Thursday, August 16, 2012

Chemo Round II: Even Optimists get the Blues

Ever heard of famous last words?  Here's a few that have escaped my lips over the last couple of months.

"It's such a tiny little lump - it's probably nothing."  (Yeeaah...I think we all know the end result of that one.)

"Well, at least it couldn't possibly get worse."  (Never, ever say this.  It can ALWAYS get worse.)  

"You know what sounds good right now?  A milkshake!" (To quote the immortal Ron Burgundy - "Milk was a bad idea.")

Solidarity socks courtesy of Terra Sports - Love you guys!
Two weeks ago, after experiencing five blissful days of feeling pretty darn good, I uttered a particularly damaging set of 'famous last words':

"This round of chemotherapy has GOT to be easier than the last one." 

But it wasn't.

In many ways it was more difficult this time around - though not for lack of preparation. But despite a fully stocked mini-pharmacy rivaling that of an octogenarian, plenty of reading material, a freezer full of ready-made meals and an aggressively optimistic outlook - this round of chemotherapy kicked my butt.

It's not as though the symptoms were new and exciting.  It was all there, just in a little different order than the first time - numb hands and feet, nausea, long nights of vomiting and diarrhea where everything I attempted to eat literally went right through me, painful achy joints and overwhelming fatigue.  It's hard to explain the particular brand of fatigue that accompanies chemo - beyond feeling as though a nap would be lovely, this fatigue is more along the lines of a phone "powering off" when the battery goes dead.  There is no question of whether or not you should go to sleep - it is compulsory, beyond any will to do otherwise.

These symptoms, while pretty miserable, should have been old hat for me.  But for maybe the first time since receiving my diagnosis - I found myself feeling utterly devastated.  And at first I didn't know why.

But here's the deal with cancer:  It's a little like standing waist deep in the ocean.  When a wave comes and knocks you over - you can easily brush yourself off and stand up again.  But then another wave comes, and another, and another - and each time it becomes a little more difficult to stand up again.

With this round of chemo, it was apparent that the experience is not going to ease up any time in the near future.  And suddenly the vast ocean of upcoming treatments - with their accompanying side effects and dangers - stretched ominously in front of me. I'd lost my hair, my breasts, my sense of smell and taste. I'd lost a sense of self - who I believed myself to be before experiencing cancer.  I'd lost precious time with my family - time I would never be able to get back.  I wouldn't be able to work through the treatments as I'd planned and I was sicker than I'd ever anticipated I would be.  As much as I'd assured myself that my youth, overall health and a positive attitude would ease my trials, it was now clear that overcoming this cancer is going to be a battle through and through.  And I'm only two rounds in.

Two months in and I was so tired - how would I ever find the strength to keep going?  How has anyone ever found the strength to undergo such an ordeal?  I would be the worst P.O.W. ever - two months of torture and I was ready to give up every national security secret I knew. Thankfully the powers that be don't let me in on much.

And then something happened that snapped me out of my funk:  Things got worse.  Two days ago, my employer called to notify me that due to company policy, once I go on long term disability I will no longer be employed.  Which also means no health benefits as of the end of August. This was something I knew was coming eventually - but had expected more warning time and the reality of it was jarring.

Unfortunately, one of the cold, hard facts about cancer is that the physical, fight-for-your-life aspects of dealing with the disease is only part of the battle.  Cancer care finances - the copays and bills accrued even WITH health insurance are crippling.  And now our family must find a way to not only pay for the bills already piled high but somehow secure a new insurance plan - all in the midst of undergoing treatment.  (Cue hysterical, manic laughter). 

Yes, it's ironic that in our great country a health care worker must struggle to receive health care.  But this is our system.  This is what happens.  I wish my case were an isolated incidence, but it happens all the time. As it stands, I have to find a way to save my own life - so I can go back to saving others. 

So, as of today, I'm not exactly sure what is ahead of us in the vast oncological sea - physically, emotionally or financially.  But here's what I'm learning:  I have to stop fighting the ocean.  The ocean will always win. 

The only way I'm going to be able to survive this is to stop struggling to stand each time a wave knocks me down - and learn to float.  We will find a way to navigate to medical insurance, our bills will be paid - somehow.  I may not have a detailed plan accounting for each hardship we will face in the future and how we will overcome it (as much as I would love to have one) - but I can be present in the moment.

And at this moment, life is under control.  There is a roof over our heads, food in our stomachs and another chemo treatment scheduled for Thursday.  The rest will just have to work itself out.