Nearing the end of the countdown!!! 2 days until my final chemo infusion, and then most likely a week of physical and emotional detox before I can begin feeling relatively normal. I’m trying to remember what it was like not to question my body and the ever increasing side effects of this routine, and I can only wonder whether I will take my health for granted again. Will this experience make me even more hyper-sensitive or vigilant regarding my health?
Regardless, I plan on going to my last infusion in style- blue wig and tiara, courtesy of the fabulous Reen. We will toast to the staff and celebrate with friends who have been chemo buddies throughout the 5 months of weekly visits to the infusion unit at Swedish. We will eat cupcakes and sip champagne while the last doses of taxotere and carboplatin get absorbed by my body. We will be joyous and wacky in an attempt to mark the occasion as an ending and to put it behind us.
Funny to think about the many ways a life can change in one year- to consider how challenging it can be to make it through that year in one piece (or at least without losing so much of ones self as to become completely unrecognizable). And, truly, when I look back at one year ago, I hardly do recognize myself. In this year, I have had to reach down and pull from every ounce of courage and strength that I could muster, borrowing many times from friends and family, and outright faking it much of the time. I’ve come a long way, baby, but I have a long way to go.
After a one week break from chemo, I’m looking at three more infusions. Even though it’s been over a week since I’ve had my last treatment, I’m still feeling pretty crappy. The heartburn and urpy sensations continue, along with some very raw nasal passages. This chemo thing is no joke- it’s pretty damned unpleasant. I have no clue how I will muster what it will take to make it through the next three treatments. I used to think of three as such a small number…
On the beautiful bright side, this weekend I enjoyed a lovely visit from my sister Tami and her family. Although I was nervous about the initial shock of everyone seeing me in my post chemo state, it was actually quite an affirmation that family can be a good source of unconditional love. Even with moments of chemo brain, hot flashes, and a bald (or at least mostly bald) head, I felt like me- wacky and silly Wendi who says off the wall things and is a walking contradiction. Who couldn’t appreciate that? And even though I was tentative about having any strength to make it through a full day of family fun, I actually experienced a surprising amount of energy and had an incredible time being a part of a tribe- no matter how dissimilar we all are. That’s the beauty of family- that a person can be whoever he or she is and he or she will still be loved. Warts and all.
I had the strangest feeling after my fifteenth chemo infusion- a feeling similar to being on dry land after a day of boating. Standing in the bathroom brushing my teeth, I sensed that I was still connected to the tubes and equipment that hold the bags of chemotherapy medications. When I moved, I had the vision of tubing coming from my chest, and I had the urge to wheel the infusion pole beside me. I made my way to bed and curled up in an exhausted heap, thankful that I’m nearly finished with this routine. I woke up unattached to any medical equipment, but with a lingering reminder that I have three infusions in the near future.
Maybe the fact that I’ve finally re-entered a structured yoga class is helping me with the mind-body connection, and this episode was a wakening of my senses. Or maybe it was a reminder that this cancer treatment experience will continue to be with me, even when I’m not connected to tubes. Either way, it was a freaky sensation, and it was a reminder that I hold every detail of this process in my body- every bit of what I’ve been through leaves an imprint, whether it is physical, emotional, or spiritual.
On the physical side, I’m the chemo chick poster child. I’ve become attached to my three cotton turbans, and I’ve decided that I have no time or energy to learn how to tie the proper head scarf (and I’m not as brave or dynamic as I had envisioned I would be- boldly going without any head covering at all). All but my thumbnails are gone, and my fingertips are looking pretty darned unhealthy. I’ve gained a good bit of weight from those pesky steroids (and the food that I can’t seem to keep from eating), I continue to experience daily nose bleeds, my skin tone is pasty, and I have some lovely bags under my eyes. Not the diva I had hoped to be…but, all in all, good spirits.
I’m ready to be done with chemo, though- to have Fridays free and to know that I won’t have the pesky side effects of fatigue, nausea or heartburn- to have the promise of good things in my future. Countdown: three more infusions. March 6th should be the last one (time for a celebration!). Then it’s every three weeks for Herceptin treatments for one year, PET scans every 6 months, and the beginnings of a new normal. Whatever normal means.
Dance when you’re broken open.
Dance when you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance when you’re perfectly free.
Struck, the dancer hears a tambourine inside her,
like a wave that crests into foam at the very top,
Maybe you don’t hear the tambourine,
or the tree leaves clapping time.
Close the ears on your head,
that listen mostly to lies and cynical jokes.
There are other things to see, and hear.
A brilliant city inside your soul!
In the past two weeks, my body has been reawakening and my spirit lifting. I’ve been integrating moments of spontaneously removing my head coverings, which seems like a small thing, I’m sure, but there’s vulnerability in baring a naked head to the world. Especially when that hairlessness isn’t by choice. And so the times when I take off my hat in the park to take advantage of the sun shining down on my crown, I try to quietly acknowledge this temporary place that I currently occupy- that space between treatment and healing, life and death, internal and external. The present moment, where I am able to recognize that vulnerability is a gift of this human experience, and that I am not alone in it.
This past week, I had my fourteenth infusion, and I celebrated the following day by dancing at NIA class with a community of joyful souls. Even though nobody but me and my friends knew about the countdown of infusions, it was a precious gift to feel secure enough to throw my hat and over shirt to the back of the room when I was too hot. Wearing just my camisole and yoga pants, I spun, leapt, and danced with a smile on my face and my bald head shining for the world to see. I couldn’t have felt more beautiful or healthy, and it was clear from the responses of some of my classmates that they appreciated my honest presence- scars and all.
The more I consider what is important in my world, the more it boils down to the people around me and my ability to be authentically me. I love that I’ve been encouraged to be open and honest in my experience and to continue to be my silly self. Cancer doesn’t always make one wise, but it absolutely encourages one to reflect on what really matters. To me, that includes dancing, even when I can’t keep the rhythm, and laughing, even when nobody else gets the joke. Isn’t that where joy begins? And it flows into the world, creating possibility.