There are many things you shouldn’t tell a person with cancer — especially that story about the acquaintance who died so soon after diagnosis. We’re unnaturally sensitive to your words. While we appreciate your care, concern and interest, we’re bound to get uppity at the most kindest of words. (I know because I’ve said some of them myself!)
The latest for me is: How many more chemo treatments will you have? At this stage in the game, my cancer game, that’s about as subtle as asking how much longer will I live. As I see it, as long as chemo is reducing the size of my many tumours, that’s as long as I’ll be on chemo. No more about that fairy tale called Remission.
I expect my body will give in to chemo before it’s erased the tumours. Caelyx (known as Doxil in the US) is already starting to show who’s boss. The blisters on my toes from the beach in Hawaii have healed. Between my fingers the sores come and go. My finger tips are criss-crossed with what looks like tiny paper cuts. There’s a wet blister on my right knee. Hives on my hands come and go with red spots on the inside of my left knee and little sores on my legs. And some nausea, heartburn and a 2-week headache.
Chemo #5 resumes on Friday… I can’t wait to see what happens next.
“How are you?” ask my friends. Actually my friends don’t ask. They know better than to ask that question. Because the answer isn’t always good and that makes everyone uncomfortable. I try to answer and truth is always my goal, but that can bring fear and then tears to the eyes of my almost-friend and then there I am, trying to reassure them with a joke. “It’s all right,” I say, “I’m actually feeling good.” And then we move on and talk about the weather.
I also dislike the comment, “You look good!” My mother would say it with a touch of surprise as if she expected me to walk in haggard and boney. Not yet, I think. I say thank you, it’s a compliment and I must be gracious. But if I look good why do I feel nauseous? Why do I reach for a chair before my legs give way? And what does looking good mean at this stage of my life?
One of the benefits (if there are any) of a long endured cancer is the understanding you gain over many months. Five months ago I told the liver specialist, “On diagnosis, my cancer was stage 3B.”
“But that was then,” he replied as a matter of fact.
It had been six months since my cancer (I hate to personify those tumours. They are not mine, there were no gift.) spread to my liver. And two years before it attacked my colon and lungs. But only now I realized that I had reached stage 4. There is no stage 5. But end stage doesn’t mean it’s over. Now it’s all about living with cancer.
Colon, lungs, diaphragm, lymph nodes, liver — coming and going as they please. Metastatic glory.
The travelling show of cancer features cells touring through my body to take up residence — first as sub-centimetre nodules (as the radiologist writes) then as crazed tumours, plum-sized in six weeks.
Spot, deposit, nodule, lesion, tumour. What’s the difference? Only size. And will they carve these tumours from my bowel, my lungs, my liver? No. We leave it up to prayer (say some) and a half-litre bag filled with red syrup-like caelyx, a weedkiller renowned for its doubled-walled molecules, allowing it to loiter in my bloodstream — taking longer to dissolve, giving it more time in the ring to fight.
Think of me on Friday when I’ll be fighting the fight… and looking good.