A friend of mine once asked me, “So after you went through chemo the first time, how the heck did you get yourself to go back again?” Honestly, I don’t truly know. There are so many emotions going on simultaneously throughout the entire process. It’s like a neuro- physiological all-systems-go where your mind and body are working together to try every tool at their disposal to get you through each part. When one system faded in effectiveness, another would kick in and take over.
There was the “stoic” approach: this is the treatment, this is what it entails, this is what I must endure, this is the path I have chosen. A kind of zen stoicism where my brain tried vigorously to ignore the emotional white elephant in the room.
There was the “rational” approach: it’s only six treatments, once every three weeks; one down, five to go; then two down, four to go; and so on. Connected to that was the “pragmatic” mentality: create lots of intellectual activity to fill up my brain and distract myself from the physical circumstance. The treatment dates are Jan 25, Feb 16, Mar 9, Mar 30, April 21, May 11, and so on; labs are two days before each treatment; gotta go here for this test x number of days prior to the other exam, gotta drink this not eat that x number of hours before that test, go there for that one, treatment is at that facility; ultrasound after two treatments, CT scan after four treatments; and so on.
Within this, there is my “academic” mindset too: study, learn, absorb the material at hand (in this case test results), and then pass the tests. Get copies of all test results for files; do comparative review of current labs with previous labs, discuss results with nurse prior to each treatment. I actually felt like a student in a way, nervous prior to the exam, putting on the air of confidence and a “ready-as-I’ll-ever-be” ease during the exam itself, immediately (and I mean immediately) followed by the post-exam jitters while waiting for the results. That would give me something to focus on as I rode the elevator heading in for the next treatment: I wonder how my CBC looks today? What’s my CA125 level this week?
More generic intellectual brain stuffers: first of all, find a vein in one of my hands to get plugged in to the IV, and start the one-hour portion of chemo with 4 different bags of pre-meds for allergy prevention, anti-nausea, and pain relief. Learn to memorize the names of each drug, its function, approximately how long each one takes to go from full to emptied-out-into-my-friggin’-bloodstream, and so on. Then the “real” chemo starts: one bag of Taxol for 30-45 minutes, then a couple of Carboplatin bags for 2-3 hours; eat lunch somewhere in there; go in and out of varied stages of consciousness (or lack thereof), and then home – a surreal trip like driving on a long stretch of road that seems to have no beginning and no end in sight.
Added to that were the “road trip” logistics: prepare and pack food for lunch and snacking; bring extra pillow and blankets for warmth and comfort in freezing cold hospital room; bring support/encouragement cards, notes, photos from friends and family to have near me; pack the travel backgammon and the playing cards; don’t forget the mini-stereo and 2 or 3 favorite CDs; bring the cuddly toys to hold; various loved ones are there, rotating turns of being in the room with me; are we there yet, Papa Smurf? The funny thing is, after all this prep work, the IV Benadryl they gave me basically knocked me out completely. All of the amenities I packed really ended up being for the benefit of my accompanists who had to be there for 8 hours while I groggily sat through my treatment.
On the other side of the spectrum, there was the “jock” attitude: I’m tough, I can take it, I’ve been through lots of pain in my life (of course, none could compare to this, but that wasn’t the point of the exercise). This aspect tapped into my competitive side where the chemo and all the pain were part of a game that I could play in my mind. After the first treatment I thought I knew what I was in for, so I could prepare myself, get psyched up for the next round, like a boxing match. In the end, this technique wasn’t very effective for pain-relief. The feelings were the same every time, but with each passing round, the pain was deeper, darker, chipping away at my stamina bit by bit. But I did go into each round thinkin’, “Okay. This is the one. You’re gonna take ‘em down in this round.” Kinda like the Hit-Me-Harder-Hit-Me-Harder part in the movie Rocky. I’m not going down without a fight, and I’m gonna win in the end. Yo Adrian!!
As you can see, there are an infinite array of choices and possibilities that one can create to get from moment to moment of this incredible journey. These are my faves (and the main ones I can actually remember clearly). It’s not difficult to imagine that throughout the process I was not completely “available” to those around me whether it be emotionally, psychologically, or even conversationally. There was a constant churning of the brain, the cogs were at their highest capacity of rotation at all times as my body shifted and changed with the different types of pain and discomfort that ebbed and flowed hour to hour, minute to minute, second to second. Oh, what a ride. But wait there’s more . . .