Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sharks and King Kong

Getting ready for chemo was a chore.  I was tired, achy, moving slow, short of breath, and sure felt like a weak old lady.  I got out to the car winded, then realized I had forgotten the cards written the night before for Vonda and The Good Witch.

I headed back into the house, and up the stairs to my bedroom where I left the cards.  Three steps up I thought "whoa this is hard" and by the seventh step up I had to rest.  I think I was eight or nine months pregnant with either boy the last time I had to rest on the stairs.

I don't know if it was the cumulative buildup of the Taxol, the weeks of sleeplessness, the mental strain of these last months, but this last week leading up to this last chemo was really rough.  I was also getting off the Cymbalta, I'm sure that had some effect even though I had only been on the anti-depressant for two weeks for my neuropathy. I had so much fatigue and was very emotional most of the week.  I don't know how much of this was the weight of the five months and the glimmer of lightness on its way that hit hard this week.
 
I did make it up the stairs, grabbed the cards, and was on my way again.  I usually drop my car keys at the door and again at the car.  It's strange.  Generally my hands feel tight, the numbness is mostly in my feet and toes.  Even so, I drop things quite often.  It surprises me every time.  I have to be careful with knives and glasses in the kitchen, and grabbing jars out of the fridge.  Quite a few of these have ended up on the floor.

I walked into the chemo center, checked in with Lady Grace, and reminded her it was my last one.  She said "Let's party."

"I sure hope Vonda brought the Vodka" as Vonda appeared through the door behind Lady Grace.

"Huh, what, who said I brought Vodka into the office?" Vonda asked.

"For the party, I brought the olives and blue cheese, you have the vodka, right?"

Vonda still seemed a little confused.  I could tell they must be short handed today, and it was already starting at the start of her day.

It did not seem like this was really my last one.  It didn't feel that way the whole time I was there.  Only today, the next day, it is settling into my brain.  I have finished chemo.

No more chemo.  No more weekly labs.  No Ports.  No PICC.  I had forgotten the old rhythm of my week.  This one was so different.  Let me remember, what did my old week look like?

Sunday and Monday was our weekend.  Pancakes or waffles Sunday morning, maybe watching a movie, lots of relaxing.  Monday was always an errand day, grocery shopping, refilling cars with gas, laundry.  Tuesday I worked the lunch shift so was home for dinner that night.  Wednesday through Saturday night was the rest of my work week.  Wednesday and Thursday were always my favorite, just a nicer pace on the dining room floor.  Friday and Saturday nights were busier, more parties, more guests, more staff, more drama.

My chemo weeks were often a blur, only punctuated by getting blood drawn on Thursday, chemo on Friday mornings, at least two nights of insomnia, coming down on Sunday and resting all day.  In the early chemo days I would still be sick through the week and would feel a little better in time to start the process over again.

Then there were all the mechanical problems, two failed ports, a port wound that would not heal, getting the PICC in, initial problems with that arm.  The days and weeks and months just melted together and none of the months stick out, except maybe July because of seeing Batman perform at the Rose Bowl.  Other than having Robin home from school, and Batman gone on tour, it never felt like summer to me.  I don't have distinct memories of any particular days, only of events.  I've had to read back through my old posts to remember things.  It's strange, my memory of most of it is very fuzzy.  It could have been February, the dates meant nothing to me except that it was 2010.

I am aware now we are going into Fall.  I am waking up.  I need to get out the Fall decorations and Halloween things too.  Strange, my first year not home for Halloween.

I don't know what these in between weeks will look like, only a few of them before my tentative surgery at the end of October.  I hope I can work some.  This will be my last weekend of insomnia, although I've been doing it twelve weeks now.  Who knows, will I get to next weekend and not be able to sleep?  Maybe it will be a good time to finally see all the Twilight movies.

