It was a lovely thing to wake up and know I was not facing chemo again—hopefully never, but at least not any time soon. The carboplatin was easier, but I was queasy the next morning.
My chemo nurse, Linda, and I considered crying when I left. I didn’t say goodbye to the others. Move out, move on. I’ll see them quarterly. Linda had another woman still there when I left. It was a crazy morning, with five of us there because of a scheduling confusion. The woman who’d had fluid drained from her abdomen was back, and said she could feel it building up again, pressing on her stomach. Somehow, for the first time, with everyone else in the chemo room a “repeat offender,” I thought, I can do it if they can. I can go back for a second or third round if I need to. I even said it out loud, to my priest, Rebekah, when I called to check in, as I do after every treatment.
On Sunday I threw up in the parking lot, very neatly, sitting in my car with the door open. My doctor had said that with the last treatment being just carboplatin, I would “coast across the finish line,” but that was not my experience. His analogies and metaphors take me only so far.
After sleeping and dozing away Sunday, I went to bed around ten, earlier than usual. I didn’t feel at all well, and even the following morning was not quite right. The sun was out, and I felt that I should walk, get laundry hung out. I hated feeling so puny. I’d have been perfectly happy to go back to bed.
I couldn’t imagine being one of the women in the clinical trials who received ten or twelve rounds of this platin regimen. I didn’t think I’d have made it all the way through. Well, my doctor told me that I wouldn’t have—they’d have pulled me out of the trial because of the neuropathy. The life of the hospital goes on today, I think—my doctor is in surgery, some women are getting chemo.
Linda called to check on me. She apologized for interrupting me and not letting me finish saying my goodbye on Friday, but she was afraid that she’d cry and we’d just stand there being "weepy messes." It must be hard to know with one part of your brain that you have a job to do, and with the other to connect to people and get close.
I was tired of taking care of things. Everything took energy, and I almost resented spending it. I was ready to be done with all this treatment, to get stronger, to find something that approximated normal. To get excited again about writing or work or even jogging. As it was, port removal and then the follow-up CATscan and final doctor’s appointment seemed to be the boundaries: another month of this odd limbo.
I again walked the relatively flat North Rim Trail. I saw no people, but was cheered by all the green and by watching a raccoon descend from a tree trunk. It was a good year for wild phlox—great drifts of them still bloomed in the prairie by the covered bridge. The walk wore me out, however; I took two naps.
On Thursday, before what would have been my final chemo if I’d finished all twelve treatments, I tried and failed to nap. My body rested, but my mind raced. I began to cry as the enormity of it all hit me: I didn’t have to die of cancer, at least not right now. “We’re going for broke,” I remembered my doctor saying, and it may be that I am indeed cured, after four months of chemo and a year total out of my life. That seems a miracle in and of itself.
Rebekah thinks that I’m still physically, mentally, and emotionally affected by the chemo. It just felt as though it was my week off between rounds. It was hard to take in that I was finished, that there will be no more IVs, no more Fridays with Linda. It’s been only four months, but they were intense four months. Rebekah’s friend has told her that it takes at least three weeks after the last chemo to start feeling normal again. I counted the days.
I was once pretty devil-may-care, joking that something would kill me one day, and it would probably be food. I figured that I’d die from my no-doubt clogged arteries, my heart strained from all the years of carrying what I euphemistically call “a little extra weight.” Now that I’ve had a brush with mortality, I am afraid in new ways.
I’ve tried to turn that fear into a constructive experience, slowly replacing the toxic chemicals I’ve used to clean. I’m eating more fake meat that’s really vegetables pulverized together, and buying wild-caught fish. I’m resistant to becoming a vegetarian, but I think about it. I’m reading labels before buying makeup and shampoo.
I am afraid that the neuropathy in my hands and feet will never back off, that the hearing damage is permanent, even though I’ve been given six months as the magic time period for evaluating such things. Imagine always keyboarding with fingers tingling as if they’ve been asleep! It doesn’t hurt, but it’s strange and I don’t like it.
I’m afraid that the chemo-brain will affect my grasp of words. Already I sometimes have to search for words I know. Standing around the coffee carafes, sugar, and creamers after church, I tried to explain to another parishioner what my port is and how it works. I couldn’t find the word tubing, instead pointed to the coffee stirrers in front of me and settling for straw. The words come back eventually, but not in a way that makes conversation very colorful.
“What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee,” proclaims the King James translation of Psalm 56:3. I’m trying to trust, but I’m also realizing how seriously we’ve compromised everything about this planet with our chemical additives. I can’t live in a bubble, and I don’t like living in fear.