I’m sitting here in DC watching snow fall over the trees and, with apologies to those who may or may not hate winter (you know who you are), it’s beautiful. What’s not so great is the fact that our power went out on Wednesday and as of 4pm today it’s still not back on. This is especially problematic when you have electric heat and a high of 19.
I spent most of Wednesday night in the dark, staring out the window at cars sliding all over the street as they tried to make like the Little Engine that Could up the hill on Tuckerman Lane. I saw a Toyota Camry make it after a few tries. Ironically, a giant Ford pick-up truck did not fare so well. The mood was generalized, every-woman-for-herself chaos. The street lights were all out and drivers that weren’t abandoning their cars, were driving down the wrong side of the street trying to maneuver around an extra long Metro bus that sat stranded, smack in front of our house. The only thing missing was the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, charging up the street with banners flying to rape and plunder, or maybe direct traffic. I heard later that drivers were stranded for something like 13 hours on the GW Parkway and over 100 cars were simply abandoned.
I hate to say it, but I took some solace in all of this.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I don’t *really* want anyone to suffer -- or god forbid freeze to death in their Audi -- but all of this chaos makes me feel less…alone. My life for the past year has increasingly felt like the aftermath of a natural disaster with all of the broken infrastructure, flattened neighborhoods and disrupted routine. (Although if you can attribute the lymphoma to the 8-diet–coke-a-day habit I consistently fed in college, then I guess it’s not so “natural”…but I digress.)
Monday marked chemo treatment number 10. 5/6 of the way there. 83% done. The initial flurry of activity around the diagnosis has died down. Cancer is no longer this shocking and novel thing. It’s just life, except that in the wake of my little personal earthquake, the landscape looks different. Over here I’ve learned that grapefruit juice (temporarily) gets the funky taste out of my mouth, that I’m good for about four hours until I become like an over-tired three year old that skipped naptime, and that even after I’ve turned down the 12th happy hour invitation in a row, my friends (god love them) still keep inviting me.
I have good days – like most of last week when I was in New York watching footage and writing scripts and feeling like Stella with her groove back. Then there are the other days. On those days it’s hard to remember that this is all temporary, that in six months I’ll be off shooting an interview or sipping a mimosa at brunch or lying on a beach somewhere, rocking a pixie cut and something resembling a normal energy level. On those days it feels like I might be cranky and lethargic and bald forever. On those days, I can kinda relate to the guy that I wrote about back in October, the one who held his arm like a wounded paw and yelled at the nurse that he didn’t want the shot. I hope that guy is somewhere having a frozen margarita right now.
That’s all to say I like the snowstorm because it kind of levels the playing field. For one day at least, we’re all in the same boat – just reacting, scrambling, invoking Plan B (or E, or F). It’s also a good reminder that feeling sorry for myself is a fruitless exercise. Shit happens. Life ebbs and flows. Sometimes, when you’re focused on getting home and popping open a bottle of wine and flipping on the TV to watch “American Idol”, the tires start sliding on your pick-up and you can’t make it up the hill and all of a sudden you’re walking home in a blizzard. I’m guessing it’s not as sucky as chemo, but still, it doesn’t sound fun.
In fact, at the moment I sat watching all of this unfold out the window, I was feeling very grateful that I wasn’t that guy (even with the ever present Drain-o taste in my mouth). And if I’ve learned one thing this year, it’s that finding gratitude can carry you through a lot. Gratitude and snow angels. If you feel bad about life while you’re making a snow angel, you’re doing it wrong.
So thank god for snow, and for that guy at the post office (and the rest of the “everyday angels” I’ve met on this journey) and for grapefruit juice and for slowly getting my mojo back. It’s gonna be a process, but then that’s what that Toyota Camry was thinking about halfway up Tuckerman Lane -- and she made it.
