Now you see me, now you don't......
Looking back on the differences between this summer and last summer, I'm humbled &amazed. The sun seemed to shine a little brighter, fruit taste a little sweeter & the sound of laughter linger, just a little longer. I'd planned on documenting my end of chemo and emergency surgery, a lot earlier (so sorry for the wait) but you have to forgive me, as I truly enjoyed the summer of 2016.
Alright, so were was I? Oh yeah, how could I forget? I'd showed up my breast surgeon's office for a scheduled visit and to map out a plan for my next course of action. I'd been on a roller coaster of emotions (with good highs and tremendous lows) and was just days away from the ending of chemotherapy when it happened. The 2nd Great Crash of 2016.
The coolness of the air conditioning chilled my skin as I was hurriedly whisked into the infusion unit. As the elevator doors opened and I suddenly appeared the oncology nurses (who'd gathered at the front desk) wondered aloud, what was going on. With arched eyebrows, folded arms and a growing sense of alarm they questioned why I'd appeared at the unit, several days early, looking disheveled and above all things in a wheelchair! I meekly attempted to explain, what I thought was going on and realized, I truly had no idea.
"Ooh" a sign of relief, I thought, as my oncology nurse appeared on the horizon. She spoke softly but firmly, her hands lightly tapping my skin, looking for signs of my very elusive veins. Her assuring demeanor spoke quietly to my soul. "Don't worry, Karen", she said, as her fingers slowly and lightly performed a rhythmic dance up and down, my arm relaxing, as I listened. "We're gonna get you all prepared for the Emergency Room". "Once you arrive, you will not have to worry about anyone inserting another line". She leaned forward and added sternly, "Whatever you do, don't let them mess with your line"! "If an adjustment has to be made, make sure to stop, and request an oncology nurse, and one of us will come to the ER to assist you."
A wave of hot anxiety ran through my back, and I could feel myself overheating. I tried to remain calm, but sweat began to pour from my brow, swell in my neck, and drip down the back of my exposed long legs. "This can't be happening" I thought, my mind racing, anticipating what the next move would be.
Out of the corner of my eye I could see my Social Worker/Mental Heath confidante walking towards me. With a surprised and slightly disappointed look on her face, she quickly ascertained what was happening. Although my Social Worker was in the middle of a hectic workday, she assured me that she would come down to the ER to check up on me. I smiled sheepishly and nodded my head.
So as I was wheeled down to the ER as strong mixture of sadness and rebellion kicked in. I was just a few short days away from the end of chemotherapy treatment and was on specific countdown clock. I was, in no uncertain terms ready to give in to any deviations in the plan. Not one. No matter how big or small, the thought of entertaining change was unimaginable to me. My picture of triumphantly finishing chemo on time had little wiggle room for alterations. Little did I understand that the those thoughts, the inflexibility & defiance, would sow the seeds of unnecessary, added emotional trauma. Like slow moving poison, the inability for me to recognize that one important factor, flexibility, would be the key to my emotional survival.
As I arrived at the ER, I surveyed the scene with mock disdain. A chaotic scene was unfolding in front of my eyes. Nurses scrambled around, snatching back curtains. The occasional shouts of pain permeated the air, and I remember that distinctive sound, rubber wheels dragging across the floor. I watched with a vain sense of curiosity as a middle aged Caucasian man striped naked and stood in the hallway, shoulders slumped waiting for attention. The man's nurse and what I assumed was his caretaker firmly but efficiently coaxed him to return to a clothed state, as a sense of relief filled the room. Nearby a burly African American woman cursed and argued with a doctor for not filling a prescription. It was crowded, it was loud, with the best and worst of life was on full display. The ER had turned into a manic club and for a moment I felt like a fully paid up, card carrying member. "It's alright" I thought. You are exactly where you need to be .
A doctor suddenly appeared at my side and introduced herself. She indicated that she wanted to run some tests. "Sure" I thought, what's a few test gonna mean in the scheme of things? No matter what the tests determined I was going to finish chemo on time. Bored, tired and hungry the images of a sizzling hot slice of pizza entered my mind. Like a puffy cloud, hanging low in the sky, the thought of just chilling with a slice, unaware of the serious nature of what was about to occur, really, truly appealed to me As I surveyed the increasing chaotic scene in the ER, I surmised that no one would be with wiser if I slipped out and grabbed a slice. Yeah, I know, your thinking really Karen?! In my defense I will say that the ER was steps away from a pretty descent hospital cafeteria.
Since I was awaiting the results of my tests, and was pretty low maintenance (hey, I wasn't snatching my clothes off, sneaking sips of alcohol, weaning off the hallucinogenic effects of synthentic marijuana or cursing nurses out) I slipped quietly off my aforementioned gurney and took a short walk to the hospital cafeteria (alright, so I had to unscrew myself, and take a few things with me) and sat down to enjoy what I thought was the best pizza I'd had in quite some time.
I entered the ER and indignantly assumed the position on top of the gurney, just as the nice ER doctor appeared again. She gave no indication that she knew that I'd been AWOL, which was a relief. "Hi Karen", she spoke in even, sympathetic, non threatening tone. The test's have come back and it appears you have an infection in your port that may be effecting your breathing." We want to get you admitted A.S.A.P. so we can get you started on a course of antibiotics to get you stable". "Okay" I responded, "I understand".
Just days away from my the end tratnent, I closed my eyes and pictured the opportunity to end this horror, I knew as chemo, slipping slowly from my grasp. No amount of resiliency, prayer or encouraging words could bring me comfort. I just wanted it to be over. I had fought hard to get to the finish line. Days spent trying to excercise, riding my bike, pushing thru on the eliptical machine or taking the extra walk, would all be waisted (I felt) if I did not finish chemo on time. I was tired of my mouth feeling like a metal garbage can, tired of the dark circles that hung from my eyes. Lord knows I was tired of the unrelenting system of rubber gloves to protect my peeling fingers, holding my breath if someone sneezed or coughed. I was so tired of keeping a hand towel tucked in my purse to absorb the sweat that poured from my bald head, and praying the stiffness would not return after my Nuelasta shots. I was tired of my limited diet & missed the simplicity of enjoying freshly washed fruit. I was tired of the hours spent dipping my fingers & toes in ice to ward of the possibility of neuropathy. I was tired of being sick and tired.
In that moment I remember felt the pangs of undiluted survival kick in. It was raw, it was frightening, it was freeing. The feeling allowed me to totally focus on what I needed most at that very moment, relief. To walk away from the doctors, to wave gleefully at the nurses, to toss tests aside and do what felt so right, so good, so very me. Escape.
Next up: PT 2. It's finally over! The last day of chemo.
Oh, here's a few pictures of Summer 2016. These pics represent a true 180* 😊.