The Ox is Back, Baby

Two things I love right now, room temperature
water in a Dodgers cup and Lorazepam.
What a difference 6 years can make. I'm not sure why I was never given the amazing anti-nausea drug Emend my first year of chemo, but based on my love affair with a yellow bucket my mother left next to my bed after every treatment, it was clear I wasn't.

I spent my first reunited romantic weekend with my old lover Oxaliplatin pretending we did nothing more than drink too many margaritas the night before and were meant to lay around the house all weekend working off a mild hangover. This is the way chemo should be. It was very much the way I managed those 3+ years on FOLFIRI - functional and alert, but not eager to wear normal clothes or leave the house.

With nausea kept at a minimum, and just slight bouts of klutziness that left me falling down the stairs just once, I deemed my return to the criminally hard chemo doable for as long as it does what it needs to do.

I know the drill with room temperature drinks and bizarre sensations (or lack their of) in my hands and toes. But considering my skin is well on its way to flawless and smooth, I'll take it. All in all I'd say each of my side effects makes me appreciate the other, and right now I am so happy to see a (sparkling) completion, (almost) healed fingers and feet, nails that have stopped oozing and falling off, and skin that doesn't resemble a dry lake bed.

The plan calls for chemo every 3 weeks. As I'm remaining on the oral chemo, its cycle dictates this one. My official chemo combination is called XELOX (Xeloda + Oxaliplatin), and for now we shall pretend to like each other.


Lorazzies Make Everything Better

By my third round of chemo, I found myself wanting to dry heave in the parking lot. I would panic as I walked toward the infusion room, playing connect-the-dots between every trash can, sink, and bathroom - should the heaving suddenly get real.

I'd lunge for the overpriced recliner nearest a trash can, put in my ear phones, turn Mumford and Sons up as loud as I could, and close my eyes so I could mentally remove myself from that room. I had to go far away from that place in an attempt to suppress the overwhelming urge to throw up.

The caregivers bringing in fast food to their patients sitting next to me didn't help.

I confided my odd reaction to my oncologist, and he quickly diagnosed my ailment as "anticipatory nausea." My mind was anticipating the nausea that was coming, and freaking the f*ck out on me. My nurse dumbed it down, and simply label it as anxiety.

I had never experienced anything like it in my life, and was shocked at how physically overwhelming it could be. I became mentally and physically paralyzed in my ability to move past my pending infusion.

From the start of my treatment, I was prescribed a drug called Lorazepam to manage my nausea: Take 1-2 pills every 4 hours for nausea.

Three rounds in and my nurse was telling me this same drug was used to manage anxiety outside of the cancer world, and simply popping them before I left for chemo would most likely put a halt to my parking lot heaving. It would probably make me want to curl up in that same parking lot and take a nap - a power that would prove useful at 3 a.m when the steroid infusion left me wide awake.

She was right. I waltzed into my next round chiller than a wine cooler in an ice chest, and I became not just a believer in anxiety, but a believer in the drugs available to treat it. I also walked in with a newfound empathy for every person that had anxiety, and knew there was no shame in admitting its overwhelming control over me.

Though I've not had to face anxiety in the last 13 months on a treatment that did not make me sick, I found my familiar friend knocking on my door the moment it was decided to resume the treatment that taught me how sick chemo can truly make you. The nausea wasted now time, and started to overtake me right there in my little infusion room. Anxiety was back, and I found myself digging up leftover (and probably expired) pills to help me calm down and get through the remainder of the day.

I do not hesitate to take one when the thought of being sick again triggers that "anticipatory nausea." I know I will need those tiny white wonders to knock it off of my back, and continue on.

Facing cancer is daunting, and needing the help of drugs that can help keep the ship steady and moving forward is not shameful. Down the hatch one of these will as I walk out the door next Friday, and down the hatch another will go once I arrive at my infusion. Cheers to these little white pills, and the peace and calm they will bring to my mind, my body, and most likely my already low blood pressure.


Crappy Relationships are Better than Abusive Ones

Have you ever dated someone that made you feel like crap, and when the relationship ended it was such a relief?

Why would you ever consider dating that jerk again?

Especially when you swore them off for good.

Next week, I’m starting up a relationship I ended 6 years ago. One I swore I NEVER wanted to get into again. But given that my hands and feet are so cracked and painful from my current EGFR-inhibitor treatment, and my quality of life has been suffering for months, I’ve decided being in a really crappy relationship is better than being in an abusive one. 

Especially when the really crappy one is really only crappy about 6 days out of the month, and the abusive one is bad every day, all day.

I’m going back on Oxaliplatin, the nasty part of the very drug combination (FOLFOX) I was on my first 12 rounds of chemo that made me spoon a bucket in a dark room and numbed my fingers/feet.

After 13 months on Erbitux, I’m thrilled to report it’s still working. I am still more than responsive and more than stable. The problem with my prolonged use is its toxicity to my skin has long reached a breaking point. My hands and feet have become so cracked and painful I find myself avoiding and dreading things like laundry, dishes, and taking out the trash. Not that we all love these daily activities, but for me they resulted in bleeding figures and a hobbled walk on the 20-some bandaids it took to even make walking possible.

I went into chemo last Friday armed with an handicapped parking pass application, and completely lost it when my beloved nurse asked me how things were going. I know I was worn down and emotionally volatile just trying to get painfully dressed every morning. I didn’t realize I was on the cusp of falling apart completely.

And fall apart I did. In front of her, in front of my pharmacist, in front of my oncologist who came into my room, in front of the volunteer who unknowingly walked into my room, and in front of the scheduler as I reworked myself into a bi-monthly schedule.

The last few months have been a daily struggle, and I found it easier to stay home in my pajamas when I could, rather than face the (literal) bloody battle it would take to get my compression garment on Fat Lefty, clothes, and shoes. I dreaded my nightly showers due to the extreme scrubbing of cracked, dry, peeling skin, and the gobs of cream I’d have to coat myself in just to try and fight the painfully dry skin that resulted from my treatments. Skin that would inevitably be cracked and flaky again within 24 hours.

I found it surprising that my skin issues, not nausea and sickness, are what ultimately impacted my quality of life. I know that feeling like I have a bad hangover every other weekend is temporary. Within days I'll be back to normal, and doing life's most basic chores will no longer be a dreaded chore.

My initial plan will be to do this until my skin can recover and enjoy a nice break. It may mean needing to reassess at my next scan, but for now I'll enjoy a smooth, clear, non-furry face, and being able to paint my nails again. I'll also appreciate not spending an extra $50 a month on cream and bandaids.