After a disastrous first go at giving myself a cancer-approved manicure, I realized my nail polishes were expired and if I wanted to feign a certain level of chic, I needed to get myself to a beauty store.
So I put on my black, silk turban and off I went to pick up the exact same colors (red and gray), some top coat, new files, and a candle. I hadn’t bought anything outside a grocery store in weeks, maybe months, so I was very excited as I walked to the cashier to pay for something other than broccoli and chemotherapy drugs.
After a couple cartoonish tugs at my purse, I quickly realized that I didn’t have my wallet. But there was no way I wasn’t going to have the most baller red nails that day, so I had to go back home, pick it up, and do the walk of shame back to the store. This wasn’t the first time I’ve forgotten my wallet. Or parked my car at a meter and didn’t pay it. Oh, and the countless times I’ve gone to Trader Joe’s for one specific, very necessary thing and walk out without it – 3 days in a row. What this means is that I’m now at the mercy of post-it notes. Here I am writing things like phone, wallet, keys on a colorful, square piece of paper and slapping it on my front door.
Chemo brain – some more extreme than others – is for sure included in the Cancer Treatment Gift Bag you get when you’re inducted into the club. Mine has been spectacularly annoying. Like when I did laundry and left my apartment and took three steps before realizing (2 separate times) that I didn’t have something critical to complete the task. In this case, it was the laundry card and detergent. I could tell you stories like these until I’m blue in the face.
It doesn’t stop there! The gift basket is chock-full of wonders! Of course, it includes the Sick Sack, which comes with an unlimited supply of nausea, an unrivaled amount of bathroom time, and the inability to consume nutrients and calories necessary for recovery.
Some of the presents even come with their very own built-in treasures. Like constant testing, which keeps the “cancer is spreading” anxiety at bay, while the “are they looking in the right places” anxiety flares up like a bad STD. A week ago I did a follow-up Pulmonary Function Test to see how my lungs have been affected by the “B” in the ABVD chemo cocktail.
I get the results back today but hopefully, my lungs are still in most magical of states, with little to no scarring and/or toxicity. Checking my heart will be next since another one of the chemo drugs weakens the ol’ ticker. A running theme here – the fixer is also the destroyer. It becomes figuratively and literally hard to breathe under the weight of all the medical issues the cancer wheelbarrow unloads on a person.
Once you unpack all the larger, more obvious contents of the swag bag, you’ll find the treats you didn’t know existed! For example, bleomycin scars. SAY WHAT?! Yup, the damn “B” again. Bleo scars are dark markings you get from scratching your skin. “So stop scratching, you idiot!” Not so fast! Chemotherapy dehydrates – inside and out. My skin needs to be moisturized multiple times a day before I start getting lizard scales on my legs. And when my skin is dry, I want to claw at my body for the sweetest of relief. But I can’t. I have to tap my skin so I don’t get any more markings on my body. You can imagine how incredibly unsatisfying that is. A tap. To alleviate an itch so strong it feels layers deep.
Also nestled in the Cancer Treatment Gift Bag is neuropathy, which is nerve damage typically in the hands and feet. That little nugget of fun typically means numbness and tingles, which I get ever so often on my hands. This has been the least of my worries because thankfully, it hasn’t spread past my fingertips and it hasn’t become permanent.
Then there’s the temporary aging of your skin. There’s nothing quite like looking haggard after sleeping for 14 hours. The only think more amusing is having to take a nap after those 14 hours because that just isn’t quite enough time – but hey, your muscles haven’t atrophied yet! Also tucked away for your enjoyment, a sick sense of humor which manifests itself in the most hilarious of ways. Like losing most of the hair on your head, but not on your legs. A riot, really!
Sure, the biggest gift of all is the Remission Button you can see, but not touch or feel until the very end. It’s an extremely scrumptious looking carrot that dangles in your dreams for the entirety of your stay in Cancerlandia. The carrot that keeps you going when you’ve retreated to the dark and stormy place in your mind.
And just one more thing. It’s the hardest one to accept, but I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t come clean. There’s a phrase in that bag that is somewhat addictive. And while you have to listen to it, take it in, and let it digest properly, too much of one thing is never recommended.
I can’t. You’ll say that to yourself often. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.
But you CAN do so many things. So when the “cannot” starts shouting over the “can,” you better check yourself, honey. RSVP “no” to that pity party, mmkay? And you better remind yourself of all the wonderful things you can do. You can and should make every day a little different so that you establish an experience that isn’t weighed down by negativity and is actually an evolution of your body, mind, and soul. Okay, yes, it was forced on you, but you sure as hell can take it from here, thank you very much.
So try not to limit yourself. Scream when you need to, skip down the street when you feel like it. Just remember to come up for air periodically. It’s refreshing.