When people ask, I usually say that the side effects of chemo are like having a hangover, but that doesn't entirely tell the truth of it. Mostly because hangovers don't last for a week. Also, they don't cause mouth sores or hot flashes or fatigue so intense you feel like your limbs are made of concrete. And I never had a hangover that resulted in four days of constipation followed by three days of hoping to make it to the toilet in time not to ruin yet another pair of underwear. Not to mention the pulsating bone pain letting me know the booster shot to my white blood cells is working or the violently dark mood swings brought on by the steroids. It makes for a rough week.
And in the middle of this last round, a few days before my 34th birthday, I remember clearly thinking: I don't know if I'm strong enough to do this. I curled up in a ball, put my forehead on our living room rug and let the tears drip down my nose. It's hard to stay positive when you feel so physically spent.
And then the side effects lift, and I make it to a yoga class and feel strong again and go back to believing I will beat this.
I have always lived my life thinking that anything is possible if you set your mind to it. When I go in for my scans, I visualize clean, healthy cells abundant in my body. During chemo infusions, I picture the cancer exploding like the cockroaches in those Raid commercials. As a kid, "The Little Engine that Could" was one of my favorite bedtime stories. "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can..." That little blue train repeated this phrase over and over again as he climbed until he was suddenly on the other side of the mountain. I couldn't get enough of that triumph.
I still believe in the power of positive thinking and mind over matter. But as my therapist put it: "Right now, your body is telling your mind to fuck off."
So I'm having to learn to respect my body in a way that's new to me instead of relentlessly pushing myself to get things done, cross chores off my list. It drives me crazy to have a pile of unfolded laundry sit on our guest room bed for a week, to not be caught up on emails - in some cases from a month ago; I hope those people forgive me - and to not have updated Quinn's baby book recently. I should do that now instead of writing this. See? It's a compulsion I have to do, do, do.
The other day, a nurse reminded me that even if I do nothing else in a day - not even get off the couch, which I really can't imagine - today I fought cancer, and that's a lot. But just for good measure, tomorrow I'm flying to Santa Barbara to participate in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, a 2-day, 39.3-mile event. And then I probably won't be able to get off the couch, which might be okay for a minute or two.