Committing to My Survival
My body didn’t respond well to the new chemo drug; I experienced the hard way how it got its nickname of “the red devil.” The day of treatment, when it was over, I had to be wheel chaired out to the car because I couldn’t stand, my boyfriend had to carry me into the apartment, and I puked the whole car ride home. I really knew something wasn’t right when the typical first few rough days after chemo passed, and I was still constantly dizzy, and wasn’t able to take more than 5 steps or stand for more than 20 seconds without needing to sit down. And doing anything, even rolling over in bed, made me short of breath.
I knew something wasn’t right; this wasn’t just discomfort from chemo side effects, and I wasn’t just whining. I called the cancer center and went in to see the Nurse Practitioner. It turned out that while a drop in counts is expected after chemo, all my counts — white blood cells, red blood cells, platelets, hemoglobin, etc. — were dangerously low, which explained my inability to walk, stand, breathe. When the Nurse Practitioner looked at my chart and saw the dosage I had been given of the new chemo drug, I caught her face in a look of shock before she quickly hid her thoughts. She told me the dose I had been given was the highest max for a person my size (that isn’t lethal); they thought because I had done so well on the previous chemo combo (my counts stayed consistently level throughout), I could handle it. But clearly, I couldn’t. I begged her to ask my oncologist to PLEASE lower the dosage next time, because I knew it was too much for my body to handle. At that time, my oncologist said she would not lower the dosage, but offered weekly smaller doses instead of the every two week dose dense, an idea which didn’t agree with me. And I’m not going to lie, while I know she’s the expert and her job is to eradicate my cancer, and I have put my trust in her so far seeing as she is one of the best in the country, I felt very unheard and ignored, and was really upset that she wasn’t listening to me. Because I KNEW something wasn’t right.
But then I woke up the next morning with 101.5 fever, what’s called a neutropenic fever. I had to have an IV antibiotic pump attached to my port for three days, carried around in a fine looking fanny pack I got to sport. I basically had no white blood cells, so I needed the antibiotics because if anything invaded my body, there was nothing there to fight it. I also received a blood platelet transfusion, and was on standby for a blood transfusion. Today, I’m feeling better, but am still on antibiotics and can’t walk too far or do anything strenuous without losing my breath and feeling faint.
Yesterday, it was two weeks from when I had my first treatment with the new drug, and was supposed to be the day I had my second. After the fever and seeing that my counts were not recovering, my oncologist agreed to give me more recovery time, as I clearly couldn’t go in this compromised. She also said she would lower my dose by 25%. But I’m terrified for the next round, when it comes. Is 25% enough? I feel like this drug could kill me before the cancer even could. I don’t think my body could go through this three more times. And so I have been in such a scared and confused place trying to figure out what to do. Should I continue on this drug? Would three more rounds cause more harm than good? OR what if I go through the hell of these next three rounds and the chemo doesn’t even work!?
Usually, I am intuitive. My body tells me things, and my intuition is most of the time correct. But I can’t connect to my intuition about this right now. Why? Because I have completely disconnected from my body. The only way I’ve been able to get through all of this is by not being present. It’s almost like I’m floating above sometimes; I’m rarely in my body. I expect in the fall, when all of this is over, out of nowhere, I’ll suddenly be like, “What the fuck just happened!? Where have I been?!” Even when my healer friend tried to guide me in a meditation and healing session to ask my higher self and my body about the chemo, what the best thing for me to do is, etc., nothing and no one responded. It is the first time ever I was met with silence when trying to speak to and connect with my higher self, guides, angels, or my body.
My fears about continuing this new drug are, first, all about how the next 6–8 weeks will be; will I not be able to walk or stand or have full breaths for 6–8 weeks!? Will I have to be on antibiotics the whole time? (The horror! my holistic training knows how much damage that could do and is having a freak out) And there’s always the vanity creeping in, how much more will it deteriorate my appearance?
