Two chemo treatments down, six to go. My guts are in shreds. I cannot be away from a bathroom for any extended amount of time so our annual camping trip to Wyalusing State Park, a solid four hour drive, is out for me. I insist that my husband and daughter go. They should not miss the falling leaves and brisk hikes and fifty or more of our long time friends gathering around a bonfire, sharing s’mores and stories of the 365 days since we last sat together. Besides, we cannot break my daughter’s streak. Her first Wyalusing was at three weeks old and she hasn’t missed one yet. She just turned thirteen, this will be her fourteenth trip. My husband has been going since he was her age. They don’t want to leave me, but I don’t want to be an anchor. I smile, wrap myself in our pile of dogs and rent a bunch of terrible movies for the weekend. As I sit alone on the couch at 2am, unable to stomach popcorn and trying to laugh at “Dude, Where’s My Car?” I start to resent cancer. I give in for the moment and consider how unwelcome it is, how disagreeable. Then I think, “I guess I could be dead,” and laugh out loud.
Three chemo treatments down, five to go. This one falls two days before Halloween, the biggest of all high holidays at the Kratz-Gullickson home. We are “that house” in the neighborhood. We always have a theme. We always give out handfuls of candy. We always have extraordinary costumes. Fortunately, I start prep in August so we are ready. Trick or treat falls two days post treatment – my personal low point. I’ll be at my most tired, my most nauseous as mini Iron Mans and Elsas swarm our yard. No worries, I have a plan. Trick or treat starts at 4pm. That morning, I take some Tylenol PM and sleep all day. I set an alarm for 3pm, drag myself from bed and slam a Red Bull energy drink. I throw on my costume, draw on some eyebrows, paste on fake lashes and throw on a wig, no one wants candy from a hairless Alice in Wonderland. My hubby, the Mad Hatter, looks far too serious for his role. I know he disapproves of my methods, but without them cancer wins. I pay for my choices, laying in bed several days into November, much longer than my typical recovery time. So worth it.
Four chemo treatments down, four to go. The halfway point. Time to switch to a new drug which promises less nausea and heart destruction, but comes with a whole new and exciting list of side effects. Well before diagnosis, we bought tickets to take our homeschooled daughter to a writers convention in Minneapolis. With my nausea more controlled, we make the six hour drive. I sleep most of it. I feel extra exhausted and I think my muscles are disintegrating under my skin. It is hard to describe this particular pain….imagine a tiny space invaders game with every “pew pew” delivering a cellular sized electrical shock. This makes it challenging to walk around a convention. Fortunately, the conference rooms are tightly clustered. Our “attached” hotel room, on the other hand, seems miles away. We ask about a wheelchair. The hotel has one we can use free of charge. The conference center has one we can rent. Neither wheelchair can leave their point of origin. I get a swift lesson on accessibility privilege and I walk very slowly and only as far as required. I have to explain to a presenter that no, I am not going to move closer to the stage because the extra twenty feet is just too darn far. She gives me a funny look. Apparently, I don’t look sick. At the end of her talk, I slow clap. My snarkiness is drowned by the crowd, but I know and it soothes me.
Five, six, seven chemo treatments down, one to go. I attend yoga and swim at the local Y on non treatment weeks, I get a massage on treatment weeks. It all helps with the muscle and joint pain. I force myself to read one page of an academic article daily to maintain my cognitive skills. I am managing, but feel like a shell of the person I once was. A dear and close friend quips that she has no sympathy for me, referring back to her hours of study and my hours of slacking in college that resulted in the same GPA. She insists I will just have to get used to being “like regular people” now. Cancer, the great equalizer. We both laugh riotously. Good friends have a way of making this all not so awful.
Last chemo. My nurses give me a beautiful send off. I am happy, but know I am not done. I am afraid to celebrate. There will be radiation followed by scans to make sure everything worked. The cancer could still be with me. I won’t know for months. My husband gets a little weepy, I think he can visualize the end of this nightmare. He has always had wonderful eyesight.