Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Road Through Chemo

Everyone's road through chemotherapy is a bit unique. We all face our demons of nausea, fatigue, hair loss, and emotional ups and downs differently. We struggle through. And then we somehow make it

I am always interested in hearing about other's chemo misadventures. Stephen Blyth wrote about his chemo story in the Boston Globe. He begins with the advice from the National Cancer Institute:

"The National Cancer Institute tries to be helpful: “At some point during chemotherapy, you may feel: Anxious; Depressed; Afraid; Angry; Frustrated; Helpless; Lonely. It is normal to have a wide range of feelings while going through chemotherapy. After all, living with cancer and getting treatment can be stressful.”

These words made me want to yell. Do they not understand? It is not remotely normal to see only bleakness, to be continuously angst-ridden, and to lack the spirit even to say good night to my precious daughters.

“Many people find that light exercise, such as walking, riding a bike and doing yoga, helps them feel better.” This advice enraged me: The very idea of exercise was laughable. Each night I would resolve to walk round the block tomorrow. But in the morning I would lie unable to rise, unable to sleep, taunted by piles of unread, unreadable books by my bed. 2.30 p.m. 5 p.m. A shuffle downstairs for a bowl of cereal, the act of eating an unexpected respite, then back to bed. My wife was unwavering in the face of such misery: You will feel better, it will all be OK. I knew she believed this, but I did not."

He clearly starts faced with the fact that much of the advice for cancer patients comes from people who do not have a clue. Clearly the advice from NCI is in that category. This is one of the things that all cancer patients learn - people who haven't walked the walk, are unable to talk to the talk. They do not have a clue.

But as you read through his story you see how he learns to get through it. He gets a good social worker who gives him advice and supports him as he goes through his infusion. Her advice is one task a week - send one email. That makes things manageable. I can relate. I could do one thing a week while in chemo.

He learned that it is normal to deal with the emotional side of chemo. He meets a new friend along the way who told him when he went through chemo for lymphoma, he struggled as well emotionally. "“I found the nonphysical effects of chemo the hardest. Psychologically I fell apart.” I felt another flash of self-compassion. So it’s OK to be like this. I had been given a lifeline." 

Finally he makes it through. His brain starts to clear, he is returning to life. I cannot say returning to normal because you can't. I just really like his descriptions of his chemo adventure. He put into words what I could not - the ups and downs of cancer.

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