Ode To My Disappearing Eyebrows

Oh, my eyebrows, my eyebrows
Are leaving my face
‘Cause the chemo is working
All over the place
My balance has gone
With my inner-ear hair––
Still have a slight moustache
(That hardly seems fair).
My scalp’s getting smoother
With each passing day
And now, my poor eyebrows
Are passing away.
I know they’ll be back
And I’ll just have to wait
Ain’t drawing them on
‘Cause I just can’t draw straight.
And so, this farewell
To my two favourite eyebrows
Now departing my face
They’ve turned into bye-brows.


Chemo Hangover

Back in my younger, non-carcinogenic days, I still wasn’t much of a drinker. I was the world’s cheapest drunk and I still am. I can get loaded on a glass of wine––sometimes half a glass. But I was always careful to drink a lot of ice water at the same time. I never had a hangover until the early 90s, when I went out drinking with my aerobics instructor. That woman partied me under the table so that I never had a chance to drink enough water and for the first time in my life, I was hungover the next day––not just tired but completely yuck. I haven’t had a hangover since.

Or rather, I hadn’t until I got cancer. Now every three weeks, I have a chemo hangover.

For those who have wondered, or even if you don’t give a rat’s caboose, I’m on CarboTaxol––carboplatin and paclitaxel. I get the paclitaxel first. It takes somewhere between three and four hours; the carboplatin takes about an hour and in between, there are saline flushes (the IV equivalent of a palate cleanser). The paclitaxel has alcohol in it and if you’re as cheap a drunk as I am, you’ll feel tipsy. And if you’re a cheerful drunk, which I am, you’ll feel like acting silly. Photos have been posted on my Twitter feed and my Facebook page. Considering I’m actually being poisoned in an attempt to kill cancer cells, chemo day is kind of a fun day. I joke with the nurses, my fellow travellers laugh at my t-shirt, and my husband stays right by me all day.

But then there’s the morning after.

The first time, I had to have a CT-scan, which they insisted on giving me as soon as I finished chemo. I had to drink something called ‘contrast’ and it didn’t sit well with the chemo. I woke up in the middle of the night so violently ill that I had to go to A&E (the ER, for US readers). After that, I spent a week in hospital, running fevers.

When it was time for my second round of chemo, I didn’t anticipate any problems. But the morning after, I was bent over the loo again. I had nothing to bring up––everything I’d eaten the night before had been digested and moved on, unlike in the first round, where it just sat as if waiting to retrace its steps and come out the way it had gone in,

This round of chemo is my third and puts me at the halfway mark––three down, three to go. This time, I thought I might get sick and I was prepared. Sure enough, I was up at 3 a.m. and everything I’d eaten for dinner was still parked in my stomach, waiting to exit, even though I had taken an extra anti-nausea pill before going to bed.

Business taken care of, I settled down in the living room so as not to disturb Chris, who’d had a long day with me without benefit of alcohol, and did some deep-breathing exercises. And that was it. I slept for a little while and I’ve had no further problems. So I guess that’s just how it is––first thing in the morning after, I suffer the effects of a chemo hangover. I suppose it could be worse but nausea is the one thing I hate more than anything else.

Nausea is the one thing that cripples me; it stops me dead. I can’t think, I can’t move, I can’t even watch TV let alone read to take my mind off it. I can function with a headache or a sore throat or other pain, with a cold, with a fever, with just about any other problem. But if nausea hits me, I’m done till it stops.

Chemo hangover. Who knew?

It’s Good News Week

This Thursday will be the halfway point in my course of chemotherapy––three down, three more to go. But there is already good news: the chemo is working.

Since starting chemo six weeks ago, I have lost fourteen pounds (that’s a stone for my British friends, about 7 kilos). Not because I dieted or tried to eat healthy or because I had no appetite; I lost it because the chemo is working.

Without getting too clinical: the form of cancer that I have has resulted in weight gain. The weight loss means the cancer cells are dying off.

The weight loss doesn’t really show. I haven’t suddenly become a sylph. But I’ve noticed I can move around more easily.

Even the small victories count. And when they’re part of a larger victory in the offing, so much the better.

Chemo Is V-Shaped

After being poisoned, you hardly notice the slide downward for the first few days. Along about the fifth day after, however, the fatigue is more noticeable. Days ten to fourteen, you hit bottom. The chemo is stomping cancer with hobnail boots. But there’s collateral damage: your energy levels, mood, Weltanschauung, ambition, concentration, even your I.Q. all take a hit. It doesn’t help that you’ve lost all your hair; you’ve also lost weight but thanks to what cancer is doing to your body, that doesn’t show. Nothing looks good on you; nothing looks good to you. You have to worry about being neutropenic––susceptible to infection because your white blood count is low––so going out isn’t an option. If you’ve still got your sense of humour at this point, it’s so acid and ghoulish that Ambrose Bierce would tell you to lighten up.

