I had my follow-up appointment today. Rhonda* entered the room where I was waiting, took one look at the three bandages on my arm, and exclaimed:
*not her real name, because I haven’t asked permission – yet!
For some reason, last night my cat, my clawed cat, decided she didn’t like my arm and took a swipe at it. That’s disturbing and painful when things are normal; when you’re undergoing chemo it’s a whole new drama. Jim jolted upstairs to get the band-aids and the antibiotic cream. I raced into the downstairs bathroom to wash my arm. We hastily applied the cream and bandages to the three tiny quarter-inch slashes. We did not kick the cat (although she has lost all bedroom privileges and access to my office and Jim gets to feed her for the foreseeable future).
Rhonda said we handled it well, and to watch to make sure there isn’t any redness or swelling.
I’ve got another cut on my right middle finger that hasn’t healed in a week. My middle finger is giving itself the middle finger.
That’s part of chemotherapy. The body is so busy fixing other things it doesn’t have time to deal with little minor scrapes and bruises. But, that means anything minor can become major, and everything requires care and vigilance.
The worst side effect I’ve experienced so far is neuropathy. That’s a nasty word, isn’t it? Neuropathy. It sounds bad, all on its own. I can tell you, it’s no walk in the park. Mainly because it’s hard to walk in the park. The soles of my feet tingle. They hurt. Walking up and down stairs is a symphony of “oh! ow! uh! gr!”
Ironically, the thing that helps it is to walk. Also, as previously mentioned, lotion with socks. Also, as previously mentioned, I hate wearing socks.
Praise the feet, today I found out from Dr. S. that B6 can fix it. I went into my appointment fully expecting to pick up a prescription on the way home. I did, of a sort. I ordered B6. I’m discovering, to my relief, that Dr. S. takes a more holistic approach than one might expect from an oncologist. Yes, he’s prescribed chemotherapy, but when my side effects present, he often tells me how to fix it without putting more drugs in my body.
Except for marijuana. Well, that’s not entirely true. After many, many recommendations from friends, today I asked him about a medical marijuana card. Without hesitation, he said it would help and he and Jane provided the paperwork enabling me to start the process. The card’s $200 in Illinois, and that’s a bit rich right now so before I jump I’m going to see if it works for me. Lucky me, after my last post, a gracious and giving friend who swears by it for her own medical needs porch-dropped some CBD TLC. (And yes, in Illinois it’s legal to give cannabis as a gift.) I haven’t tried it, yet, but I will. My son and his girlfriend had a good laugh after I sent them a picture illustrating that I have the BEST FRIENDS.
Rhonda and the other nurse officially noted my alopecia – hair loss – today. I had shaved my head again last Thursday and over the weekend I noticed patches of bare spots amongst the stubble.
That was hard. Now it’s real. Up until then, even though I cut my hair off and shaved my head, I could believe that maybe, just maybe it would grow back. I knew it wouldn’t. With the exception of my two surgical scars, my armpits have been Nair-commercial worthy for a week. But a girl can dream, right? I’m still struggling. I spent Sunday baking while listening to music. When The Fixx came on I danced and danced and whipped my hair…
But I was baking! When my nurses found out that I’m baking, it was like I got a gold star for dealing with chemo. If you’re baking, you’re doing alright.
The most difficult part of today’s visit was hearing the woman in the room next door. She kept asking about the COVID-19 vaccine. She wanted to find out her number in line. I could hear her asking, “But what number am I? How can I find out my number?” Dr. S. explained that he had no way of knowing, and that even though health care workers will be getting the vaccine first, they don’t know when they’ll be getting theirs, either.
It’s scary enough knowing that a cat scratch or a stranger’s sniffles can land you in the hospital. Add to the mix a deadly virus that’s already killed more than 300,000 people in this country and the caution is constant. Jim’s got a note on the window flanking our door informing delivery people that we have an immuno-compromised person in the house. We look out, say thank you, and that’s the extent of our interaction with other human beings. Jim waves a UVC wand over every item that enters our home. We have antibacterial wipes in multiple rooms. Mail sits for a minimum of two days. Our hands are raw from washing. We may buy stock in Aveeno.
Mom and Dad are supposed to come back next Tuesday. We’re even nervous about that. They’re getting another test this Thursday and will self-quarantine, and they know they can’t see anyone before then, either, but still.
In the past few days I’ve begun to understand what it means that the side effects are cumulative. I felt so much better the day after my second chemo, even though I wasn’t supposed to. Then little things, like my feet hurting or my heart racing if I moved too quickly or the sound of the word bologna making me want to hurl, told me that yes, yes, my body is undergoing a significant, altering, catastrophic change. And I appreciate those nuances, those signals that say “Today, you must eat all the potato chips and nachos” because they’re telling me what my body needs. Rhonda said it sounded like I needed salt. So I got it. I also want pot roast, because my body is telling me I need iron from the beef and potassium from the potatoes and Vitamin C from carrots. It’s a time when cravings go beyond an emotional desire to fulfill a physical need. I will learn from this. When this is all done, I will keep this open communication between mind and body.
Am I all over the place again? Probably. Definitely. That’s where I live now. I will learn from that, too, because a mind is not static. Mine certainly isn’t. I’m figuring out how to keep track of those ping-pongs. My journal’s a prose Rorschach.
It’s time for dinner. A little later than we’d like, and earlier than we’ve often had. Right now we just take each moment for what it is. Another lesson, perhaps.