There’s a stranger in our house.
I catch a glimpse of her in the mirror and turn away. I’m not ready to face her yet.
My husband comes up behind me and puts his hands on my shoulders. He steers me back to the mirror.
I don’t know who that girl is but she doesn’t look like me. My hand creeps to my head, feels the stubble of the bald stranger before me.
My face pinches. I’m going to cry.
“You’re beautiful,” he says, kissing the side of my head.
I don’t feel beautiful.
My left arm is still dotted with bruises from the chemo treatment. Not as bad as a heroin junkie but it will be if I don’t get a port placed in my chest.
Nurse Chubby Cherub insists. .
“This isn’t working,” She runs her fingers over the veins in my left arm. “Your veins should be pliable. Feel this.”
I do, gently. The veins are hard, swollen. Painful.
Still, I’m reluctant.
Dr. Stephen, the general surgeon I met in the ER when this whole debacle started, is going to do the surgery.
We meet with him a few days prior. He asks me about the abdominal pain that brought me into the ER.
“It’s still there,” I shrug. I hate to say I’ve learned to live with it but I have. It doesn’t seem to be a high priority, given the situation. “By the end of the day, my bellybutton pops like a turkey timer.”
Dr Stephen inspects it. “That’s a hernia. Classic indicator.” He presses. “Does this hurt?”
Sharp intake of breath– Wait. No. it does not hurt. Whew!
“It’s a small one,” he confirms.
“Will it go away?”
“Generally no, not without surgery.”
Great. I’ll add it to the list.
“Still doesn’t explain the right abdominal pain.”
Right… “How about a ruptured ovarian cyst?”
“You have one?”
Of course I do. I nod. “Just had an ultrasound done.”
He frowns. “What does Bruce Lee think?”
“He thinks it could be referral pain from the mass behind my stomach.”
The truth is, he doesn’t know.
No one seems to know what the pain is that sent me to the ER. It could even have something to do with the point of origin (POO), which is where the cancer originated but for some reason, didn’t choose to grow.
This has been the great mystery — Where’s the POO?
Located in my gastrointestinal tract, so it seems. Hey, I’m not above sophomoric jokes at this point.
In some ways I’ve been reduced to the bratty teenager whenever it comes to a new medical order, another test or slicing my chest open to place a port so the chemo can flow straight into my jugular.
I don’t wanna!
I really don’t want a port. It looks like an ugly stump that doesn’t even have the decency to pass as a third nipple.
“Body paint,” Glenn says. He grins.
Not funny, honey.
Ok, maybe a little.
Some GI Jane I’m turning out to be.
There are days I do look in the mirror and get a glimpse of her. Days I feel strong and I know I’m going to beat this.
Those days no one would even know I have cancer if it wasn’t for the shorn sheep look I’m sporting. I’m lifting weights, busting out cardio and getting stir crazy on cabin fever with garbage bags and a dust rag.
But when my blood counts plummet following chemo or my hope is spiked with disappointing test results, all the air whooshes out of my balloon and I’m a scared kid surrounded by nurses and doctors with needles and IVs, taking my temperature and checking my blood counts to see if I fall in the normal range.
Nothing about this is normal.
Normal is surfing with my husband, even if we are a cue-ball couple now, bobbing out there in the sea.
Normal is being admitted to beaches and trails for Mother Nature Therapy– No, I’m not living in normal and neither are you, my friend.
Last week I was feeling somewhat normal, even hopeful, but as soon as Bruce Lee entered the room the air begin to seep out of my joy balloon.
All I could see were his eyes over the mask but it was enough.
Something was wrong.
“I have the results of your CT scan…” he said. “The chemo… It’s not working as we hoped. A couple of the nodules in your lungs have shrank, but there are also two new ones. And the mass behind your stomach has actually grown…”
The air screeched out. What?
Now, we’ve gotten to know Bruce Lee a bit better, even got him to laugh a few times. He’s warmed up to us or we’ve warmed up to him. Either way, I could hear the disappointment in his voice.
Bruce Lee was seriously bummed. So were we.
“The mass…” Glenn cleared his throat. “How much has it grown?”
“About 20-25%. So it’s not like it’s 50% or anything…”
So let me get this straight. I gave up coffee, diet soda, sugar and even my hair and the mutherf** chemo is not working?
Yep, that’s where I went.
If this isn’t going to work I want my coping mechanisms back, my addictions and all those things that have made me feel like rebellious teenager me since I can remember.
Except alcohol. It’s been over 8 years since I had a drink and I know that will kill me faster than the cancer.
The rest I want NOW.
I hear Bruce Lee tell us we’re doing a new chemo treatment–
I’ll come up to the office for initial treatment and they’ll fit me with a pump that will deliver a continuous drip of chemo over the course of two days.
Good thing I got that damn port installed. Yes, it hurt and and yes, it’s as ugly as I thought it would be.
Then again, I haven’t painted it yet.
I guess the good news is, I get to do the majority of chemo at home.
The bad news is, I get to do the majority of chemo at home.
Like all of you, I’m home enough.
I feel a great big “WTF?” welling up but the GI Jane in me says, “Deal with it. It could be worse.”
She’s right. It could be.
Let me say that again — It could be worse.
I’m asymptomatic which is a positive word any day, whether it’s cancer or COVID-19.
But even worse, much worse, would be going through this alone.
Thanks to you, I’m not alone.
No way could I be this strong alone.
There’s a possibility this new cycle of chemo drugs won’t work either.
Then I cross that bridge when I get there. And I’m taking all of you with me. I hope you have a strong stomach, my friend. Because the teenager in me feels like doing some sand donuts at high speed along the way.