour was gone. So I've been really thrown by how badly I've reacted to it. It is just so overwhelming to see that huge scar where my breast used to be. The level of disfigurement is simply shocking. I got to the stage where I just tried to tune it out - every time I accidentally glimpsed at it in the mirror, or accidentally touched that area, I just couldn't stop crying. Then I'd go about beating myself up for being silly and shallow and vain, but I think it goes much much deeper than that. So this week I have made myself look at the scar at least twice a day. It's been hard, but it is getting easier. I'm supposed to be smothering it in moisteriser, but I can't quite go that far yet, but hopefully it won't be long. Calling it my "sharkbite" has somehow really helped, but the coming to terms with it all to the point of total acceptance is going to take a long time, and maybe it will never happen.
I've done a lot of reading about chemo as you can probably imagine, and one research study has shown amazing results in mice that were starved for 24 hours beforehand. Their survival rates rocketed, and they were barely touched by the side effects as well. They drank stacks and stacks of water but didn't eat anything. Lots of other studies show that drinking gallons of water in the previous 24 hours significantly reduces the side effects too. So OK, I'm hardly a mouse, and I hate being hungry, but nevertheless I'm going to give it a try.