About three weeks ago I finished my final chemo session and I hope I never have to go through anything like that again. I don’t think the reality of being finished has hit me yet as I am still experiencing side effects like achiness, fatigue and the annoying numbness in my fingers and toes. My sense of taste has not recovered, but it’s getting better. Plus, I still look like I’m in treatment since I don’t have any hair. My appearance still says cancer. I hear some side effects linger for a length of time, even permanently, but I’m not considering that possibility right now.
What I am doing is reflecting on the fact that I have come full circle from beginning to end of chemotherapy. I survived and came out in one piece, more or less anyway. During chemo I learned a lot about myself, some of which I don’t think I have even fully realized yet. Chemo taught me important lessons about things that really matter, things I thought I already knew.
I vividly recall the day I was advised in no uncertain terms, I needed chemo. I remember looking at the colored bar graphs depicting recurrence and survival statistics with or without chemo and right then and there, I knew I had no other option. That day was one of the worst days of my life, even worse than the day of my cancer diagnosis. David and I came home from our appointment with my oncologist that day and I pretty much lost it. I carried on all afternoon just changing rooms while continuing my lamenting.
Finally, and rightfully so, David told me to stop feeling sorry for myself. That was probably the one time he lost patience with me a bit. He wasn’t being insensitive. He’s just always been better than me at seeing the big picture, better able to look beyond or further out. I tend to worry about the here and now. He reminded me over and over again chemo was something we just needed to do and we would do it together.
What is it about chemo that makes it so dreaded anyway? Is it losing the hair or fear of nausea? Is it the fatigue factor or feeling of losing control? Do we conjure up bad memories of people we have known who have had chemo? Do we imagine unimaginable images far worse than reality?
Mostly I think it’s the fear of the unknown. We don’t have any idea about how our body will react. We don’t know how our loved ones will react either. We hope we do, but the reality is we don’t. The hair is certainly a b-i-i-g-g-g-g -y, especially for women. Chemo must be a bit easier for men. Is that an unfair statement? I don’t know. However no one thinks it’s odd to see a bald man walking around, but a bald woman, now that’s startling.
I would probably have to say my chemo experience was not as bad as I thought it would be. That’s not to say it wasn’t bad. It was. I hated it. I didn’t want it. I felt backed into a corner. But I adapted; we all did.
Someone asked me the other day if I was going to continue blogging after finishing chemo. Somewhat taken by surprise I answered, “Yes, of course. I’m just getting started. I still have so much to say and now I can hopefully say it with a clearer head.”
Later I reflected a bit more on that question and what it meant. Just because I am finished with chemo does not mean I am “done with cancer.” I will never be done. It can be hard for people who have not been touched by cancer to understand this and I don’t say that to make anyone feel bad, it’s just the way it is.
I started blogging kind of in reverse anyway. I didn’t begin my blog right after my diagnosis. I wasn’t ready. As I’ve said before, I tend to take my time and “mull” things over. I’m not one who rushes into things much. I prefer to write retrospectively rather than in the moment, so that’s what I’ll continue doing.
I am so relieved to be finished with chemo, but David and I know this is really the beginning. Now we must find our so called “new normal” whatever that is. I still have more surgeries ahead. I still have hormone therapy. I still have to worry about recurrence.
I haven’t felt much like celebrating yet, but chemo is indeed over and I survived! Maybe now I can write about it from the “other side” with a clear (OK clearer) head.
What has been one of your life’s greatest challenges?