If Forrest Gump says life is like a box of chocolates, I say chemo is like a row of cubicles in a public washroom: You never know what nasty surprises you might find when those doors swing open – but when you gotta go, you gotta go. Alas, my most recent round of treatment was more like opening a cubicle door in a bus terminal ladies’ room than one in a high-end restaurant. In a word: vile.
The truth is, I was caught off-guard by the nastiness of this chemo. My previous two rounds with it had actually gone fairly well (relative to just how unwell chemo can go) and when asked I would say, “This isn’t the worst chemo I’ve met.”
But, to mercilessly belabour this toilet analogy, even if you’ve previously visited a particular public washroom before, there are no guarantees you’ll find it in the same condition you did the last time you were there. In other words, just because I’d had a fairly good run at this chemo before, it didn’t mean I could expect it to go well again. It’s a, well… a crapshoot.
So this time around the nausea has been aggressive, as were the flu-like symptoms for the first few days. But the worst and weirdest of all is a super-intense back pain behind my right shoulder. It feels like I have a little knife lodged there, and every time I cough it twists in a little deeper. It started Friday morning with a sharp pinch on my right side every time I hack-hacked, or bark-barked. By late afternoon I was clutching my side and doubling over a bit with every cough. By bedtime, the pain had intensified, migrated around back and set up permanent residence, and I was sleeping with a heating pad under my right side.
It seems that my evil cough, not content to torment me with mere anxiety and irritation, has now added physical pain to its roster of tricks. So I cough on, and while the pain isn’t unbearable, it does make me stop, clutch, bend, and brace myself with every hack-hack or bark-bark. But the real problem is the psychology: every time I cough and the knife twists deeper, I’m acutely aware of my illness. Instead of being able to amble through my days without having to think about cancer all the time, symptoms like this one serve as a little cancer reminder every few minutes.
I don’t like this. Denial is one of my oldest and trustiest friends. Moving through my daily life without having every waking thought coloured by cancer is a state of being I’ve come to depend on for my sanity. When side effects and symptoms are front and centre (or around back to the right, behind the shoulder blade) the psychological effect of constantly being reminded that I have cancer is compounded by physical pain and discomfort… and frankly it stinks. Really, it does. Please don’t tell me to keep my chin up, either. You can grin and bear it, I’m going to slink around muttering obscenities and popping pills.
On the other hand, I may just be imagining the link between my cough and my cancer. I say this because when I discussed my worsening cough with my oncologist last Thursday before treatment, I found out that the prevailing theory continues to be that the cough hasn’t really corresponded to “progression of disease.” In other words, it has sometimes been present when no lung specks were visible on CT scans, and at other times it hasn’t bothered me much even though scans showed progression of spots or specks – so it’s hard to reason that the cough is definitely tied to the cancer. There is still a strong belief that it could be caused by lung irritation due to something as banal as post-nasal drip (i.e.: my constantly runny nose) which itself was caused by long-term chemo side effects. Therefore, so goes the rather optimistic prevailing theory, I shouldn’t worry too much about the cough, at least not until or unless the results of my upcoming CT scan on February 23rd give me reason to.
Okay… Still hurts though, so what’s a girl to do? Maybe if I can block out the psychological stuff, the physical experience might be more bearable. Like facing a disgusting public toilet in a desperate situation, you just hold your breath and get through it, with your eye on the prize and your nose plugged.
Yikes. Would so much rather be dealing with the chocolates.
*Ladies: A quick word, please, while I have your attention, on the matter of hovering or sitting on pubic toilet seats. Before I had a little girl I didn’t have to think about it – hovering was my default, whether five-star establishment or basement dive. But now that I have to actually place Georgia’s pristine backside on those seats, let’s discuss. One hovers to avoid sitting in a nasty pee-splashed bacteria-ridden mess, right? But consider: how did it get pee-splashed in the first place? I’d wager it got that way from careless hovering. If you find it splashed-upon, go ahead and hover, but if you find it clean and you hover, you MUST wipe. Careless hovering perpetuates the need for hovering. If (as the saying goes) you sprinkle when you tinkle, I beg you to give it a wipe. Please, for Georgia’s sake.