Armor On!

I spent today putting on my armor for the next battle in my war against cancer, for tomorrow is Round 2 of Chemo.

The physical preparation was pretty minimal and included just drinking lots of water throughout the day. The nurse told me last time to drink at least 64 ounces of water a day because there is metal in the chemo cocktail and I want to make sure to flush that metal out of my kidneys; the last thing we want is kidney failure. Yep, definitely don’t want that. So I thought I should beef up my water intake in advance, just to get my body used to peeing every hour for the next four days.

To mentally prepare, I’ve gone over the sequences of events tomorrow many times:

  • At 10:45 I will appear at the NYU Cancer Center, 5th floor, to have blood drawn from my port. The port is a plastic quarter-sized disc that has been inserted just below my right collar bone to facilitate the infusion of chemo. Chemo would destroy one’s veins if infused through a regular IV (I can’t even imagine how painful that would be — potassium and magnesium infusions in the hospital just about did me in). The port has a catheter that goes directly into a major vein (artery?) with immediate access to my heart. I was pleasantly surprised to discover last time that blood can be drawn through the port, which doesn’t hurt at all, and so there’s no need to get stuck in the arm.
  • While my blood is being tested for various important things like white and red blood count and platelets (all of which chemo can wreak havoc on), I will meet with the nurse practitioner and, if we’re lucky, Dr. A.C. himself on the 8th floor to discuss I-don’t-know-what this time around.
  • I will then head back to the 5th floor to begin infusion of anti-nausea medicine and steroids, while we wait for the pharmacy to mix my chemo cocktail. I’d assumed that chemo drugs are prepackaged, just like any other drug, but apparently not. Last minute changes to the cocktail may be made by the doctor based on the blood test results, weight loss, etc.
  • As I recline in a sort-of-private room with no door, oxaliplatin and Leucovorin will then be infused into me for two hours. When that is complete, the nurse will hook me up to this, fluorouracil (or more familiarly known as 5-FU), and send me home, where I will remove the 5-FU myself 48 hours later.

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The first time oxaliplatin and leucovorin flowed into my body, I wept like a baby. I cried because I could not believe, I, an otherwise healthy 37-year-old woman, was sitting in a cancer center receiving chemo for advanced colon cancer. Nothing makes it hit home all over again like being infused with super powerful drugs that require special thick gloves when one handles the stuff and reminders from the nurse to flush twice after peeing at home to ensure that my children don’t get exposed to the stuff. But mostly I cried out of desperation because I wanted and do want with every fiber of my being for the chemo to do its job.

Whether I live or die now depends on the chemo and because of this, I found myself preparing some words for the chemo tomorrow. I don’t mind crying, but I must have a clear, focused message to convey to the chemo this time and every time going forward. To it, I will say:

By virtue of your incredible potential to save my life, I reject all notions of you as a poison or toxin in my body. You are not my enemy. Our common enemy is the cancer in my body. You are my most powerful weapon in this war. I will will my body, mind and spirit to accept and embrace whatever collateral damage on my body you cause so long as you do your job. Collateral damage is the price of war and I am willing to pay that price so long as victory is ultimately mine.

In preparation for that collateral damage — the nausea, fatigue and who-knows-what-else this time around — I bring to mind the image of a willowy reed growing along the bank of a river, bending every which way as the wind dictates, through breezy sunny days and thunderous storms, and yet through it all the reed lives, resilient in its acceptance of forces beyond its control.

And yet I know that victory cannot be achieved through that kind of strength born of acceptance alone. It must be coupled with a powerful strength that is born of the desire to fight and win. I felt that powerful strength today in a primal way. In the dimness of a cycling studio, with the music blaring overhead, I rode my stationery bike as if I were riding into battle. With sweat pouring down my face, I felt the power and strength within me as my legs and core worked to climb the imaginary mountain. I squeezed the handle bars with enough force to strangle at least a billion cancer cells. And I screamed unbidden like an enraged bull again and again my battle cry, “GODDAMN YOU!!! DIE!!!! FUCKING DIE!!!!!”

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. iwonderandiwanderKris
    Aug 26, 2013 @ 12:22:04

    Go, Julie! I love your pep talk to the chemo and the way you were able to yell at the cancer. There’s a lot you can’t control about cancer and its treatment, but you are empowering yourself by choosing your perspective and arming yourself however you can to help win this battle.

    Reply

  2. Christia
    Aug 26, 2013 @ 13:39:26

    Sending you love and healing wishes.

    Reply

  3. Valerie
    Aug 26, 2013 @ 22:58:05

    Julie, I’ve always known you were tough, but this blog reveals a kind of strength (especially in your willingness to share vulnerability) that I envy. I relate to your mom, but I am glad that you are not like us. Reading your blog makes me feel like I am with you in the fight, even though I am thousands of miles away. Chemo sounds horrific. I know there are times when you feel fear and doubt, but I am glad that you are able to face those fears openly and honestly. I know your “unconquerable soul” will prevail. Hope you are able to eat this week!

    Reply

  4. Jackie
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 11:52:47

    Hi Julie, we’re unfortunately in the same boat. I just finished my 3rd round of Folfox6 and found it harder than the first two. Feel weaker and have to go to the bathroom a lot more often for both reasons. My hair is falling out at an alarming rate though it isn’t supposed to all fall out—but hey! I can see the bald spots now.
    I’m in NC, Asheville area, and we have a new Cancer Clinic here. How lucky can I get. I’m so happy that I don’t have to be driven to Atlanta. Keep on; the younger you are; the better chance you have; I am 72, so it’s just a little harder for me.
    jackie

    Reply

  5. mirna
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 14:23:33

    julie — i am following your blog and thinking of you and your family a lot. keep up your strength and preserverance. all the best !!

    Reply

  6. Tyler
    Aug 27, 2013 @ 22:10:56

    Keep it up Julie. 2 down and 10 to go. I’m glad that you are fighting so hard. Calories? Whole milk yogurt? LOTS of olive oil on your raw or steamed veggies? I know you can do this.

    Reply

  7. jmmeschuk
    Aug 28, 2013 @ 18:35:54

    This blog is awesome, keep fighting. Jamal forwarded this to me and he is an old friend and an amazing guy. http://this-little-light-of-mine.org/

    Reply

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