This afternoon, however, I put on an HBO documentary and even though it was really interesting (it was the one about Don't Ask, Don't Tell), I fell asleep. The phone rang 20 minutes later, and it was Dr. Bunnell's PA, Danielle, returning a call I placed this morning. Even though I was frustrated that my once-in-a-lifetime nap was interrupted, I was happy to talk to her.
Brian insisted that I call Dr. Bunnell's office today because of symptoms I have recently developed. I didn't bother bringing up the indigestion, sporadic nausea, hot flashes, or the fluid at the bottoms of my feet. Instead, I focused on two symptoms. First, all sorts of strange things are happening to the inside of my mouth. It feels like I took an enormous bite of burning hot pizza and held it in my mouth until all of the skin on my gums and tongue scorched off. (Apologies if your imagination causes phantom pain!) Perhaps as a result, food tastes different and strange. Danielle asked me the pain scale question I have come to know and love: How would I rate my pain on a scale of one to ten? I explained that it's not painful, it's just really weird and uncomfortable. She explained that the symptom is a common one for chemo patients and that if it hurts, she can prescribe me a mouthwash that will basically numb the inside of my mouth. I declined the offer, but I guess it's nice to know that it's available. Danielle went on to explain that changes in taste are also common and I will need to figure out which foods taste normal and which don't. Last night I learned this the hard way when I tried to eat a salad with vinegrette dressing. That was definitely on the don't side.
Then we moved on to the second symtom. I have sat here for far too long debating with myself whether or not to discuss this one. I feel like it's a defining moment in this blog, because it's the first time I have been embarrassed to share something. At first, I decided I would not include it; keep my image clean, Photoshop the reality. But that's just what I've vowed not to do. So here goes. Thanks to the anti-nausea medicine which caused terrible constipation, I am having my first experience with hemorrhoids. Prior to today, I didn't even really know what that term meant. (And this morning I had a long conversation with myself about how to describe this problem to Danielle. I literally found myself laughing out loud in the shower. Mainly because I was recalling one of Teddy's doctor appointments when he was about two years old. Back then, Teddy went through a phase when he constantly itched himself. Down there. When we met with his pediatrician, I told the doctor that Teddy "is always itching his balls." Brian looked at me horrified. I had no idea why. When we were walking to the car afterwards, Brian told me that he couldn't believe that I used the word "balls" to the pediatrician. What the Hell else was I supposed to call them? I asked. Brian gave me some clinical words, and we laughed the whole way home. We just had another great laugh about that conversation. I haven't cried with laughter in a while. It feels good.)
Anyways, in my conversation with Danielle, I awkwardly used clinical terms that I would never use in real life (rectum?!?). Danielle told me that it sounds like hemorrhoids are what's been causing me terrible pain. Again, not uncommon. I just hope that the chemo has left enough of whatever my body needs to heal. Because it's going to be a long few months if it hasn't. So there. Every continent but Antarctica now knows that I have hemorrhoids. Awesome.
Yep, cancer is not all about happy photos in the hair salon. In fact, while we're talking reality, I'll return to the head shave appointment for a quick dose. (I felt so sick the morning after that appointment that I never really wrote about it.) Ninety-nine percent of that experience was wonderful. It was fun and empowering, and it gave me a huge sense of progress and relief. It strengthened bonds that I didn't know could become stronger. But there was the one percent that the photos may not show; the moment when Monique made the first cut with the buzzer. For about a minute, I struggled to breathe. My Mom burst into tears, and I remember her wailing a few times, "It should be me." I tried to assure her that it was only hair, but I had a huge lump of sadness in my throat and could barely see through the tears that had collected in my eyes. It sucked. I didn't feel strong or bold or beautiful. I felt like a sick cancer patient who had lost all control over what was happening to me. But the feeling passed, and it passed quickly. I caught my breath and repeated over and over that it was only hair. That it would grow back. That I was one step closer. And after that painful minute, I believed all of that again.
Cancer is not pretty. It can be embarrassing and disgusting. It can be a huge blow to a person's confidence and pride. If I don't admit that, I'm not doing justice to reality; to the strength and grit that people show as they endure, in secret, huge amounts of physical and emotional pain. As they pretend to feel well when they don't, because no one wants to talk about the parts of the body where the sun don't shine. It's way more fun to talk about boobs. But if I don't admit the reality, the full reality, I'm letting cancer win. And that I refuse to do.
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Brian Regan is one of my favorite comedians and this clip is fitting for this entry. Enjoy!