Thursday, January 19, 2006
January 19, 2006 - Peaks and Valleys, Mostly Valleys
My first day after my first chemotherapy is a day of peaks and valleys. I sleep rather well until about 4:30 a.m., after which I can’t sleep any longer. I get up and go sit in front of the computer, intending to read through some e-mail. I quickly get distracted by some cancer-information websites – as Broyard says, something about this illness is intoxicating – where I rather obsessively look up more details about drug side-effects. Before I know it, Claire and the kids are stirring.
Claire helps me tape a plastic Baggie over the surgical incision, so I can take my first shower since the surgery (I was told to wait at least 24 hours, which have now passed, but I still want to keep the wound as dry as I can). It feels good to get clean again, and it feels even better to come downstairs and eat a bowl of oatmeal Claire prepared for me (usually I get my own breakfast, but if one of the few advantages of being sick is having people wait on you, I’ll take it).
Then, it’s upstairs to the bathroom again to take my morning cancer meds – the allopurinol and, for the first time, the prednisone. I’m supposed to take five of these daily for four days. I gulp them down, one by one, noting a slightly bitter taste – but then the bitterness seems to linger and intensify at the back of my throat. I’d been told these things were kind of nasty, and now I see why. The taste dissipates after a few minutes, though, and a little while later I feel good enough to walk across the street to the church in time for our weekly staff meeting.
The folks there are a little surprised to see me. They know what’s been going on, from reading my blog and talking to each other, but they also know we’re playing this thing one day at a time. We open with prayer, and go through our usual routine of comparing calendars and offering each other a chance to bring up matters of concern. I find I have to excuse myself a couple of times for quick trips to the rest room, as my body continues to try to flush the chemo meds out of my system. (Gosh, I think to myself, if I’m trying to lead worship on Sunday morning and I’m like this, I’ll never get through the one-hour service without a rest-room break, maybe even two!)
By the time we get to the time at the end when Robin and I typically spend some individual time together, I’ve got another problem. Suddenly, I’m feeling wiped out. It’s about 10:30 a.m., and I can hardly keep my eyes open. She and I handle our most essential business, before I excuse myself and go home to spend a couple of hours lolling on the couch in front of the TV. I’m not tired enough to sleep, but I’m not energetic enough to do much of anything. Not only that, I start to feel a bit queasy, so I take one of the compazine tablets (my backup anti-nausea medicine). The feeling passes, but I’m left with a nagging headache. Always a trade-off, it seems, when you’re taking medicines to offset the effects of other medicines.
If this is what my chemotherapy season is going to be like, It’s going to be a long four and a half months. So far the Aloxi (and now the compazine) seem to be doing their job of fending off the nausea, allowing me to achieve a sort of gray equilibrium. I don’t feel terribly sick, nor do I feel like I’m really living. And this is just the beginning. They say the second week after the chemo treatment is the worst.
Short bursts. Maybe that’s the only form of energy I’ll have. If I can’t predict when they’ll come or for how long, though, it’s going to be hard to lead anything resembling a normal life. That means others won’t be able to depend on me. I’ll show up when I can show up, and do what little I can. That’s not the way the super-responsible me is used to living.
Yesterday I was sitting in the chemotherapy lounge chair, fitfully reading a book I’d brought with me. It’s called Now That I Have Cancer, I Am Whole, by John Robert McFarland (Andrews and McMeel, 1993). A friend and colleague in ministry, Suzanne, sent it to me. The author is a friend of hers, a Methodist minister who’s a colon cancer survivor. Suzanne told me John intentionally made the readings short and pithy – just right for reading during chemotherapy, he told her. One of the meditations is called by the rather humdrum title, "...I do something each day." In it, the author muses – as I have been musing today – on how little he can do: "something every day," he says, is about the only goal he can manage. Here’s more:
"My ‘something’ each day is now more important than the masses of things I used to do. Whether I live long or short, in pain or without pain, I have one thing to do each day, regardless of how many ways that one thing may be expressed. Into each letter, each phone call, each washed dish, I put the full measure of all my love. I think by doing well, I’m helping myself get well, but that’s not the point. Soren Kierkegaard wrote that ‘purity of heart is to will one thing.’ Whether it’s a home run or a sacrifice bunt, my turn at bat is to do one thing, to love."
Maybe that’s the lesson cancer teaches.