But it’s just five days: ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen. By day fifteen, you’re coming back up the other side of the V. Things aren’t so bad, especially because you are by-God alive, the fog is clearing, your ambition is waking up, you remember that you have the best friends in the world, the best spouse in the world, the best cat in the world. You can still do what you love no matter what you look like, and anyone who thinks you don’t look good can just go look at something else, thank you so much, I’m sure. Five low days out of the month––BFD. Remember PMS? That was worse.

You’re still tired but now you can think of work-arounds, especially for going out. If you stay off public transportation when it’s most crowded, like at rush hour, you should be fine. You want to see friends; they know you’ve got cancer, they’re not expecting Madonna. You always look wonderful to people who love you; you know this because the people you love always look wonderful to you. Life is sweet––your life is sweet, and so is everything in it.

If you want to live, you’ve got to get out there and live.

Ongoing Adventures In Chemo: Mental Daffodils

I had to ask Chris to move a vase of daffodils out of the living room because the smell was upsetting my stomach.

The vase was at least five feet away and I’ve never had an especially sensitive nose. Even when I was pregnant, I didn’t suffer from olfactory over-sensitivity. We’ve had daffodils in the house every year, as soon as they’re available; the colour is a nice reminder that brighter days are ahead. Chris has always kept plants and flowers; when I first saw our flat, I was amazed at all the greenery in it. My husband is a wizard at getting plants to grow and flourish. And I like that he always remembers to pick up something seasonal to give the place a little life and colour.

But the daffodils…. Amanda had remarked that something smelled good in the room last night when we were watching TV on the sofa. I figured it was the daffodils and that Amanda had a particularly talented nose (she’s a self-healing mutant, too, but that’s a story for another time).

Today, I didn’t notice the smell right away. After a while, I became aware of a greeny, plant-ish smell and it was poking me in the stomach. Eventually, I realised what it was and asked Chris to take them away.

It’s too bad. “The Daffodils” is one of my favourite poems; “I wandered lonely as a cloud…” In elementary school, we had a music book in which this poem was actually set to music. Never cared for the tune but the words always resonated with me. “They flash upon the inner eye, which is the bliss of solitude. And then my heart with pleasure fills and dances with the daffodils.”

I guess all my daffodils will have to be mental, at least for a while.

And Now For Something Completely Unrelated To Cancer

Like a lot of people, I’m not really into football of any kind but as a recovering American, I always check to see who’s playing in the Super Bowl. I also check the score from time to time while the game is in progress and on Monday morning, I check to see who won before I even look at my email. In honour of the winners of Super Bowl 2015, then, this minor story from my misspent youth.

The summer after my freshman year at UMass-Amherst, I worked in the dining commons serving food to the New England Patriots, who had their summer camp on campus. It was the same summer that the Mahesh Maharishi Yogi brought a Transcendental Meditation conference to campus. In fact, before I served food to the Pats, I worked at the conference registration desk, checking in meditators from all over the world. One of them was Mike Love of the Beach Boys; nice, friendly man, lovely manners. (That summer, I took to judging people by how they treated anyone they didn’t have to be nice to. I still do. I’m a bitch that way. But I digress.)

The two groups, the meditators and the football players, kept colliding, possibly because the university was using the same building as function space for both: the Pats took their meals on one side, the meditators took classes (or something) on the other. Some of the meditators, all of them guys, kept sneaking over to the Pats’ side to meditate.

At first, I thought they were just trying to meet the players. But they would wait till the team left, then sneak into the dining area, sit on a chair in a corner facing the wall, take off their shoes, and close their eyes for twenty minutes. Maybe it was a dare.

Sometimes I ran into some of the players at the campus centre after work and I’d have coffee with them. All the ones I talked to were well-educated and articulate, about a million miles away from the stereotype you see in movies or on TV of big, stupid man-boys named Tank or Bruiser. Nice people; the judge gave them all a thumbs-up. And, as the other student working with me learned to her dismay, they were also all married. She usually found out while she was on a date with one of them.

She said nothing ever happened and I had no doubt she was telling the truth. As near as I could tell, she was looking for someone good-looking, wealthy, with a bright future but fresh off the show-room floor, definitely not a pre-owned model.

This made me think that at least some of these guys just wanted a break from the unrelenting testosterone of football camp. I think they had a burning desire to sit at a table where they weren’t shoulder to shoulder with a whole lot of other guys, where they could look up and not see another guy pounding down protein and worrying about surviving the next round of cuts.

In fact, the only people I ever had to actively fend off that summer were a couple of reporters here and there, and not because they knew where I worked. They all seemed to be looking for hippie coeds on the Pill who had dope and knew how to roll a joint.

Summer of 1971. Crazy days.