There are too many layers at this point. Stuff I haven’t written down but I think should be written down. Trying to parse through them all, though, quickly devolves into chaos.
I know I haven’t talked about the chemo side effects much, mostly because they weren’t bothering me much. But now they’re pretty evident, so I’ll start there. They’re still in the realm of tolerable, but people are asking me more if I’m doing ok. Perhaps I look more tired than usual. I hesitate to tell them that I’m in pain.
1) I’ve said it before and the hair loss was the easy part. The trouble is when hair follicles die but do not exit my dermis. Such as the case when I shaved my head. I had lots of little follicles with no hair to help them fall out. Now my scalp is in a cycle of acne bumps and very slow healing. My face is much the same way in some areas. I’ve spent a mint on scrubs and cleansers. I scrub at least twice a day and it doesn’t seem to affect it much. Sometimes I get pissed off and use rubbing alcohol like it would do any good.
My coarser hairs (on my head) are still thriving slowly (I still haz eyebrows!) and they’ve grown out a wee bit. Instead of shaving now, I’ve taken to using sugaring strips which I happened to have (gentlemen: it’s like waxing, but no heat). Rip-rip-rip, after each chemo treatment or when I get the chance, just to keep the sideburns at bay.
No, that wasn’t the pain I was talking about. I barely feel it.
2) Neuropathy: The deadening of the nerve endings, typically in the toes and fingertips. After dose 4, the numbness and tingling in my feet was intermittent and most noticeable when I got out of bed in the morning. After dose 5, the numbness was steady, and began some increased clumsiness. Subsequently, I hopped out of bed one morning, simultaneously positioning myself to walk through my bedroom door, and slammed my numbified toe into the edge of the half-open door. The numbification did not seem to decrease the pain of that moment at all, but I did discover later that the toenail is broken below the cuticle. I have before never experienced such a nail trauma, and now thank the neuropathy for sparing me the full force of the impact.
3) While the neuropathy is also present in my fingers, the more prominent effect is a deadening of the cuticle (I think), I suppose it’s similar to the loosening of hair follicles. It hurts. All the damn time. Like I have strong clothes pins pinching down on my fingernails. It began after dose 6 and, combined with the neuropathy, my brain is no longer aware of where the ends of my fingers are. Reach around a wall to turn off a light switch, and I smack my fingers into the doorframe. Ouch! Reach to pick something off the floor without looking and I slam my fingers into the tile. Eeaow!!
My oncologist says if it gets worse, as in I can’t perform basic tasks like buttoning my pants, she would reduce the weekly dosage by 10% so I would get as much as possible, but still, you know, be human. So far it only affects tasks that put direct pressure on my nails: opening a pop-top can or putting on closed-heeled shoes (remedy: butter knife and shoehorn).
And typing…a little bit.
4)...Oh, I shouldn't forget the nosebleeds. Almost left them out because they. are. constant. It's only a matter of degree.
And then there’s what happened last week, me believing I would upend my summer as a sacrifice to the Chemo Gods. Such would not be the case, says my oncologist. I determined my anxieties were rooted in a growing sense of shame over what I consider to be unfair. I saw the young man in his attempt at personal quarantine; I saw the gentleman in the moment of his failure at personal quarantine. Yet I do not need quarantine, because the factor of “young and otherwise healthy” means that in a three week cycle, my immune system will crash by day 7, but it will bounce back with certainty by day 10. With a dose schedule on Thursday, that means the following Thursday through Sunday. And even in my most compromised days, the precautions amount to hand washing and avoidance of those with a cough or fever.
It doesn’t seem fair. It’s good news. But it doesn’t seem fair.
The issue of cancer-unfairness is playing its part at work too. I've been noticing an increased animosity toward me growing within a co-worker whose husband had colon cancer. She is an emotionally needy woman who spends portions of the workday chit chatting about television shows and speculating on current events. She’ll hover around the desk of a woman who's loaded with work to do, but who is too timid to tell her to sit down and leave her be. This woman wants to be listened to so badly, and so many of us want her to shut up.
When I was first diagnosed, I went through waves of wanting to talk and not wanting to talk. I had never gone through anything like this before, so missteps abound, I’m sure. I went to this co-worker at the end of the day when it was just the two of us there, and told her my diagnosis “before anyone else did.” I’m not sure why, maybe I didn’t want her speculating and dramatizing it based on second hand information I’d have to clean up later. Controlling the gossip mill was--oddly--my primary concern at the time.
In the next couple weeks she would start asking vague, unassuming questions about the tests, or about my experience in general, then would come to my desk and hover, and begin spouting information about her husband, then in a moment when I thought I would speak, she would erupt into another story about her husband, then there would be a pause and I would attempt to speak and she would cut me off again—at this point, I’m almost laughing at the absurdity. But I’m also annoyed that it’s 5 o’clock, I just got back from an appointment, and trying get some work done while she’s monopolizing my time by talking my ear off.
Then another afternoon around 5pm, she’s hovering again, and asking specific questions based on her husband’s treatment--without clarifying that she was probably off-the-mark because she only had the colon cancer of a 50-something male as reference. I wouldn’t have an answer to her questions and would become momentarily frantic because I thought I should know that. WHY DON’T I KNOW THAT?!?! Did the doctor tell me and I forgot? WHERE’S MY NOTES?!
Finally I realized what a toll this woman was taking on me. After she left that day, I sent her an email explaining that the best thing she could do to help me through my situation is to not talk to me about my treatment. I did my best to sound more sympathetic than that. But it had to be said nonetheless.
Well, giving this woman the edict that cancer was not on the table for discussion with her, has not stopped the conversation coming up with anyone else in the open office environment. Sometimes it’s straightforward questions, and sometimes I have a story to tell. But when I feel as if the person I’m talking to exists in that moment to emotionally support me and not I them, then I feel good about the conversation and keep talking.
Oh poor thing. It seems I’m getting SO MUCH ATTENTION. She just can’t stand it. As I recall, when her husband was going through treatment she would come to work and spend most of her day crying. And no one would talk to her because we didn’t know what to say. We were there to work, not to be anyone’s therapist. And whether anyone could articulate it, I bet we all had the awareness that her emotional needs were much, much deeper than her husband’s cancer. No one was about to open those floodgates when in normal circumstances, merely tolerating this woman was an act of generosity.
And now I’m bald and cute and wearing cute hats and getting all this attention and having a jolly good time. I haven’t had much to complain about and I just recently started lying when I tell folks everything’s just fine.
Oh, and now with the office move, she sits across the aisle from me and we share a printer. Yay. I tried to be helpful with a new computer program and she snapped at me ,“I was asking RHONDA!” Well, I’d been doing my best to suppress my impulses to be “helpful” with her since the animosity made itself known a few weeks ago. Huffiness here, silent treatment there. Seems I let my guard down and got a little excited. To keep to myself, though, I have to ignore the woman who needs to be listened to—by everyone within earshot.
I’ve never used my iPod at work quite so much.