Monday marked treatment number nine of twelve. That’s 3/4 of the way done, for those of you scoring at home. The most exciting development is that my doctor agreed to stop giving me any more Bleomycin. “Bleo” as the nurses call it, is the “B” in the ABVD and causes all kinds of lovely side effects, not the least of which is possible lung toxicity. I’ve been having more and more trouble with breathing lately (getting winded walking up stairs, etc…) As it that weren’t enough fun for now, my fingers alternate between being numb and unbearably itchy and I’ve developed all these little hive-like bumps all over my hands. They’re like mosquito bites, if the mosquitoes were on steroids and shooting meth. All of this seems to be courtesy of Bleo, so even more reason to celebrate its departure from my life (“thank you for everything you’ve done for me – now scram!!”)
It’s also another testament to the beauty of the second opinion. Dr. Matasar at Sloane Kettering was the one who mentioned studies that show that stopping Bleo after the 8th treatment has no real effect on overall cure/recurrance rates, and that by treatment number 8 you’ve gotten as much “bang for the buck” as you’re gonna get from the Bleo.
My doctor here in DC hadn’t yet heard of these studies and has never had a case before where he stopped the Bleo early, but was willing to defer to my request, based on Dr. Matasar’s opinion and a lung function test I had last week which showed “decreased diffusing capacity” (fancy doctor speak for “I can’t exhale as fully as before”). Score one more for being your own best advocate! Viva la revolucion! Yes We Can! Stick it to – oh, sorry, got carried away there.
Three more treatments to go and I would like to say that I can see the light of the end of the tunnel, but in keeping with the marathon metaphor, I feel like I’m hitting the wall. Like my legs are moving but I’m not really sure where I’m going. I feel feverish and nauseous, my thoughts are often fuzzy and jumbled and I generally feel like crap most of the time. I have lost track of when I’m hungry because I mostly just eat to try and get the horrible, rusty nail taste out of my mouth. I feel tired, two-dimensional and just not like myself. I have heard, more than once, that I will come out on the other side of this ordeal a different person, and for once, I’m afraid of what that means.
Maybe I feel more fragile because this weekend was the one-year anniversary of my mom’s death. Maybe it’s all that intense sadness coming out of Arizona and what that means for the country. Maybe it’s just that being poisoned every other week for five months eventually takes its toll on a girl.
But still, I am lucky. I know this and I keep repeating it like a mantra (or perhaps like a crazy person.) Lucky I have not vomited more. Lucky that I don’t have to have radiation. Lucky to have such a treatable form of cancer. Lucky that I’m not going to die.
But I also know if I wasn’t afraid somewhere in all of this, I wouldn’t be human. In fact I just read about these women who were preparing to do a fire walk across hot coals as part of some sort of leadership training ritual. All of the women were talking about how they were scared that they would get hurt, or chicken out halfway through, all except one. She was quiet and confident and didn’t talk about how scared she was...and she was the only who got 3rd degree burns on her feet. So there you go.
Despite the fear and anxiety, I keep reminding myself that this is curing me and that in a couple of months this will all be behind me. But I still wasn’t totally convinced. And then yesterday I got another one of those little signs from the universe that I love so much.
I was in the elevator at my doctor’s office, fresh off of another Neupogen shot. I was trying hard not to throw up, anxious to get back home and into my pajamas, and as much as I hate to admit this, feeling very sorry for myself. Then the doors opened on the 7th floor, and there she was: this feisty little woman in her 80’s who looked like Lena Horne, if Lena Horne was 4’11. She was wearing a red leather bomber jacket and her hair was all cute and fly, make-up was flawless -- she looked like sunshine with feet and I swear she practically radiated angelic light. As we descended toward the lobby, she started singing softly, using her cane to steady herself as she bopped along with the music. It was so contagious that everyone on the elevator smiled and a few others started bopping too. Then she got off on G2 and sashayed out the door.
The whole thing lasted about 20 seconds, but it was just what I needed. So thank you Lena Horne for reminding me that it’s really not that bad, that life is what you make it, and that it doesn’t matter what is on the other side of this, because if you can still face the world with a smile and a song, that’s half the battle.