To do or not to do

This is how I'd look right now, if I were a cartoon dwarf.
Oh, Grumpy. I feel ya, pal.

Many people believe that when it comes to cancer, things are fairly clear-cut. You have this type of cancer, you follow this type of treatment, and you do whatever the doctors tell you to do. Unfortunately, this is very rarely the case, although it sure sounds nice. Cancer is all about unknowns and grey areas. This can be especially true when you are a young patient, as many of the studies and numbers do not necessarily reflect people of a younger age, who are often “high-risk” – the fabulous term with which I have been labeled by doctors. Of course, there have been many advances in cancer research and treatment. But even so, sometimes there is not enough data and information to work with, and ultimately, the patient is the one who has to decide what they feel most comfortable with and how they want to proceed in many areas of their cancer treatment.

As a control-freak, you would think it would thrill me to get to make choices and not be told what to do in a given situation. But no, my friends. That is not the case. You see, when it comes to making decisions that can affect your ability to be alive, it’s not such a great feeling to be in control. In fact, it’s quite a lot of pressure, and frankly, a pain in the ass.

Throughout my cancer “journey” (barf… someone find me a better word for “journey”), I have had to make many impossible decisions. Decisions that affect my body, my health, my chance of survival, among other things. This past week, I have been confronted with yet another huge decision in regards to (what feels like) my never-ending treatment. And again, doctors can give me the facts, but not advise. It is in my hands. My stupid, sweaty-palmed hands.

As a young girl, I was an excellent student. Straight A’s all the way, occasionally referred to as “The Brain” or “Brainer” by my schoolmates (not the coolest nickname one could possess, but I suppose there are worse). I would ace a test or get accolades from my teacher for a story I wrote, without putting in a great deal of effort. This continued throughout university, where my roommates would get frustrated at my ability to write an essay or finish an exam at a dizzying pace, while they would still be trying to come up with a thesis statement.

The student inside me, who has been locked away for years, has returned as a result of my new current interest: curing my cancer. I spend endless hours reading studies that I really have no business reading, in that I usually have to google every other word to make sense of the terminology. I read articles, message boards, books, trying to stay on top of all the current and relevant info pertaining to my particular case. Trying to search for the answer to whatever question I am currently faced with.

But unfortunately, unlike school where I could essentially bullshit my way into getting a great mark (one teacher in high school actually told me I did that and I took it as a very high compliment), I can’t do that here. I can’t make the answers appear. I can’t pretend that I know them all. Because no one does. Most of it is just a crap-shoot, where you make a decision, pray it was the right one, and move on the best you can. If you can.

Today I feel tired of making these big decisions and trying to be the all-star cancer student. I feel over it. The Brain can only handle so much. As my mother said to me earlier, I should be making decisions about what colour nail polish to wear, not trying to figure out whether X or Y may or may not kill me. (Note to self: must paint nails.)

So, all this to say, I’m feeling a bit grumpy today. Grumpiness is another unfortunate side effect of cancer. And, as the cherry on top, tomorrow I get to do chemo #3. They better have a good stock of popsicles this time. Although hopefully I won’t have to make a choice between flavours. I don’t need anything else on my plate right now.


All aboard the chemo train


Even just typing the word makes me feel kind of ill. I don’t think there is a single person out there who has a positive association with that word. But nonetheless, in the case of cancer, it is a necessary evil. And thus, yesterday, marked my first of several chemotherapy sessions. And I am here to report that I made it out alive.

On the way to the hospital, I couldn’t believe what was happening. What I was about to do to myself. Willingly allow myself to be injected full of toxic chemicals. Again, how is this my life? I’m not sure. But it is. So I went.

The waiting room for chemo was packed. Although there were some “younger” patients, I looked around, and made the call that I was the youngest person there. I tend to get lots of stares in these situations, and yesterday was no different. You’re in the wrong place, you don’t belong here, their stares scream at me. But then after checking in at reception, they realize I do belong there, and they look sad for me. And I don’t like those looks, so I hide under my hood and wait a long hour until finally my pager goes off. The pager going off reminded me of being a kid and waiting for a table at The Cheesecake Factory. I will never look at a pager the same way again.

Jacob and I made our way to my chemo lounge chair. This doesn’t look too bad, I thought. We were very close to the man in the chair next to me, which could have been a disaster, but luckily he was very nice and laughed at all my stupid, awkward jokes and I really appreciated that. He was flying in from Northern Ontario for his treatment, which made me feel very grateful that I live about a 15 minute car ride from the hospital. My nurse’s name was Sammy. She was a gem. I don’t think I could have had a better first nurse. I asked if I could have her every time, but she said she’s going on a long vacation. I told her to please send me a postcard. She explained everything really well, let me closely inspect the medicine in order to convince me it wasn’t rat poison, gave me a blanket and proceeded to inject me full of drugs, straight into my port (which I was also so grateful for… no vein searching or relentless poking!). Right before the drugs went in, my sweet husband got me some popsicles and ice chips, which I chomped on throughout the entire treatment because that’s what the chemo kids in-the-know do.

After a couple hours when it was all over, we said goodbye and met my sister who was waiting for me in the hallway. I went and got a pastrami sandwich, which now sounds completely revolting, but at the time it sounded great. And it was. With a pickle, naturally.

I felt pretty good when I got home. And then the nausea hit. And the fatigue. And the tears.

And so it begins. The chemo ride. Not exactly a trip to The Cheesecake Factory. But hey, I got free popsicles out of the whole deal. All is not lost, my friends.