double digits

i finished my 10th chemo treatment on thursday.

during my infusion, one man, living with stage iv cancer, was receiving his 33rd chemo treatment in the past 3 years. i wanted to scream at him, “thirty-three f*cking chemos?! how are you managing???” but in my benadryl fog, i couldn’t open my eyes or talk sensibly for that matter, so i just listened to his upbeat attitude, his intimacy with the staff, his thankfulness, his matter-of-factedness about it all. then i started calculating for myself….12 taxols/herceptins, 4 ACs followed by 4 neupogen bone marrow boosters, and another 14 of herceptin. that’s 30 + 4. 34. all in a year. this is not a game i’m particularly thrilled at ‘winning,’ but i learned a lot from just those few minutes overhearing him. and hearing how my dad approaches his stage iv cancer too. you might as well not even call it cancer, in their minds. as my friend anne said to me, “cancer is, amazingly, becoming a chronic disease that can be managed and lived with for a very very long time.” while i know it’s not true for everyone, it’s true for many. blessings and curses.

back to the infusion room. i love it in there. i don’t dread my thursdays. how gross is that? it’s true though. it’s the best of humanity. it’s raw, from the heart, and real.

overhearing people talk about the mundane (a middle-aged couple arguing over tree stumps they need to dig out of their yard), current (a hemp-seed snacking man listening intently to the VP debates and celebrating “joe’s punches”), and catty (a mother and daughter talking trash about the sister trying to “find herself spiritually for too many years now”). there is also the profound, though it’s less spoken and more in movements and looks. watching people’s eyes, both the patients and their guests. how can eyes express so much? terror, concern, empathy, tenderness, and even flirtaciousness…especially with ning, everyone’s favorite technician.

it’s not a particularly social place, but when i have talked with another patient, i hear some pretty amazing things and meet a cross section of people. my favorite has to be the gentlemen from sonoma who rodeos, has colon cancer, and has only told his closest family because he doesn’t “want to be pitied or looked at differently, ya know?” i do know.

and the staff too. mike and i have said it over again, but they are so wonderful. and upon reflection, i am really getting to know them well too, especially the nurses. pauline from ireland, who swore i had ringworm instead of a taxol rash because she always got it on the farm growing up (i can’t make this stuff up). annette who is training for the sacramento marathon. and ilonah who was running to catch the cal-train, tripped, and blew out the knees of her scrubs.

so, that’s what it’s like in there. no one wants to be there, but everyone makes the most of it.

assuming my weekly bloodwork is solid and side effects manageable, i close out my taxol treatments right before thanksgiving and start AC in december. i’ve told many of you that AC is the nasty stuff, the stuff that could overtreat me, threaten to damage my heart now or in the long-term, and/or give me more classic chemo fatigue and nausea. all of it could also cause a secondary cancer of the blood. it occurred to me today that every time i talk about this with any of you, anxiety builds. it’s like living through a trauma multiple times without living through it yet, if at all. because the truth is i don’t know what will happen or how i’ll feel. and, i’m the one who chose the most aggressive treatment plan with the best doctor to give our best effort at me only going through cancer one time. so given this, i don’t want to talk about AC anymore until i’m having it. and i might not want to talk about it at all then either (except maybe to marvel at the guaranteed red pee that comes along with it).

badabing badaboom.

i’ll close out this post with something i’m really thinking about a lot today. my friend gary gave me a set of cds about the will to live. you know, a small topic easily covered by a double disc. one reflection is on chemotherapy but i think it’s relevant to everyone. the quote most sticking with me: “we must look at our wounds and our difficulties, these things we have survived on the path of life, not as a victim. that we must look not with self pity but we look as survivors, with curiosity, with wonder, as a witness to the power of the life in us.”

happy sunday to you all. and thanks to all the MCI retreaters, who were so amazing to visit with and made me the world’s biggest (and most awesome) get well card. it hangs proudly in our home.

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