Back to the Chemo Room, Willingly (Sort of)

By Diane McDaniel

At the Getty Center

My surgery on Friday, November 13, was entirely successful. While I am now nearly as disemboweled as a fish ready to be served on a platter with a side of greens, I am also officially cancer free.

I’ve gone from a dire but treatable diagnosis to cancer free.

I am cancer free.

There’s just one small hitch.

Despite what Dr. T terms my “miraculous” response to treatment and my new status as “in remission,” I now need nine more weeks of preventative chemotherapy treatment. Nine more weeks…

Incredibly, I’m on my way back to the chemo room.

Although she and I had discussed the possibility that I may need more chemotherapy after surgery, I was speechless when Dr. T gave me her recommendation. After receiving such excellent news after surgery— all cancer removed, no visible cancer, and no cancer found at a microscopic level — how could I need chemotherapy?

Why am I on my way back to the chemo room if I'm cancer free?

According to Dr. T, I’m headed back in for nine more weeks of chemotherapy to prevent remission. We are dotting the “i”’s and crossing the “t”’s of my treatment. As Vern noted when I told him about the plan, “It’s an invitation you can't turn down.”

And so it is.

And so it begins again…

The seven weeks since my last chemotherapy treatment have been pretty fantastic, even when accounting for major surgery. Most of my annoying complaints, especially muscle fatigue, weakness, and inability to taste food, quickly disappeared once I got off the poison.

Despite leaving me with an even larger scar, my second surgery wasn't as physically devastating as the first. Two weeks after surgery I’m back to walking the mile at a fairly respectable pace. Other than issues with my fingers and toes, which have become even weirder over the past few weeks, my confidence about my physical nature is definitely improved.

Although I’m still toying with the idea of leaving the house bareheaded, I do have a hairline again. My eyebrows look like dark smudges, and I have little baby eyelashes. They're too short and fragile for mascara, but I’m so happy to see them. I’ve learned how to work around them with a bit of eyeliner.

It’s going to be hard to get back into my chemo state — weak, achy, tired, hairless — even for just nine weeks. At least now I know how quickly my feeling of health will return when I’m finished with treatment. I’m so grateful for the respite of the past few weeks, which has taught me how quickly I bounce back physically.

What will take longer to bounce back from is the psychic toll of living with the knowledge that my life is imperiled.

With Eva

During my brief respite from treatment, I’ve been able to lift my head from my own complaints and see how the rest of my family has been affected by my illness. I’m not the only one dealing with cancer. We’re all going through this experience, and we’re all affected by it in our own way. None of us will emerge from this experience as we were before.

When I learned that I was going back into the chemo room, I was — of course — devastated. However, I have to admit that I’m also secretly relieved to get back to my (now) familiar routine.

As soon as I was declared cancer free, Philippe said to me, “Now you can get a job.” I know that what he meant is that I can stop being a patient and get back to being a fully-functional adult and doing what I love, but his words brought up a feeling of panic. What kind of job would I want?

I cannot help but to have been changed by the difficult and the remarkable experiences I’ve had during this past year. While two months off chemotherapy have given me the opportunity to start feeling more like myself physically, I haven’t yet gotten to know my new self.

I’ve been invited back into the familiar comforts of the chemo room, which means that for the next nine weeks I can get back to my well-known routine, with its selfish self centeredness on my care and ailments. While I don’t look foward to the return of my infirmities, I know that they are the bad effects of the treatment that is saving my life. This time I enter the chemo room knowing that the poison cocktail works.

For now I can put off the daunting task of reimmersing myself in the world past the confines of being a cancer patient. My return to the chemo room will give me the time and life to do so later.

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