One of the fun things about chemotherapy is the surprise side effects that pop up, differing from one round to the next. For the most part, after you’ve had a few rounds, you know what to expect in broad terms. Some issues get cumulatively more pronounced, others perhaps seem less so. But the element of surprise is always there with something.
When I switched from the three drug infusion that was designed to beat the cancer cells with a sledge hammer, to a single drug infusion that is basically intended to keep tapping at those cells in a more gentle fashion, I noticed a huge difference in how I felt during the critical week that followed. After six rounds of the hard stuff, it had been really getting to me. My body, as healthy as it otherwise is, was feeling a bit worse for wear. I was exhausted. I felt like I had a brain cloud. Then suddenly, after the maintenance infusion cycles began, it was like a weight had been lifted. It wasn’t necessary for me to take my anti-nausea meds anymore. I could think (relatively) more clearly.
There were still side effects, though. The chemo still made me tired, still had smaller versions of the same things that had been bothering me before. Now my feet were puffy, then it would be something else. Another cycle or so in and some of the issues I had been so happy to avoid seemed to come back again, perhaps in a lighter dose, and I spent a couple weeks with some truly odd gastrointestinal issues before going in for another in my string of exciting CT scans. Although I haven’t gotten around to looking at the last scan yet, I have it on good authority that it continues to show a decline in tumor size and indicates continued decreases in other areas as well as such things can be estimated from a CT scan. That good news aside, I was especially thrilled by the side effects of my most recent infusion: virtually nothing. That is to say, I still have a lot of the same side effects; I’m easily exhausted and frequently sleepy, my feet are still a little puffy, I’ll have a few days where my skin is extra sensitive and cold food bothers my teeth, all of which is a big chunk of blah, blah, blah. The new twist is that I developed a case of good, old-fashioned, teenage acne on my face and arms. I’ve been dealing with acne, mostly on my back, since the chemo started, but now it is in visible place for some reason.
Odd that the thing bothering me most about my chemo this round is that I have some tiny pimples.
I had just been thinking about this very thing, in fact, when I walked outside and began talking with one of my neighbors. We hadn’t chatted in a while and he wanted to know how I was doing, so I was basically invited to talk about how great I felt and how much energy I had compared to the previous month (and so much more than a year ago when I started dealing with the various maladies that would then lead, eventually, to my diagnosis). At which point he told me about two other people close to him who have been facing their own cancer issues. One of them, diagnosed with very highly progressed colon cancer, had gone into a quick decline and died just a few days before. The other, with liver cancer, had won a hard-fought battle with his insurance provider and gotten some very expensive pills that appear to have dramatically improved his quality of life and may have helped to heal his liver to some degree. While it is still too early to know the full effects of his medication, that individual has just experienced about the closest thing to an actual miracle that he can probably imagine.
So my neighbor and I get into a serious discussion on the manner we live our lives, what is important, how we can learn to live in the moment and let go of negativity rooted in the past. I told him about how now in many ways I am a much happier person as compared to how I felt a year ago. We talked a bit about the evils of private insurance versus existing models of universal healthcare and how our society allows companies to put a price on the value of a patient’s life. And we told some jokes.
Here I am, then; I’m a fortunate person. Even though I’d like a lot of things to be different, I appreciate everything I have in my life. My complaints are barely worth acknowledging most of the time. It isn’t that I don’t have valid complaints, and it isn’t that I don’t enjoy venting them, but I simply don’t see much purpose in doing it most of the time. Life is too good, too worthwhile, too precious to dilute it with petty nonsense. My neighbor had a good, solidly funny comment about that, too, which I wish I could remember. Damn brain cloud.