Chemotherapy is like this:
Drink a gallon of bleach, followed by a gallon of ammonia and have a seat. You won’t have to sit long before your body responds. Simply put, it sucks.
My first trip to the cancer unit immediately threw me out of hysterectomy-depression mode into chemo-shock mode. I walked in to a room overcome with frail, bald women hooked up to IVs. I had never seen anything like it in my life. This sick, weak vision of life was about to be all mine. Tears welled up at seeing the brittle, delicately living patients all around me. I felt despair creeping up in me. I think that’s the first time I actually felt fear for my life.
The night after my first treatment I found myself in raging pain. My mom cried as she held me in her arms while I screamed bloody murder and cried my eyes out. It felt as though my body was being taken over and destroyed chemically from the inside out. I’ve never felt pain like that, before or since. It was a nightmare. Thankfully they changed my dosage after that time, but it still left my body in agony with every treatment.
The horror stories of side effects with cancer care treatment are a dozen a dozen. Even the simplest things like a heightened sense of smell is a curse. I once smelled my brother in-law’s cologne from the bedroom as soon as he walked in the house which immediately led me to the bathroom to hurl. And hurl what? Because eating is no longer pleasurable. And I LOVE to eat. Think of allllllllll the things you enjoy to taste – pancakes, popcorn, birthday cake, greenbean casserole, deli sandwiches, buttered corn, orange juice, white chocolate… all of your favorite delicious mouth watering flavors – gone, just like that – because your taste buds are whacked. Sometimes my body would trick me, craving an Arby’s roast beef sandwich so uncontrollably that I would mistakenly think I could handle eating an actual meal. Once attempted, reality would quickly set in and within a matter of bites I would find myself back to the porcelain queen. Oh and when I took those chances, it was plasticware for the win, because any touch of the tongue to an actual piece of silverware would flood my mouth with the most horrible taste of chemicals. Really? Was that necessary? I’m shaking my head at the times I forgot this small detail and couldn’t get that taste out of my mouth for hours.
Mentally and physically, the toll was being taken. And what’s worse than feeling like crap on the inside? Looking like it on the outside. Dark circles, skin hanging on bones, and let’s not forget TOTAL hair loss. I would wake up to hair that didn’t get up with me, but rather stayed on my pillow and I would lose more with each shampoo. Wigs and hats helped but you still look “sick”. Not sure if you caught that word “total” loss, but my thick curly locks were just the beginning… I didn’t even have an eyebrow to boast of. After recently losing all my female birthing organs, the hair loss seemed to strip whatever identity as a woman I had left. I felt more like an alien.
A zillion other meds are given to curb the chemo side effects – all with ridiculous side effects of their own.
For the nausea (which is nonstop 24/7 torture) I was given a number of meds that could at times make things worse instead of better. On a good (or good as it gets) day I mustered up enough energy to get out of bed – I was bound and determined to sweep the kitchen floor if it was the only thing I did all day. But meds had other plans for me. As I looked down at the floor to direct the broom, my head began to pull back against my own will. The more I looked down, even using both hands to hold my head in place, the harder it jerked back stretching my neck until my chin actually pointed behind me. In a matter of minutes it was no longer just my head but everything above my neck. My eyes rolled back to the point of pain and even my tongue was forced into the roof of my mouth as if trying to swallow itself. It was as if my body had a mind of it’s own. I was alone, freaking out, crying, deforming, with no way to even look straight in front of me making it painfully difficult to even dial a phone number for help. I was scared and thoroughly confused, praying to God I wasn’t having a seizure and about to die.
After a trip to the emergency room it turned out that a simple little pill of compazine I had taken earlier for nausea was the culprit for this particular “side effect surprise”. The fix? More meds, and more side effects.
But I have to say that even with the hysterectomy, hair loss, weight loss, throwing up, bedridden days, and internal destruction going on, the nonstop needle poking alone would have been hell enough.
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones…
Positive is good. It’s like the Word says – it’s the kind of “medicine” that is actually GOOD for you. But all this earthly medicine was wearing me thin, literally.
I was positive. Until one day, when I wasn’t. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I had been living in utter pain like I’d never known and stayed faith-filled and positive for as long as I could. I felt trapped in darkness. I had no energy. I’d had ONE outing – to the movies a block away, and was miserable the entire time, not to mention completely spent by the time I got back home. Sunlight was rare in my days. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t go to work. I couldn’t be around people. I couldn’t go anywhere without puking from the smells. There was no laughter, no easy button, noone who could really relate or truly understand how I felt, no breather, no break, and no baby. I was done.
It was time to call mom.
“I hate cancer, I hate chemo, I hate life – I don’t want to live anymore – not like this. THIS IS NOT LIVING!!! I’m DONE. I wish God would please just take me home, I can’t do it anymore mom, I just can’t. I’m sick, I’m tired, I don’t have any strength left. It hurts. It hurts so bad all the time — I don’t wanna’ do this anymore. Please I just can’t! I hate this, I hate it, I hate it!!!”
I went on and on, bawling my eyes out. After a long while of listening to me, momma finally spoke. And it was not what I was expecting. She didn’t console me with soft words. Instead she got right to the point. She told me to pray.
My mom is a warrior. She’s a survivor of life in general, that’s how she rolls, and has been since I was born. On that phone call she was in tears and hurting too, because she was far away and couldn’t be right there with me in my dark hour. And since she couldn’t be there to help me through it, she did the best thing a mom could do for her daughter – she taught me how to get through it by myself.
I learned a precious lesson of survival that day:
Forget about yourself, help others.
“I want you to do something for me right now,” she said. “ I want you to get off this phone and go get on your knees and pray… for someone else. And when you’re done praying for that person, I want you to pray for someone else. And then someone else. And then someone else, and keep praying for one person after the next as God puts them on your mind until you run out of faces and names to pray for.”
Seriously? Did she hear me? I said I wanted to die, not pray. I’m not gonna’ lie. At the time, I was pissed.
I got off the phone thinking of all the other things I thought she might say and disappointed that she didn’t succumb to showering me with pity in my self loathing. But what the heck, I had run out of tears, there was noone around and nothing else to do. So I prayed. For someone else. And then someone else. Names kept coming and coming and I just kept praying and praying until eventually I forgot about my own pain. My dark hour turned instead to a sweet, intimate time with God, sharing with him one prayer offering after another for the sufferings of not myself, but others. When I finally got up, it had been over an hour but it seemed like mere minutes, and my own sadness had been lifted, somehow released.
…. Pray for one another, that YOU may be healed. ~ James 5:16
Galatians 6 tells us to bear one another’s burdens… And I wonder if might be easier to do so because when we focus only on our own junk, however heavy it may all be, we lose sight of hope and thereby add unnecessary weight to our own problems. Mom wasn’t going to add weight to my burden by reaffirming my own despair to me. Instead of pity, in her wisdom, she equipped me with what I needed to survive…. and taught me the healing power of bearing the burdens of others.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, submit your requests to God, and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 4:6
Prayer pulled me out of the hell I was in – every one of those days I was in pain, stripped of life and identity, desperate- and brought me to a place of peace. Prayer does that for me still. : )