I’ve recently given two analogies to what the process of chemo treatment feels like. One is that it’s like hiking into a really strong wind and rain storm and you’re constantly adjusting and readjusting things to make sure nothing goes off the rails. The other is when you’re on a multi-day hike and it’s that day mid-trip where you wake up to rain on the tent, it rains all day so you just keep slogging along, and all day you’re thinking about how much you’re not looking forward to setting up camp in the rain. At the same time you’re focusing on how good it’s going to feel once you’re in dry clothes, there’s a fire going to dry out your socks, and you have a hot drink in hand. I figured my outdoorsy friends would understand that headspace.
There’s some cruel irony in the fact that my GPO told me that “most people” handle this second drug (Paclitaxel) much better than the first given that my side effects for the first combination were pretty minimal. Day 3 of cycle 5 started out with some light muscle stiffness in my quads and glutes and I brushed it off as a result of my gloriously sunny 7km hike up to Westwood Ridge the previous day. But as the day wore on it became apparent that this was the “muscle and joint ache” that’s in the possible side effects list. Think of when you have the flu and everything just….aches. No amount of stretching or rubbing it helps.
The rest of the day and into the night was a cycle of hot packs on my low back/hips/thighs and the maximum daily dosage of Tylenol. A massage from Andy and a couple Ativan finally helped to get me to sleep. That has definitely been my low point so far. I thought the fatigue of cycle #4 was hard, but a low level of constant ache is much more trying on my psyche. I don’t know how people with chronic pain keep a positive mental outlook on life. At least now I know what to expect for the last three cycles – the nurse at the BC Cancer Agency said that the effects may be cumulative so to expect that it’ll be worse next cycles – so have stocked up on heating pads and Tylenol.
The good news is that I’m on day six and this morning was ache-free albiet short lived as I’m back on the couch covered in hot packs. My spirits were up with the help of a a short hike and some gardening in the spring sunshine and a living room dance party to Parov Stellar with Rory reminiscent of celebrations with Jeni and the dogs during CARDA courses. The other great things that happened today were a couple of check-in texts from good friends, and a great big care package from members of Cowichan SAR, a neighbouring SAR team who we do quite a bit of mutual aid with. For those of you in the SAR community, you’re not surprised by this. For the rest of you, this is an example of how close the SAR community is, regardless of whether you’re on the same team or not.
Understanding that there are so many people supporting me is so good for my mental health. My chemo time was changed at the last minute and Andy had a meeting so couldn’t pick me up – text Steph, boom, pick up arranged. Need some yard work assistance? One email to my SAR team, boom, 10 people offer to do it. Need help with my taxes because my brain is moving a little slow, boom, Carly calls in a favour and someone does them for me. Wary about giving myself an IM B12 shot, text a nurse on my SAR team, boom, Pam offers to come over and do it for me. I say this over and over again, people are amazing.
Driveway visits are proving to be such a great thing despite the trepidation I sometimes feel about seeing people…or rather, people seeing me. Bill and I spent an hour talking talking talking when he dropped off some Bigfoot donuts. Kenda and I did the same when she brought Gabriola goodies. James dropped off some aluminum for the dog kennel reinforcing project I have on the go and we ended up chatting for a half hour. My worries that people will be sad seeing me without hair or a bit slower thinking and moving quickly dissipates after some laugher. And hey, I still have eyebrows so there’s that!
So, chemo #5 done and dusted! 36 days until last one! Meeting with my surgeon in a month to figure out the next phases (surgery and radiation). I know there are more stormy days ahead but each day is one step closer to being done this chapter. Thank you to so many of you who are supporting me through this!