But even more of a concern to me is the long term damage the drug could do. What if I take one dose too many? What if the cancer is all gone, but I take that one extra dose, and that’s the one that causes permanent heart damage (which the drug I’m on can), or permanent cognitive problems that come on later, including short-term memory loss which would then mean I could never do a play again? What if this drug causes me permanent long term serious health problems? It has been shown in research that chemo can actually cause a secondary cancer, and also cause cancer cells to become resistant to chemo. What if I have one too many doses of this toxic drug and that happens to me?
My past training and beliefs in holistic and “spiritual” things have also been swirling around in my head, plaguing me. I am well versed in the world of the “law of attraction” and of our “thoughts becoming things.” I used to teach a fitness class where we yelled positive affirmations while we worked out, for crying out loud. And so there’s a part of me that is scared because I haven’t been able to be so positive about this. I don’t say positive affirmations or do positive visualizations anymore; I used to, but they didn’t work, because I have cancer, and because the cancer didn’t clear after the first four chemos with the other drug like I had affirmed and visualized, and so I’m angry at positive affirmations and imagery, and don’t want any more disappointment.
There’s actually a part of me that thinks because I was so scared about the double mastectomy which comes after chemo that I “caused” the cancer not to shrink enough, so as to delay the surgery. I’m seriously worried that because I’m not able to connect with the positive thoughts about this process, that I’m dooming myself to not being cancer free at the end of this. My rational boyfriend told me that the chemo will do its thing and work, regardless of what my thoughts are. But my old way of thinking is so ingrained in me, I don’t know if I believe him. Thoughts become things, damnit!
Or maybe it’s time to go the holistic route. What if all the people who told me that turmeric, etc., would cure my cancer are right? But what if I go the holistic route and it’s not done quickly enough, and my cancer spreads?
All these thoughts and fears have been swirling around in me, causing so much stress and confusion (which I know isn’t good for cancer; see? I’m doing it to myself again!). I couldn’t see anything clearly in what has seemed like a swarm of bees buzzing all around me. But finally, I started to see that I was focusing on everything but the only thing, which is that I actually have cancer. I realized I have never fully allowed myself to accept that, even though I’ve been going through the treatment. I mean, I couldn’t even acknowledge it in the title of this blog I started, in which I only “apparently” have cancer. I haven’t fully accepted it probably for the same reasons I haven’t been present throughout this process. It’s too much.
But it’s time to accept it. Because none of those short or long term things I’m so concerned about would even come to fruition if the cancer is still there, or comes back, and I don’t survive. Triple negative is a nasty beast, another thing the full scope of which I have not allowed myself to really acknowledge, because its statistics are scary. So I’ve done research, and all the data points to this protocol I’m on being the highest likelihood for getting a complete pathological response. I need to kill every single one of its cells NOW to assure there won’t be a recurrence. That’s the only thing right now.
I am committing myself to that goal, knowing that accepting it may mean that I’ll be down for the count for the next 6–8 weeks, and while I already look like a shell of myself, I may also be a shell of myself in the emotional sense. When cells in your body are literally dying and you have no energy, it’s hard to stay cheery or positive. I was very depressed during the eleven days when I couldn’t even walk to the bathroom without having to sit down on my way. Add being thrown into a chemical menopause and the emotions that come with the hormone imbalance to the constant dizziness, the shortness of breath, the being in bed for all those days, it made me feel like my spark, that essence which is me, was extinguished. And continuing on this chemo cycle for three more may send me further down. Who will I be during that time?
But I commit to the goal, understanding it means I will have to put toxic things in my body, and pump it full of whatever, as a means to end: my survival. And knowing once I’m out of chemo and starting to heal from my surgery, I can start the recovery journey, work on clearing those toxins out, restore my beloved gut bacteria and all other things that need to be restored, rebuild my health, and work out again (man, do I miss my power yoga. Sigh), along with knowing that I will be cancer free as a result of this hellish process, is what gives me solace.