At Mass this past weekend, the first reading from the Book of Job contained a bitter passage that reads a little bit like a description of the cancer treatment experience:
So I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me. If in bed I say, “When shall I arise?” then the night drags on; I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.
OK, so that’s a little dramatic. But what is chemo if not being “assigned months of misery?” And my nights last week did drag on and were sometimes filled with restlessness. Still, I’m no Job.
I worked from home last week mainly because I was exhausted a lot of the time and the idea of doing work from the comfort of a mattress in my living room rather than in a cube that is a Metra ride away proved too appealing. So many necessary naps. I was hoping to at least return to the office last Friday, but the chemo alien tearing it up inside of me had other ideas.
Beyond the tiredness, my only other symptom had been an almost ever present feeling of creeping nausea. It wasn’t actual nausea, more just a warning that nausea was always an option my stomach was contemplating. I thankfully didn’t actually get nauseous, but on Wednesday night, my upper abdomen started hurting in a way that made that night “filled with restlessness until the dawn.” It was not pleasant and not a feeling I had ever had before.
On Thursday I saw my oncologist for our “How is one week of chemo treating you?” appointment. I reported my symptoms and he told me it was acid reflux–a side effect of chemo that neither Dr. Mirsa nor Dr. Google had previously made me aware of. All my troubles could be solved by Nexium, he said, so he ordered the prescription. Through a series of unfortunate events, the prescription went to the wrong Walgreens and we failed to get the prior authorization required by the insurance company, so I had to wait another restless night and morning to actually get the little purple pill. Once I did, however, I was restored to humanity and it was glorious.
I haven’t blogged as regularly the past week or so because I have been able to live a mostly normal life! No news is good news. It’s been almost two weeks since my first chemo treatment and, aside from those mentioned above, I’ve been incredibly lucky in terms of side effects thus far. Food still tastes delicious, and last week’s doctor appointment showed that my blood counts are all still in relatively normal ranges, so I’m not yet overly susceptible to everyone’s illnesses.
I still have all of my hair and decided to start growing a beard, mainly because I didn’t bother shaving while working from home. (Incidentally, before all this cancer stuff started, the most popular post on this blog was my “missing manual for growing a beard” post. Thanks to Google search terms, it still gets about 10 visitors per day. Go figure.)
I think I assumed that the effects of chemo would be swifter in their take down of my enjoyment of life. This week I’ve gone into the office twice without any real issues beyond getting tired easily and trying to avoid sick people. It’s strange how easily I can forget that Lumpy is a part of my life when I’m watching my little brother steal the show in his high school musical this past weekend or going out to dinner and a movie with my wife. (Last week we saw the unexpectedly hilarious “Paddington” and this week we got to see “Casablanca” on the big screen at a nearby old theater.) For a couple hours I can trick myself into just being Matt again. Then I’ll have a fleeting thought of “Why does my stomach feel weird?” or “Why do I have a headache?” or “Oh, dang, my port is still a little sore.” And I’ll remember that life is a little bit more complicated right now. No matter how normal my activities or surroundings, this is a permanent part of my life at the moment and I just never feel truly “normal.” It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been there.
I know it’s going to get worse before it gets better and, in some ways, I welcome that. I don’t want to feel lousy, but I want the treatment to be effective. Lumpy is already visibly smaller in my neck and I want him gone for good. I’m curious what tomorrow’s chemo will bring. I go into round two a little bit more hobbled than I was the first time around. Will I finally lose my hair next week? Will I still be able to go into work? Will I feel even more like Job did? It’s so strange to be going through something that is entirely dependent on my individual body’s response such that there is no brochure to tell me what to expect. I just have to do it and wait and see. While I’m waiting, I found a great way to kill 30 seconds that I hope you will consider. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago set up a website where you can take a moment to send a valentine to a sick child who is hospitalized. For almost the past month, I have received a card or gift or message every single day from someone who cares about me and it has been an extraordinary source of strength for me. I can’t imagine having to go through this when I was a child, much less what these kids are enduring with diseases far worse than mine. Please take a minute to send them a message. You have no idea what a difference it could make.