Day 10 of chemo round 4
Lying in bed this morning, exhausted from another night of broken sleep caused by pain throughout my torso, I happened to glance out my bedroom window at the bird bath that is usually filed with fresh, clean water. Empty, it was empty! At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes; had I been so sick that I forgot to clean and fill the bird bath? For anyone who knows me, they would be as shocked by this fact as I was. My duty to what I consider to be my animals: not only my pets but also those native creatures who happen to live or visit my property, is always one of my top priorities – no matter how sick I feel. Watching the birds splashing around in the bird bath first thing in the morning is the way I like to start my day. Seeing it devoid of water or birds spoke volumes to me about how low I had sunk since chemo day. Lying there I reflected on the past two weeks or so.
A few days before it’s time for the next chemo treatment, I finally start to feel better. I’m able to somewhat taste the food I eat, and I feel good enough to do a few things around the house. This is also the time when the dread of having to go to chemo for the next round begins. I don’t want to feel bad again. I get so anxious thinking about chemo day and how things will go and the things my body goes through in the aftermath. My mind replays every trauma my body has had to deal with over the last few months – I call it chemo PTSD. All I want to do is get in my car and run away so I don’t have to take any more chemo. But, there is no running away from this cancer or from the chemo treatment that will, hopefully, cure it.
The night before chemo I’m always in a dark mood, and this time was no different. Many times during the night, I was awake, thinking of what the poison would do to my body and all the ills I would experience for weeks, wondering if there would be yet another “surprise” complication or side effect. Praying for courage, I managed to drift on and off, awakening every hour, looking at the clock, counting the minutes till I must leave to go to the cancer center. By 5:30 a.m. I decided I might as well get up because I was not going to get any sleep. After getting dressed and packing a bag with all the stuff I need to bring to spend the day at the infusion center, I grabbed a cup of coffee and sat in my recliner. Looking out at the dawning of a beautiful day, the bright green color of the dewy grass, the budding leaves on the trees, and the colorful flowers, all I could think was that I didn’t want to go, I wanted to stay home. Panic and apprehension about the coming day overwhelmed me. I didn’t want to go to go to the cancer center or get my chemo treatment, but I knew I had no choice in this matter.
Resigned to do what I had to do, I picked up my Give Us This Day book and began reading the scriptures of the day. The readings were from the Acts of the Apostles 2:14,22-23. They were so poignant for me, giving me the nudge towards hopefulness and the determination to conquer my fears of chemo that I needed. Reading the words of King David, “I saw the Lord ever before me, with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed. Therefore my heart has been glad and my tongue has exulted; my flesh too, will dwell in hope…you fill me with joy in your presence.” I felt propelled towards standing in faith, with renewed hope for a future that would be free of cancer. But, I knew that I had to do my part and conquer my fears. There was a song that my mom used to sing to me when I would say I couldn’t do something that began to play in my head. Frank Sinatra sang it in an old movie. The name of the song was “High Hopes.” It went like this, “Just what makes that little old ant think he can move a rubber tree plant, anyone knows an ant can’t move a rubber tree plant, but he has high hopes, he has high hopes…” That’s what I was feeling after I read the scriptures, I had “high” hopes.
Walking outside with the dogs before I left, I stood in the midst of my flowers, the cool spring breeze chilled me a little but I reveled in it, the birds seemed to be everywhere, singing to me in boisterous abandon, flitting here and there between the trees and to and from the bird feeders. It was a glorious morning and I was not going to let cancer make me sad on a day like today. I thanked God for opening my eyes to the beauty that was all around me and for helping me to overcome my fears once again.
Unfortunately, chemo day was not good. Following the advice of the doctor’s assistant, I took Benadryl before I left home, because in the past, I had such a bad reaction to it when they gave it to me through my port. But, the chemo nurse had no choice but too give it to me intravenously when I had another reaction to the Rituxan, just like the last three times. My teeth started hurting and my gums and throat felt as if they were on fire. As soon as the nurse pushed in the Benadryl, I felt anxious and my heart started beating a hundred miles an hour and my body started twitching like electric shocks going through it. It is an awful feeling when you can’t control your body. It seemed like forever that it took the nurse to get the okay to give me Ativan to control the reaction to the Benadryl. It took a while, but I finally got some relief and managed to rest for the remainder of the time I was at the cancer center.
