So, what happened the first week & round of chemo? Pt. 1
So, what was life for me after the first round of chemo? Well, it was a hodgepodge of curious texts, calling, praying, encouragement, pain, laughter, near car accidents lots and lots of sizing me up. Oh, and add a pinch of self awareness. Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.
So lets start with he obvious, things were going to be slightly different in my life and I would have to acknowledge that fact, even though I didn't want to. Take for instance take my driving skills. Now I'd opted to get my infusion of chemo on Friday and was required to get my Nuelasta shot no sooner than 24hrs afterwards, which meant Saturdays. I'd researched and heard about the nasty side effects (stiffening of the body, heart palpitations) but I had no idea what any of it would look or feel like. Top it off with the fact that I was taking steroids, anti nausea and pain medication, and this left me with real zany mixture of a cocktail that had me feeling very loopy.
I'd woke up the day after chemotherapy and snapped a few pictures, just to send out, if need be as proof of life. Seriously, you know the kind. Those, look at me happy selfies, that's all grin and teeth, even though we all know good and well pandemonium is swirling around just outside of view. My picture reflected somewhat of a front, but it was still early on and the side effects had not fully set in. My miracle worker (hair dresser) checked in and I sent her a selfie of me and my Afro puff grinning and dipping, still oblivious to the shut down that was on the horizon. When I think back on it, I should have just laid my ass down, and taken one for Team Karen, but of course I didn't and continued to move thru the weekend at a regular pace.
By now it was Sunday night and the loopy feeling had really started to take over. One quick look in the mirror and I also observed my face was in full swollen mode (a side effect from the steroids) and my beautiful narrow almond eyes now gave way to a "deer in headlights" look. All I wanted to do, was stay hidden from the masses and attempt to get some quality sleep, but to no avail, it would not happen. All I kept thinking was "There's no way I wanted to show up to work feeling or looking like I was going to keel over at any moment." Hiding quietly on my sofa in the safety of my home, with nobody around was the strategy that seemed really easy. I'd been fending off visitors and with the premise that I needed to rest and I had everything under control. Most friends and family respected that, but of course you had those few, who really wanted to see for themselves, how I was handling my first chemo session.
The first forty eight hours, I had not really slept well and was starting to feel the first tinges of anxiety set in. No matter how I tried, I could not get comfortable in any position, and I just stayed up, mind racing. It was late Sunday night when my phone rang and I answered. "What's up" the caller on the end of the line chimed, "You alright?" I bit of relief washed over me as I was glad to talk to anyone in the late hour. I'm going to call this friend the "Negotiator". You know the type, talks really fast, always looking for a better deal, questioning everything and always has a story. Well the Negotiator had lived thru some things, seen some things and was not squeamish. I could talk about the worst of what I afraid would happen, how I was feeling and the sticky issues of mental health and mortality, without the reactionary looks, comments, summaries or internalization, that I had experienced when trying to broach any of these subjects with my closets family, friends and peers. The Negotiator sat patiently and listened time and time again as I poured my fears and anxieties out, and he neatly without emotion or bravado put everything in its proper perspective, for me to digest. He observed me at my mental worst & did not react or judge, which I appreciated. Plus, it was a lot easier talking to someone and not watching them hurt, because your hurting.
"I'm okay" I said my voice faking the chirpy upbeat optimistic personality that I was known for. "I see you still up" the Negotiator summarized. "You down for a drive?" I contemplated it momentarily, but not long enough, and accepted the invitation. "Sure, I quipped, meet you outside in twenty." Now, I know I was in no condition to be a passenger, much less a driver, but I got dressed and convinced myself otherwise. I had assessed that, my fine motor skills were jittery, the eyesight was a little glazed over, my balance was off and the ability to accurately gage distance was suffering. The only thing propelling me forward was my pride and the fact that I wanted everything in my life to be appear normal. I slid on my Chuck Taylor's, smoothed out my Afro puff and eased out the door.
The Negotiator pulls up and I stepped outside into the night. The late April air is chilly and I immediately regret my decision. The Negotiator, who owned several luxury cars and suv's had decided to pull up in what he would call "The Shopping Cart", a classic Cadillac. A former club and band promoter, the Negotiator had done well for himself and was a serious car aficionado. "Great, just my luck" I thought, not only will I not have the advantage of having the latest technology assisting with the drive, but now I've got to determine how to maneuver this older, larger vehicle on a darkened highway and not tear up one of his favorite toys. Of course I could have balked and played the "I'm not feeling well" card and just went for a short ride, but I knew I was being sized up and tested. Not only was the Negotiator attempting to figure out how well I was really doing, but I wanted to prove to myself and the world that "I got this" and chemo was not going to kick my ass. Well, it was a big mistake.
I slipped into the passenger seat and experienced the first of what would be many of the "sizing me up" comments. "You looked scared" the Negotiator blurted out. Never one to hold his tongue, I took this as a assessment of my overall facial appearance on steroids. "So where are we driving to?" I questioned, trying to focus and get my head wrapped around taking the wheel. "Yo, let's make a run to Coney Island." "We can stop off in Sheepshead Bay at a diner and get you something to eat". Right then and there I should have objected or at least chosen a designation that was much closer and a road I was familiar with like the West Side Highway. Why didn't I realized that I had nothing to prove? All I needed to do was accept my reality, call it a night and crawl back to my spot on the sofa. But of course, me being rebellious I accepted the challenge, not having enough sanity to respect that my life was changing and there was nothing I could do about it.
We switch sides and I pull out moving towards the parkway, and immediately felt my rhythm was off. Instead of maneuvering thru the streets like an experienced driver, I felt like I was 15 year teenager just learning to handle a stick shift with little hand eye coordination. The car lurched, swerved and jerked around as I gripped the steering wheel like a disoriented Mr. Magoo. As we arrived at the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, (which was under construction) the Negotiator bellowed out, annoyed "Can you see?", as I plowed thru narrowed down lanes barely missing the concrete barriers meant to steer traffic.
Surprisingly we made it to Sheepshead Bay, in one piece and I parked the car. The Negotiator as calm and cool as ever leads the way into the diner. We sit down and I order a Belgian waffle with vanilla ice cream (I know, bad girl) and the Negotiator orders burger, fries and a "Michael Jackson" (chocolate & vanilla shake, tied into the Black or White song). He begins to ask me for very specific details on what chemo infusion was like. I answer as best I could and contemplate what my near future will be like. I tell him I'm going to shave my head, and he gives me a pep talk on vanity & inner beauty.
I decide it's best if he takes the wheel on the path back to my home. We zip back thru quietly thru traffic as I begin to feel very tired. The toxic cocktail of medication is at full strenghth and it leaves me feeling really weird. "When are you going into work" he inquires. "Wednesday", I reply, hoping internally that I'm up to the task. As I step out of the car and back into the cold night air, I hear the Negotiator call my name. I spin around as I'm reaching for my keys, eyes squinting, hands shaking as I insert them into the lock. I pause and acknowledged him as I swing open the door. "Your going to be alright, he crows, don't worry, God is good!" There's a momentary pause, he nods and with a grin slowly growing across his face he pulls off with into the darkness. I turn, enter my home and kick off my sneakers, all while taking in what the Negotiator had proclaimed. "I sure as hell hope he's right" I thought, and with my fluffy blanket, tuck back into my position on the sofa.
Next Up: Pt. 2 The Mummification & adjusting to the 1st round of chemo