Slowly I am beginning to feel the freedom.  I am only reminded my PICC is gone when I look at my arm and realize "Oh, it's out."  Right now both arms are fairly banged up.  The left has little red dots all around the inner arm from pokes.  The right arm has several areas that are still healing from where the PICC went in and sores where the line burrowed into my arm.  The skin under the Tegaderm patches is still peeling and chafing.  I have tried to put my thumb ring back on my poor left thumb but it is still swollen from the ordeal a week ago.  I noticed a distinctive redness under my right foot toenails today.  I will show this to The Good Witch at my appointment next Friday.  Hey.  I will be there next Friday.

Where was I, oh yes, Vonda greeted me and we walked down the hall towards my usual weigh-in, blood pressure, and temperature.  The Good Witch was coming towards us from the opposite end of the hall.  Vonda was ahead of me, I was hidden behind her, dragging my bootay.

"Hey, how are you doing?"

Vonda said "Good."

The Good Witch laughed.  'Yes you too, but how bout that Lady behind you?"

Many of you are too young to remember Walter Brennan, an old time actor I remember mostly from a show called "The Real McCoy's."  I am really dating myself here folks.  You with me?  Walter had a trademark walk.  I always think of him as I scuffle around with neuropathy.

from WikiAnswers:
A friend of his in the motion picture business - Jack Foley - suggested as a prop for Walter Brennan to put a rock in his shoe to simulate a limp. It went over so well that it became a trademark of sorts.


I was doing my Walter Brennan hitch down the hall.  I am sorry I was not doing cartwheels and hooting.  I was moving slow, five months of chemo slow.  There is just no way I could have done even one more week of this.  Not even one more week.

The Good Witch came up to chat, which she usually doesn't do on the days I am not scheduled to see her.  She is usually flying through those halls and will give a quick wave or smile.  Today she purposely greeted me.  Both she and Vonda flanked me, it was great, I pulled the cards out of my purse and handed each theirs.  They smiled.

I had given Vonda a card about friendship "Hold a true friend with both your hands."  I told her how I never could have or wanted to go through this without her.  Had our Mama's conspired in heaven to put us together?  I told her when I am into my new normal, everyone better watch out, because the two of us could get into some serious trouble.  and we will.

Vonda, thank you, again and again, for your constant, funny, presence and smackin volley as a reply for my banter.  We had our own routine, didn't we Girl?  We'd do it every single time, soon as we saw each other.  Me getting on the scale and taking off everything I possibly could.  You taking my blood pressure 3 times, I say ouch, you say you going to be a baby today, then when I start talkin, you shove the thermometer in my mouth.

Loved those bangin eyebrows you got done baby, wow, did they look good or what?  Ladies, go get your eyebrows professionally done.  Really.  What a huge difference on a face.  You look good Vonda.

Where was I before I got into eyebrow envy, oh yes, Vonda, like I said in the card, I will spend the rest of my life showing you and giving back what you did for me.  You thought you were getting rid of me, didn't you?  Nope.  Not going anywhere.  Love love love.

The card for the Good Witch was a haunting photo of a lake all fogged in, with a little canoe floating next to a small pier with an empty Adirondack chair on the pier.  I told her this reminded me of us, I am the little canoe, on a journey.  She is always there waiting on the dock for my return, and pushes me out again.  I told her that aside from all the obvious things to thank her for, she is my quarterback, a comfort, a good laugh, a reassuring presence.

Well, reassuring until that last morning of chemo.  This is where the sharks and King Kong come in.  She asked me not to put it in the blog, laughing.  I not only put it in, see it up there, it's the title.  Sorry Doc, a writer's got to do what a writer's got to do when good material presents itself.

"You've been on my mind this week" she says.  "I even had a dream about you, like you were in some kind of trouble, like in a movie, you know, something like a shark attack, or maybe it was King Kong after you, I don't remember, I just remember you were in battle..."  She drifted off, trying to recall the dream.

After we picked our jaws off the counter, I don't know who laughed harder, Vonda or me, we both about fell on the floor.

