Thursday, April 2, 2009

Mile 3 of my Cancer Marathon

Mile 3 of the marathon is all business. It’s time to take off and throw to the side of the road the crappy old long sleeve t-shirt you were wearing to stay warm at the start. You are now flaunting a brand new technical-tee and a crisp race number and that instantly makes you feel like a real runner. You’ve successfully navigated the first water stop and hopefully managed not to spill too much Gatorade on yourself. And most importantly, you’ve settled into your goal pace and your legs are starting to respond to the familiar rhythm. It’s time to get serious about running this race.

I had my first chemo treatment on March 26. The basic routine is you get blood drawn at the lab, you go see your doc and then they move you into a private room where you will be the rest of the day.

The one thing that scared me the most about chemo was the chance I would have to sit around all day looking at sick people. I know that sounds both ludicrous and mean considering (a) I am sick (b) you are supposed to be nice to sick people (my mother taught me well). But, frankly, I’ve put myself in the mindset that I am happy and healthy and I didn’t want anything to shake that. So I was greatly relieved that I would have a private room for the day. No sickies for me :)

It is pretty cheesy but I ordered a yellow “Livestrong” Dri-fit shirt to wear to chemo. When I was in high-school and college I remember how good it would feel to put on a clean jersey on race morning. It would make me feel strong and capable and I wanted to replicate that feeling for my treatments. So my Livestrong shirt coupled with my Boston Marathon jacket has became my “Chemo uniform”.

Getting Chemo was very similar to the inductions I had for my sons’ births. They hook you up to an IV and you wait around for something to happen. It was actually better than an induction in that you could eat whatever you want instead of the ice chips and Valu-time popsicles that are the required staples of labor and delivery.

I had a great nurse who explained everything to me and made me feel very comfortable. Vince and I spent most of the day reading, watching tv and surfing the net. Other than the whole cancer part, it was like a mommy’s dream come true. Relaxing all day long with no temper-tantrums, bottles to make or floors to sweep – sign me up!

I never got sick, just a little queasy when we got home. However, they have great meds nowadays and that nipped it in the bud. I even rallied and hit book club later that evening.

The next day was a little tougher. The best way to describe it is “hung-over”. Not a half dozen shots of Tequila at a dive bar hung-over, more like 3 or 4 glasses of wine with girlfriends hung-over. My head was foggy and my stomach felt a little off and I had a compelling need to eat greasy foods and watch dumb shows on tv.

The second day I felt much better. I was a little tired but still very functional, my head was clear and my stomach was almost back to normal. I probably pushed it a little too much that day as I crashed that night. But all in all, it could have been much worse.

I returned to work on Monday with no problem. I am definitely more tired than usual but not crazy tired. Once again returning to the maternity analogy, it’s kind of a pregnancy tired. I can function during the day but I am whooped by the time dinner rolls around.

So that summarizes my first chemo treatment and the following week. I will write another installment soon detailing the “recovery” weeks between treatments, hair loss and other burning topics.

I started out writing about my experiences for several reasons including:
1. Communication with friends and family near and far - People have been asking how things were going and this has proven to be an effective and efficient way to reach people.
2. Therapy – As I write this, first in my head and then later on the computer, it’s really helped me understand my thoughts and feelings. I’m not a support group kind of gal so this has been very helpful to me.
3. History – My sons are too little to understand all of this now. However, some day I hope to share it with them so they can understand their mommy has another side than PB&J maker and time out giver.

One unexpected outcome of sharing my story is hearing from others who have also experienced major challenges in their life. The challenges range from raising twins (which still scares the hell out of me!) to having major heart surgery to dealing with the loss of a spouse or sibling.

All of these people were ordinary people who never thought they would have these obstacles in their life. But when presented with the challenge, they dug in and they overcame. It truly inspires me and gives me courage.

I’ve always felt that you never knew what you were capable of until you were presented with a challenge. I still believe that and now see that challenges come in two forms – those you choose (like running a marathon) and those that choose you (like having cancer). No matter the origin of your challenge, you ultimately become a stronger person by taking it on.

Keep putting one foot in front of the other!

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