So, here we are, one week out from the last chemo and I have to say that it's not as bad as I expected. There has been some cumulative fatigue (expected) and some other small side effects that feel really small on their own but miserable when they all slam on top of you at once. Luckily that didn't happen to me until I had to get Neulasta shots, thanks to the esophagus issues. I must have an ulcer, because that's been the worst part of it all. The last round damn near had me white knuckling through the bone/muscle pain thanks to Neulasta, but I didn't really suffer until I took some Lortab to deal with the pain and that made me throw up. Twice. Whee. The cancer center's on-call doctor got a run down of the situation and had me double up on heartburn/reflux meds for several days and that seemed to help a lot. I'm not looking forward to round 4 thanks to those issues, but really, on the whole, this hasn't been so bad. The nice bit is that it will all be over after March 8th. I can do this one more time. I could probably do it 12 more times if I had to, but I'm really thankful that I don't.
I've been thinking a lot about what I would say to others who are about to go through chemo. It's certainly not a fun ride, but it IS manageable. I've been back at work since the week after my first treatment. I know it's not like that for everyone and that I'm extremely lucky. My side effects have been pretty minimal and frankly the Neulasta is the worst of it. Nothing makes you feel like a cancer patient more than having a bald head and being barely able to haul yourself from the bed to the couch. Never mind going to the bathroom. That's a fucking nightmare. The bone and muscle pain just makes everything else harder to manage, but it does go away after a few days.
The first chemo treatment is fairly anticlimactic. You get it all built up in your head about how awful it's going to be, but it's so routine at any cancer center that you just plop down in a chair, get comfy and they insert the IV. You go through a few bags of drugs, read a bit, watch tv or fall asleep, and after a couple of hours you go home and think 'wow, that was it?'. It's not until a few days later that the side effects start and if you're lucky like me, you get one at a time and they're gone in a few days. The nice thing about side effects is that they're manageable. If you have one, you call your cancer center and they prescribe you something to fix it. Done. Just like that. Even better if they have on-call doctors (and they should!) who can get you something any time.
The rest of the chemo treatments are pretty similar, albeit with cumulative fatigue. Sometimes the side effects start sooner as well, because your body is already compromised. But you get to talk to people while you're being treated. You get to know the staff and make jokes with them. You meet other patients and hear their stories and sometimes thank the universe that what's happening to them isn't happening to you. They all handle it with such grace and strength though, that it's hard to be sad in that moment when you just want to love and support them as much as you can while you spend a few hours together. Then you love on them more when they're not handling it so well. That's how you bond and get through it together, even if you never see that person again.
So I guess I would say don't go into chemo with fear. Yes, the unknown is scary. Embracing that everyone feels that way can help you be ok with that. Chemo beats the shit out of you, but it's an incredible gift that will kill the cancer cells and that's something to be very thankful for indeed. You also get an amazing opportunity to share with others and support them while they do the same for you. And if they can't do the same for you? Make them laugh. Then you've done it for both of you.
What's next for me? Implant surgery on March 26th (fuck yeah, new tits!). I can hardly wait to get these tin cans out of my chest and have some more boob-like stuff inserted! Eventually there will be tattoos to go with them!
Then it's on to making all the choices that will make my life the one I want it to be. No more 'I can't'. No more 'I'm scared'. Just balls out furiously happy shit. Life's too short for anything else.