It took a minute for the Good Witch to catch on but when she did she laughed too.

"Let me get this straight, when your oncologist is dreaming about you getting attacked by sharks or beating off King Kong like Fay Ray, I think that's a pretty good sign you are in a shitload of trouble" I said laughing, that gut laugh that is a little hysterical.

We all laughed, it was just really funny and strange and The Good Witch was at a loss to explain it, and that's when she said "Don't put this in the blog!"

This is how I have decided to interpret the dreams of The Good Witch.  I was battling demons the last week of chemo, it was a hell of a struggle for me.  I think she is just in tune with her patients, and she was right, sharks and King Kong were good metaphors for what I was battling.

I don't know, Mft, will you chime in, you are part of a dream group.  For all I know there is some sexual meaning behind shark attacks and King Kong, or these just generally may be a bad omen, delivered by the one person who is supposed to be my shaman against evil.

Somebody help me out there?  I should have asked her what she had for dinner that night?  Did I have hair in the dream or was I bald?  Old boobs or new boobs?

Sorry Doc.  It was just too strange and compelling.  Please folks, send in your interpretations.

Fusion Room number Two.  Ah.  My Friday morning home.  I will miss eating my snack in a pea soup green vinyl Lazy Boy chair with little side trays.  One for snacks, the other for resting the chemo arm.

I will miss seeing The Good Witch flying through the halls in spike heels and pearls.  I will miss Kitty wheeling in her little cart of pain and life.  I will miss Vonda flashing me, hugging me, chatting me up, loving me and whipping my ass into shape.  Oh and Vonda, thanks for reaching the TV remote for me.  Who is tall enough to put it up on the TV that hangs high up on the wall, and why would you put it there for a person who is short tethered to the chair?

I will miss the taste of chemo, I will miss the blood return, I will miss the grogginess coming over me in minutes, like a warm blanket suffocating my head and closing my eyes without my permission.  I will miss watching the drip drip drip of overkill to save my life.  I will miss the cold sips of ice water out of a paper cup.  I will miss peeing hooked up to a rolling IV,  in the intermission between pre-meds and the hookup of da good shit.  I will miss the strange colors and odors of my pee during and in the days after chemo.  I will miss the stool softeners, the Ativan, the Vicodin.  I will miss the seven days of shots for four weeks following each round of AC.  I will miss the exorcist Port, and the PICC snake slack making its home in the tender skin of my arm.  I will miss the constipation.  I will miss the nausea and the vertigo, the fog and the fuzzy logic.  I will miss the aversion to red kool-aid liquids, reminding me of AC.

And let's not forget the hair, falling strands turning into clumps turning into skeins turning into dead dreadlocks turning into a sore and tender scalp turning into bald as Kojak.

Ah.  Memories, light the corners of my mind, misty pea soup vinyl memories, of the way chemo was.

Thank you chemo for saving my life.  Thank you for returning Flopsy to her old soft sexy self.  Thank you for doing your job killing all things bad and many things good in my body.  Thank you chemo.  Thank you.

I am delirious again.  Where was I?  Kitty was still out for the birth of her daughter, so another of the nurses, who reminded me of a young and beautiful Jill Clayburgh, was pinch hitting for her.  "Jill" didn't work on Fridays, so we didn't have much interaction, except for weekends when I needed a neupogen shot to restore my bone marrow while on AC.  Jill was usually the weekend person giving the shots.

"Well, I heard all about last week for you.  Did I read that right, chemo in your thumb?"  She gave a look like what the hell, you telling me that's all they could find?

"I am hoping things are going to go well for both of us today, how's that sound?"  Sounds good.  Real good Jill.

That's just how it was.  She searched the right arm and found a good vein very close to where my PICC line had gone in.  The inner bicep.

"Here we go."

I never want to hear that again.

She poked and hooked up the line.  We waited for the blood return.

"And there it is, great blood return, we are in!"

