A few weeks ago, when Dr. Bunnell explained my chemotherapy regimen to Brian, my Mom, and I, he knew not to hand me the detailed sheets about possible symptoms and side effects. Of course, I had to sign forms saying I understood all of them, but I didn't understand them, and I don't want to (awesome health care lawyer I am). If I read those sheets, I know I would feel each and every symptom, and probably before the chemotherapy even started. So instead, Brian read the sheets, and he has them hidden somewhere in the house. I saw him pull them out the other night when I told him I felt like fluid had collected on the bottom of my feet. Bingo. On the sheet. Relief.
Of course, I know that nausea and fatigue come with chemotherapy. And I also know some of the most scary of possibilities, including what I've heard of Robin Roberts' story (from what I understand, she got a form of leukemia as a result of her cancer treatment and subsequently needed a bone marrow transplant, which, thank goodness, was successful). But aside from that, I've remained ignorant, and it's worked out great. Because I know that what I feel is real, not something I have created based on what I've read on a piece of paper.
I don't mean to complain, but since Friday night, my nausea has been constant. I write that more in an effort to document this journey completely and accurately, and really, because some people have told me they are curious how chemotherapy feels. Like always, I can speak for only myself, but for me, it's a heavy sort of nausea. It's not better or worse than what I felt when I was pregnant, or the morning after too much sangria -- it's just different. My nausea is not debilitating, and I can fake that I don't feel it, which I'm happy about. It's just a sick feeling throughout my body, starting in the pit of my stomach and reaching up into my throat. Much of the time, I'm still hungry, too, which thankfully negates my biggest worry that I wouldn't be able to stay nourished. (In fact, today I went far off the cancer nutrition grid, so to speak, and downed a chicken sandwich (with globs of mayo) and fries from Sully's when we were at Brian's parent's house in South Boston. I usually get two hot dogs, and I am pretending that the fried chicken was the healthier option.)
I also feel like the top of my head is constantly sweating, even though it's usually cold at the same time. During the last few nights, I've had hot flashes, which makes me wonder if I'll go through menopause in the next few months like Dr. Bunnell mentioned I could. I guess it doesn't really matter either way since my breeding days are passed me.
Lastly, as for symtoms, sometimes my left breast hurts. This symptom is the only one that worried me. But Brian checked the sheets and verified that pain at the site of the tumor is also normal. Phew. Must mean that the medicine knows just where to go. Genius.
With just a few fleeting exceptions, being bald has not bothered me at all. I haven't worn my wig yet, as it's still too tight and very distracting since I can't pull the hair back in a ponytail like I used to. When I walked into the house after my head shave, Annabel didn't recognize me and at first, she was scared. For a horrible minute, I felt like a monster to my own daughter, and I couldn't comfort her. But quickly thereafter it clicked for her, and she knew it was me. "Mommy haircut," she exclaimed. "Yes, my gorgeous girl. I got a haircut." We've repeated this brief conversation a hundred times since then. And after Annabel rubs the top of my fuzzy head, everything is just fine.
Teddy has been great with my baldness. For the most part, he couldn't care less. Except when we got into the car after his soccer practice Saturday morning. "Mommy, put your hat back on," he said. It's incredible how small a four-year-old can make an adult feel, and I wanted to crawl in a hole and cry. But instead, I just put my hat back on. He's entitled to that small request. When I told Brian how sad that moment made me, he told me that Teddy only seems to care about my hair when we're in the car. I realized he's right. I think it's just strange for Teddy to see the back of my head. Because from the front, he's just fine. This afternoon, we played outside with his neighborhood friends and he didn't even notice that I didn't wear my hat or my wig. And I know he's surrounded by great kids because I don't think any of them will ever think of him as the boy with the bald mother.
This morning, Brian, Brianne, Seamus, and I walked in the Making Strides for Breast Cancer walk with a bunch of friends. It was a life experience like no other. Like often happens lately, I don't think I have been able to fully process the day, and I don't feel ready to write about all of it. But I have processed this.
As Brian and I crossed the finish line (admittedly, we only did the two mile route), he said to me, "The first of many, T. The first of many." I had held it together through a lot of emotional moments this morning, but this one got me. Because it hit me -- I spent the first month or so after my diagnosis thinking a lot about lasts. I remember sitting by the pool on our family vacation in Falmouth in August wondering if it would be my last. If I would be around to watch Annabel learn to swim. I even remember sitting at Teddy's soccer practice a week and a half after my surgery wondering if I would be there next year. But this Saturday, as I sat at his final soccer practice of the year surrounded by my friends and family, I realize now that I never thought about a single last. Instead, we all watched Annabel kick the ball around for an hour, and we all laughed as we discussed whether Teddy was supposed to be trying to shoot the ball in both of the opposite nets.
Today, thanks to each and every person that walked in the rain along the Charles River, I spent much of the afternoon thinking about firsts. My first Making Strides walk. My first time saying out loud on a microphone to thousands of people that I have cancer. My first chicken sandwich from Sully's. My first realization that I will not live my life in terms of lasts. Instead, I'll live it in terms of firsts, with many, many more to come.