Month

July 2017

7 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting Chemo

Hands and feet in ice!

Chemo drunk is a feeling I can’t justly describe with words and adjectives.

I’ll take you back a bit: It’s December 21 and I’ve just finished my last chemo session at the hospital. I’m home, trying to have a conversation with my mom, but my eyes keep fixating on the velvet glow from a Yankee Candle. She says something funny and I laugh, a few seconds too late.

My mind is soupy and slow, like bisque that’s started to congeal. I hear words but my thoughts are lost in the emptiness of space. I meticulously toil over sentences, calculating each one through my head with the speed of an early edition fax machine. Something metallic catches my eye, the hardware on my mother’s purse, and now I’m hypnotized by how the silver reflects the flickering candle. It feels like my eyes are lost. They don’t know what to look toward, so they find light and drift to it drunkenly. My body is buzzing inside. I’m an old noisy refrigerator.

This feeling is nothing like alcohol intoxication. This is what it feels like to be dying. My cells, both good and bad, are being devoured as the poisonous cocktail of chemotherapy drugs flows through my veins. I’m being brought to the brink of death, just so I can rebuild. It’s war; destroy the enemy with brute force, but the victor suffers the casualties of battle as well.

You don’t want to be left wounded on the battlefield. Chemo is an experience we’re mostly unprepared to handle. My first few times were terrifying and I didn’t know what I was doing or what to expect. So, I’d like to share seven things I wish I had known about chemo before I started.

  1. You should drink so much water during chemo that you will feel like a water balloon. If you can’t drink water, try Gatorade, juice, or popsicles. I suggest you pack a lunch like you’re in third grade and your mom has just let you buy anything from the grocery store. Chemo is time-consuming and boring; knowing that you will have a few hours to sit around and eat whatever you want is something to look forward to.
  2. Ice your feet and toes! I’m shocked at how many hospitals don’t practice this method to prevent neuropathy. My infusion nurse would bring me two buckets of ice water and rubber gloves before chemo. I’d soak my hands/feet for one long, miserable hour during Taxotere (docetaxel) treatment. It’s not fun, but I never had any neuropathy or damage to my nails.
  3. You’re toxic. Your pee and saliva are toxic. The nurse will tell you that you need to flush the toilet at least twice and don’t share food or drinks with people.
  4. Chemo isn’t the only drug you’ll be getting. Steroids, antihistamines, anti-nausea and anti-anxiety drugs are just some of the usual pre-chemo meds. I took Emend (aprepitant), which is a three-day pack of pills that prevents nausea. I never threw up
  5. Dress warmly; hospitals are cold. Bring fuzzy socks or slippers for after your feet get an ice bath.
  6. If your hair falls out, it will start on the 14th day following chemo. And it kind of hurts. It felt like dull needles digging into my scalp. By the time I shaved my head, I just wanted it gone. I also was a little drunk (champagne), because I had a head-shaving party. … Which leads me to my last point. …
  7. You can still have a normal life. I had a party two weeks after my first chemo. I got drunk. I shaved my head. I cried. I sang Elton John songs with my friends until 3 a.m. I was alive. I was grateful. And I’m still alive because I never once let cancer or chemo stop me from living. You’re going to be fine. Drink the martini. Buy the fancy shoes. Keep on living your life, but with a tad more moxie.

My Love-Hate Relationship with Social Media

It’s 8:47 p.m. on a Monday. I flip open my personal laptop and the bright screen practically blinds my eyes in the evening light. Annoyed, I dim the screen’s light and go to Facebook. To be honest, I loathe Facebook, but I feel obligated to give it a brief scan to make sure I haven’t missed anything important like National Chicken & Waffles Day.

One headline jumps out at me. My heart starts beating steadily faster and I can’t decide if I’m going to cry or throw my laptop off the balcony. The post says that cancer isn’t real. Cancer is actually caused by a vitamin deficiency and is a government hoax. Vitamins. Well, Holy Shit Balls, I guess the answer has been under our noses all along?

The sins of social media are flourishing in an already credulous time. I’ve considered taking a break from it recently; it’s just all too much. I’ve seen people with GoFundMe links asking for money who will also post photos with their $4,000 handbag casually in the background. I’ve seen spineless comments made on Facebook that cancer is population control and we shouldn’t fight it. The lies, the negativity, the advertisements, the duck lips. And WE ALL DO IT, in some way or another. I don’t post an ugly picture of myself because I don’t want people to think I’m ugly. However, I DID look ugly in that photo. It’s social manipulation.

I try to project honesty through my social media, but I’m not always straightforward. I’m not as strong or healthy as I portray myself. I’m not as witty in person — I’m better at writing than I am at speaking. Social media is amazing, but lately, I find it leaving me emotionally exhausted. Why do I keep doing it?

I check my phone probably 80 times a day. I rapidly double-tap my screen on as many cancer survivor’s Instagram photos as I can. I make comments, responses, hearts. As I was clicking through my phone on Monday, I decided to check up on a young breast cancer friend whom I hadn’t seen post in a while. I searched for her name and looked at her Instagram. She died one month ago. My heart feels like broken glass scraping through my chest.

Those moments are the worst aspects of social media, but also the most honest, unadulterated ones. Because, I had never met her, but I felt so connected with her and some of these women that it doesn’t matter. We share an intangible bond that was manifested through the internet, with people we’ve never physically met. This is the pure, beautiful part of social media that keeps me encouraged. The relationships we build with other kindred souls is what gives meaning to life.

It doesn’t matter if your relationships are made through social media or real life. They don’t need to be defined by anything other than their value, because physical proximity is increasingly invalid in a globally connected world. Cultivate the ones you care about and spread virtue.

We tend to sit behind our glowing screens and become separate, and sometimes worse, versions of ourselves. As children, we’re taught to think before we speak. But today, we need to think before we post. To the people out there who spam me with unsubstantiated articles that cancer is fake, I invite you to come to Florida and tell me that cancer isn’t real to my face. I’ll take you on a field trip to the oncology wing of my hospital.

Social media is a blessing and a curse, but I’m challenging myself to live with less of it and with more integrity. Last weekend, I had so much fun going on adventures with my friends that I forgot to take any pictures! I encourage you to do the same this holiday weekend, because I’m going to wear a unicorn costume and light fireworks off the roof and not take a single picture. When it’s not on social media, you’ll never know if it really happened.

P.S. Put your phone down and go outside. Namaste.