That was that.  Jill hung the bags with premeds and was on her way.  There was no drama, no hoopla, it seemed very quiet and strange with both Kitty and Mariah out of the office.  Vonda didn't come to visit much either, really busy handling many jobs.  When the timer went off, Jill came in, switched the bag to my last bag of Taxol, and that was it.  I was done in a little over an hour.  It was the easiest quickest most boring chemo round I had in five months.

That reminds me.  Guess how much each round of chemo costs?  Four Grand baby, most of that the chemo drugs.  A huge part of that the drugs.  Cancer is big big business for drug companies.  No conspiracy theories here on why we still don't have a cure, I'm just saying, big big business.  I did my part.

I left there that day like I didn't know what had hit me, or hadn't hit me.  It was so uneventful, well, except for the sharks and King Kong.  I think it probably would have been a much more emotional day if Kitty had been there.  It was strange to go through this passage without her.

Kitty.  I will miss your face, your reminders about God's love and plans and faithfulness to me.  I will not miss those awful sticks in my awful port, but I will miss your concern and tenderness knowing you were the messenger of pain.  I will miss our little talks about life and husbands and children and keeping the faith in hard times and good times.  I will miss your touch.  I will miss the hugs goodbye and the wishes for a good week.  I will miss you "poor baby"ing me as I'd come in each week with some new chemo challenge.  No one knows better than you just what I went through each and every week.  Thank you for taking care of me, and your constant whispering in my ear about how God and many angels have always been with me, every step, every fumble.

I walked out of there free but felt numb.  No feeling.  Surreal.
Robin had a "Picnic on the Green" at school, which is where parents come and eat lunch with their kids.  I was able to go, Batman dropped me off then picked me up when I was done.  I napped a bit that afternoon.  It was a very uneventful day, except for the greatest challenge of my life, so far, was over.

As usual, I did not sleep until 5 am, woke up around 8ish, been up all day today. Engine running. Check.

I will celebrate, my brain isn't there yet.  I am happy, it just hasn't hit me I am really done.

It's over.  I still can't believe it.  It's over.  I did it.

Now I would like to settle into some quiet uneventful peace and restoration leading up to my surgery.  I plan on returning to swimming and walking next week.  I have also started taking a multi B vitamin, magnesium and Sam-e for the neuropathy.  I will let you know how that goes.  When I am all pumped up on chemo crack, the neuropathy is masked.  By Monday and through the week, I will know what is left and if the new supplements help.

It went out quietly.  I hope it is a sign of things to come.

and yes, I will stay out of the water and out of the jungle, just in case The Good Witch is also a fortune teller.

It is for us to pray not for tasks equal to our powers, but for powers equal to our tasks, to go forward with a great desire forever beating at the door of our hearts as we travel toward our distant goal.



- Helen Keller

2 comments:

masonmft said...

"Dreams come to us in the service of health and wholeness." You were just in the Good Witch's dream so we would have to ask the Good Witch the questions. Sorry love...you have to have your own dream where you kick King Kong's butt and battle the sharks. ps to the Good Witch. If I had to battle King Kong and Sharks I would want Debbie by my side. XOXO

Anonymous said...

It's the Good Witch here. This is my first-ever comment on a blog. In fact, this is the first blog I have ever read. I have always had very vivid and imaginative dreams. But as you know from your own dream experiences, sometimes you wake up and you don't remember all those vivid and imaginative DETAILS. Anyway, one night I dreamed about you, and you were working terribly hard against something. The exact detail of what you were up against in the dream escapes me, (but we both understand the real "something"). So, when I saw you in the office, I spontaneously and erroneously assumed you remembered the dream, too. I'm sure I dreamed of you because you have been on my mind, consciously and unconsciously (apparently). Perhaps I should have kept my dream to myself...
Debbie, I very much appreciate your ability to share with me your thoughts, and I am very privileged to be with you on this journey.

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