I have been sick with one thing or another since the day of chemo. I’m exhausted from not sleeping. I feel unwell in too many ways to name. Every effort I make to do anything causes my heart to beat erratically. Going outdoors has been, more often than not, out of the question, because I feel as if I might pass out if I walk for more than 5 or 10 minutes. Not being able to walk my dogs on a regular basis as they are used to makes me feel so guilty. When I can, I walk them for just a few minutes at a time and stay close to home. It takes every ounce of determination and energy I have to do it. Though the effort gives me a bit of energy because just being outdoors in nature – the spring weather, the sounds and colors, the birds and butterflies, everything about it speaks to me of God’s love and care of me and I find peace in His presence.
The ups and downs of this illness is depressing me. I have to be so in tune to my body’s functions, to the medicines I need to take for each new problem: the constipation, exhaustion, dizziness, inability to sleep, anxiety, stomach problems, problems swallowing, queasiness, nausea, just all around feeling sick ALL the time – takes a toll on my psyche. The picture below says it all. This has been my position for the past two weeks. There is no sugar coating what cancer does to you. No use trying to make yourself look pretty because you truly look and feel haggard and depleted. In the beginning, I used to try to at least paint my naked eyebrows on and put a little color on my lips when I went for my weekly blood work at the cancer center. But, lately, I’m too sick to care about how I look, as are most of the people who are as naked headed as me from chemo. Covering my head with the chemo cap is like wearing an electric heater on my scalp – unbearably hot even on a mild day! I asked my husband if he thought I could start a trend at the cancer center by taking the cap off and just going “au naturale” with my bald head – like I do at home. He didn’t answer – poor guy was probably considering which answer would be the right one. I might have the courage to flaunt my bald head if other ladies at the cancer center would do it; but so far, I haven’t seen any brave souls. Cancer takes so much away from a person, especially their dignity, I suppose a tiny bit of pride in oneself is all that we cancer patients have to cling to.
It has become hard to properly think clearly or stay focused long enough even to watch television or read a book. I’ve lost interest in pretty much everything except obsessing about my garden and the weeds that are growing astronomically each and every day – marring my landscape. The fact that I’m too sick to do anything about it keeps me so distressed. I WANT to go out and work in my garden. I try, but I’m so weak that I can’t even pull a few weeds without getting light-headed and weak-kneed. It’s so frustrating!!! Now, when I take a walk, I very often focus on those weeds and how fast they are growing and I yearn for some energy, I want to dig in the mud (which the nurse tells me I am not allowed to do because of germs). It makes me want to wail as loud as I can! I used to be so strong and I’m feeling weak and useless. In the past, I was able to work for hours in the heat, pruning and trimming, planting and watering – loving every minute of it. This inaction is like being in prison – sitting around in the house is torture for me. The emotional toll is beginning to get to me. It is even hard for me to pray some days. I read the scriptures every morning, and though they may talk to me in the moment, the effects do not last as they usually do. There is no lasting peace amidst the turmoil of my weakened state. The doctor says there is such a thing as chemo brain, and that must be true, because my focus is not as it should be and my short term memory is slipping. I feel like such a whiner!!! This is NOT me. Where is the positive, hopeful, always joyful person I used to be?????
Cancer has taken so much from me, but I’m fighting with all I have to stay strong. It makes me so angry to think that this did not have to be, that my love of gardening may have caused this cancer because of all the Round-Up I’ve sprayed over the years. If anyone reading this is still using Round-Up, my advice would be to you what my doctor said to me, “stop using it!”
How ironic that the one place that soothes my soul, my garden, and my desire to keep it free of weeds and make it a place of beauty by spraying the weeds with Round-Up would ultimately be harmful to me. Ever since I was a child the natural world has been a place of solace for me. Then, when my husband and I moved to the country, God spoke to me in nature and I met him on a more personal, intimate, spiritual level. My garden is more than pretty flowers and shrubs to me, it is a doorway into that spiritual realm where the divine meets humanity, where God and I connect and where I feel as if I am working alongside Him in creation. And, in so doing, I am creating a place not just for me, but a place where others can meet God as I have, where there is beauty, solitude, quiet and peace. My garden is like a portal into another world where God is always waiting to spark a conversation with someone, where every person who enters is better able to hear His voice clearly, and feel God’s love more deeply. I cannot wait for the day when I ring the bell at the infusion center after my last treatment is over and done. My garden awaits my tender loving care and my soul longs to be in the midst of it.