Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Few Things I've Noticed

1. Chemo is most definitely NOT sexy. What I'm trying to say here is that, though I still like kissing and occasionally feel stirrings for more, my appetite for sex is greatly diminished. It's the difference between feeling ravenous and, every rare once in a while, mildly peckish.

Breakfast: blueberries, plain soy yogurt, lavender

Soup of the day: mushroom, zucchini, tofu, miso, plus the soup base I made in this video

Lunch. Picture taken by Lori

There are people on chemo, presumably more libidinous or more determined or at least less totaled by the drugs, for whom this is not true. And there are products (e.g. lubes) that are said to help, but neither J or I are interested in forcing the issue. I do feel sorry for him though, and if I wanted to put my attention on it, I could feel quite sorry for myself too. I like sex, after all, and I like it with my husband especially.

We talk about it, we make time for intimacy nonetheless, and we agree that there is so much to be thankful for in our relationship that we're okay with this temporary drought.

Deep down, I must confess, I'm not convinced that this is temporary. I'm supposed to go on hormone therapy after chemo, which will throw me into permanent early menopause, that is, if the chemo hasn't done that already.

So, I'll believe it when I see it.

2. The life and death anxieties of cancer do not spare you from the mundane anxieties of daily life. In fact, it seems to magnify them. For instance, I tend to be very critical with myself about how I use my time. Now that my time might be significantly more precious, I am all the more angstful about wasting it.

Lately, I'm doing my best to reclaim the definition of waste. Only I can determine if time spent flat on the couch watching stand-up comedy on Netflix is life-affirming or life-avoiding. The answer changes from moment to moment. And it depends on who's on stage.

Another thing, in spite of having one breast and no hair, I still worry about gaining weight. I tell myself it's for legitimate survival reasons - less body fat means less estrogen and I have a cancer that is stimulated by estrogen. But really it's all about the daily reckoning in front of the mirror. The fact that I'm thinner than usual feels like a reprieve. As a way to distract myself from the baldness and the scars, I focus on the more pronounced angles of my face, my more visible muscle tone, my narrower waistline and two-sizes smaller jeans.

In the past if I felt bad about what I saw, I reacted by dieting, or rebelled with second and third helpings and in-your-face brownie sundaes. With overweight parents, the worry that I would be fat hovered over my childhood in the form of well-meaning critiques of everything I ate. It took me many years and great struggle to stop flip-flopping between stricture and rebellion. These days I can usually grasp that I'm lovable no matter what I see in the mirror, and feed myself from that knowing, making choices that give me the most pleasure while still nurturing my health.

But it isn't always easy, and I still worry about gaining weight.

3. You get used to it. In spite of all that body image baggage, I sometimes forget what I look like. I'll be talking to someone in the grocery store or locker room, and suddenly it will dawn on me that I am wearing a bandanna on my head. And then I'll remember that I am bald. And that I have just one breast.

It's a testament to whomever I'm talking to that I can forget. Some people relate to me now like I'm from a different planet. It's okay, I'd rather they try than avoid me entirely. And besides, I can relate. I feel like I'm from a different planet too. On planet Cancer, a good day is when you feel almost normal.

You get used to that too.

4. When it comes to life and death decisions, there's never enough information. This is true with cancer and everything else. It is also true that we, every one of us without exception, makes the best decisions possible with the information we have in the moment. Of course, sometimes emotion occludes some bits of information while blowing others out of proportion.

With my new chemo drug, Taxol, the biggest concern is peripheral neuropathy. It's a common side effect that alters sensation in the fingers and toes. For many there is tingling and numbness. It can get so bad that you can't hold a pen because you can't feel the grip, can't cook, can't button your clothing. It's a serious quality of life issue. Unfortunately, with this drug, administered weekly, it may not be temporary.

For me, two cycles in and ten remaining, my fingers and toes feel bruised, sore, and hypersensitive to cold and heat. I don't know how much worse it might get. I don't know if I'll recover normal sensation or not. I don't know how a break from chemo, or a change of drug, both possible responses to this troubling development, will effect my prognosis.

If all goes according to plan, I'll be talking to my oncologist tonight.

5. There is always something to celebrate.  Sometimes it's a comfy couch and Wanda Sykes on Netflix. Sometimes it's a well-timed hug. Sometimes it's simply that a very hard day is finally over. Today, I'm celebrating that I'm not lying on the couch wishing I had the energy to sit at my desk.

In fact, here I am, at my desk feeling productive, for multiple days running:


Anonymous said...

Great to rea you Amy. Yes, indeed, on planet cancer things are a bit off kilter sometimes...

Hope you get your sexual appetite back. The food looks delicious and you posed for the camera...:) That's always good.

Best to you,

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your cancer observations with us.

Continuing to cheer you on - you're doing awesome!


Anonymous said...

I had taxol/carboplatin and later, taxotere, for ovarian cancer. I had bad peripheral neuropathy. I tried L-glutamine powder (health food store - usually with a weight lifter on the packaging). I took a tablespoon or so of the powder mixed with juice each day. My neuropathy went completely away.
Check with your doctor - but because L-Glutamine is an amino acid, it didn't have any side effects or interfere with my particular treatment.
Good luck! That sounds like how my neuropathy started. Then it turned into the feeling that my toes and fingers were perpetually 'asleep'.

Anonymous said...

You look lovely in the photos,stay patient.