It has taken me a week to write this post. Part of that was due to normal fatigue and shit post-chemo, but mostly I haven’t written this post due to deep emotional and mental processing I’ve been doing. There is also fear in writing this (and the accompanying blog post to come), as both require a lot of vulnerability and while that has become a strength of mine and something I promise all of you, always, I am writing this super scared and messy. I have a lot to say and hope I can find the right words and that you’ll stick with me through this lengthy post….
Last Tuesday was my last chemotherapy, well, my last treatment with the “tough drugs”, Taxol and Carboplatin. I’ve been receiving these drugs (on and off) since March and all was going well that day, as was expected, until they started the Carboplatin. Less than 5 minutes in, I began feeling “not right”, which quickly progressed to feeling sick. I’m going to spare you the graphic details here, as I don’t think it needs to be a post on FB, so I’ll be writing a blog post instead for those who want to read. Just know, it was what I would call a violent allergic reaction, which was terrifying, traumatic and physically painful. Outside of that, it also totally sucked that I didn’t get to honor or celebrate my last chemo the way I had wanted, as I was pretty drugged up when I left there and definitely not in a celebratory state of mind. Let’s just say, it felt like another bitch slap from cancer and a screaming reminder that this disease, these meds, this treatment and my body, are making some decisions without my consent and that fucking sucks. Over this past week, I’ve worked through A LOT of emotions around that.
For a while now, I’d been struggling hard with how I wanted to mark/honor/celebrate the end of TC. I was conflicted, because while I’d be finished with these meds and yes, they are known to be tougher on the body than HP, the fact is, I STILL have a long way to go with my treatments. Yes, technically HP is immunotherapy, not chemotherapy, but to me, I would not be not FINISHED with treatment on 8/3. The fact remains, I still have my port, will still be going to get poked and prodded, and hooked up to receive IV drugs. Yes, the side effects should be less now. Yes the treatments will be half as long each time. Yes, I’ll be going every 3 weeks rather than every week. I recognize ALL of those as great things and big wins. I also recognize that I have a long way to go and while finishing TC chemo is a MAJOR WIN, something just didn’t feel right to me in calling it “finished.”
Traditionally, many people ring the bell when they finish chemo, as a way of celebrating that moment, and that’s awesome, if it feels right to them! It had been suggested to me and for some reason it just didn’t vibe with me. I considered it and truly felt that if I did it, I’d be doing it more for other people, not me.
In trying to work through this and figure out how I’d honor the moment, I was chatting with the oncology therapist and had a big ah-ha moment. She shared with me that a lot of her patients feel that much of society believes/feels/associates the end of chemo with the end of cancer. Yes! That was it! I realized part of me didn’t want to make a big public deal about finishing chemo, because for me and many others chemo is not the end at all. The end of chemo is a huge step in this cancer journey, but it is not the end. It does not mean I am cancer free. It does not mean I am mentally, physically or emotionally healed from any of this. It does not mean I’m finished. I still have at least one surgery, the anxiety filled wait for pathology results, continued treatment for at least 7 more months, radiation and there may be other things I do not even know about yet. That’s how this cancer journey goes. Twists and turns. I realized that making some big public recognition of finishing TC, was perhaps telling society the opposite of how I really feel. Yes, I’m elated that part is finished and hope I never have to do it again, but I’m still deep in this cancer fuckery and will be for quite some time. Does that make sense? I truly hope so! Chemo brain is real people and it often makes writing a challenge – thanks for bearing with me.
While I’m still sad and mad that I didn’t get to walk out of the infusion suite excited and feeling great as I had planned to, I did get to honor that final TC, without even realizing it. Yesterday, I went to the infusion suite with gifts and hugs of gratitude for the nurses who showed me such incredible care during what was a frightening episode last week. I shared with them how they never made me feel exposed and that they were like sisters to me, keeping me calm and caring deeply for me the entire time. Sharing this time with them felt so great, and as I left, I realized I felt a deep sense of closure and relief. I realized that for me, it had been the perfect way to honor my last TC. I also plan to go back next week when my previous nurse returns from vaca to present the team with gifts and gratitude.
I firmly believe part of my purpose in this journey is to be a teacher for others. Today, I encourage you to think about and remember this…. For many, perhaps most, chemo is not the end of cancer. Please treat it as such. If/when you have someone in your life approaching the end of chemo, ask them and talk with them about how/if they’d like to honor that milestone. Please don’t make assumptions for them. Please remember no matter how they mark the occasion, they may still be in the thick of things. Please be aware of that and honor that. And perhaps also discuss how they would like to honor/celebrate all of their other cancer milestones too. Each one matters.
I’ll leave you with a picture of me as I left treatment last Tuesday. Raw, real and pretty out of it…and still smiling If you’re wondering why I’m wearing scrubs, it’ll be in the blog post.