This too shall pass

At about 5:30 on Tuesday afternoon, I could feel my concentration lagging. My body was tired, my breathing laboured, the feeling was disappearing from the tips of my fingers and my mouth felt like I’d been chewing on Alfoil.

It felt wonderful. Why? Because I anticipated the timing with such precision and was so well aware of what my body was doing that none of it was a surprise. After all, this was day six of the latest round of cancer treatment, and so as a veteran of four cycles of chemotherapy I knew what to expect
and could face it head on.

Each day in the first part of a chemo cycle seems to have its own side-effects “signature”, with a distinctive mix of aches and pains. Given the precision in timing for the delivery of the various drugs that make up the regimen I’m receiving (R-EPOCH-DA, for those playing at home), it should be no surprise that the side-effects are quite precise as well. It’s strangely comforting to reconnect with each day on the three-weekly cycle, like an old friend you haven’t seen in a while. Perhaps it’s only comforting because I know it will soon disappear in the distance and not be seen and felt for another three weeks.

The physical symptoms are as bad as they have been for the previous three rounds, but now I know what I’m in for. In the past, when I’d feel a tingling feeling in my fingers I’d be a little panicked that it would be there long-term. Now I have the wisdom of experience to know that it will pass within a few days and I just need to be patient.

I feel like I’m doing a few rounds on the Scenic Railway rollercoaster at Luna Park. The first time you zip around the circuit is terrifying because of the extremity of the dips and the difficulty in anticipating them. But the edge comes off the second time around, because you know what’s coming. Go around enough times and you end up like the ride operator standing upright in the middle of the train looking bored.

The flipside of knowing when I’ll feel terrible is that I know have a better understanding of when I’ll feel good. For about 10 days in each three weeks I can now make plans in firm confidence that I’ll be able to fulfil them, rather than having to attach a disclaimer every time I make arrangements. It gives me a much greater sense of control over my life.

A big part of my strategy to get through cancer was to retain as much normality as possible in my life. I didn’t want to spend six months exclusively as a cancer patient, battling disease while putting everything else on hold. I wanted to go out, to work, to cook, to pull my weight around the house. These things give me a sense of purpose and meaning. For a while they were proving difficult, but now I have greater awareness of my treatment I am able to do them. I’d go mad otherwise.

Making things a little easier over recent weeks has been some medical successes that have indicated real progress. In mid-December I undertook a CT scan that showed the tumour in my mediastinum had shrunk significantly since it was first detected two months earlier. This was a huge relief and showed the chemo was working. This smaller tumour meant there was now space in my upper body to put in place a Hickman’s drug delivery line in my right chest, the conventional spot that had been ruled out earlier for me because of the tightness. So after one procedure to remove the femoral line in my lower body and another to insert one in my upper body, I am closer to being a conventional cancer patient – although less of a novelty in the ward.

This shift has seemingly brought to an end the problems that were bedevilling my early in the treatment. The distractions – from blood clots to bruises to infection scares and chest tightness – all seem to have subsided. This ability to now focus on the main game, beating the cancer itself, is a great relief.

For now, I’m laying low at home. Fatigue has set in and I can’t muster the energy to move much further than the couch. But I know it will only last a few days and then I’ll be back on my feet. This too shall pass.

After a while you know what's coming up. (Image courtesy of Luna Park)


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