Mustard gas was first used in World War I, and found to be a suppressor of blood production. During World War II, nitrogen mustard was shown to reduce white blood cell counts, and after the war, presumably when gassing people became a lot less popular, a commercial application was found in cytotoxic treatments for cancer. Complicating the storyline around treatment are the kickbacks doctors get from prescribing chemotherapy; there’s a website where you can find out how much your doctor has gotten in kickbacks from your drugs.
I happen to think that chemotherapy is the right course of action for me — for the reasons I shared previously (stopping early spread of the cancer; shrinking the tumor to make a difficult surgery a little easier) — but it seems barbaric nonetheless. I willingly have these toxic substances, which systemically attack normal and cancerous cells alike — injected into a vein going directly into my heart. The symptoms — odd physical sensations, numbness, nausea, changes in taste, skin inflammations, fatigue and cognitive impairment — are all par for the course. It’s kind of a spray and pray — really hard — strategy.
With chemotherapy comes reluctant resignation of things I can’t do. Tomorrow, my mom is having surgery for her lung cancer — removing 2/3 of her lung. Because I’m in my low immunity period, I won’t be able to be at the hospital, to support or advocate. (Thankfully, my brother came into town and will handle all of that.) Last week and into early this week, one of the kids was really sick — and I could only care for her as if she were prisoner, knocking and leaving a tray of food outside her door throughout the day (at least it was a pretty gold tray).
Cycle 1 is supposed to be the easiest, before the toxins have a cumulative effect on the body, and so far it has been manageable. I’m diligent about my nausea meds, I hydrate like crazy (my Plant Nanny plant is happy and has sprouted a flower!), and eat small meals throughout the day. I haven’t been driving because sometimes the fatigue hits me like a tranquilizer dart; the other day I was in the midst of chewing some food and made it my goal to stay awake til I got far enough along to swallow. I live the same life as my one-year-old goddaughter: wake up, eat, do a little activity if I can, and sleep again.
Right around Day 4 I had a real Flowers for Algernon moment. I was trying to do just a few minutes of work, and found it nearly impossible to think. I knew I used to be able to read, but it was really hard, and composing any cohesive content was totally out of bounds. I had to just lie down after trying to read.
I make myself exercise a little every day — maybe a 30-40 minute walk — though on these drugs I have to keep myself covered up (people on the patient boards said that on one the drugs I’m on, it feels like you have hot oil poured all over your skin if you let direct sunlight onto it), so if you see someone dressed like a Franciscan monk about to pick coffee beans wandering along the canyon trails, feel free to say hello.
This has always been one of my favorite verses, because of its deceptive simplicity: the command to be still, which for me, used to require an incredible amount of effort, followed by a comfort that demands nothing but receiving.
I’ve been still a lot lately, and with it comes wonder of all the things you never noticed before: the little purple veins in a cauliflower floret; the hand-painted artistry on a pretty ceramic plate (those of you who know my penchant for pretty plates will be glad to know that not for one second have I regretted the acquisition of a single one). With stillness comes focus, especially on days where you can only manage one thought at a time.
The bright side
I’ll let you in on a little secret: the best restaurant in town is at my house, on the meal train. How I became blessed with friends with such good taste across food, flora and fashion will forever remain a mystery for which I am eternally grateful.
This week came with news of a new scientific discovery as well, that might explain the spread of cancer (and the mystery of qi). One of the things they say on the patient boards is that all you have to do is to stay alive long enough for them to find a cure. So fingers crossed that day isn’t so far away.
Also, someone wrote a really good article about the state of leiomyosarcomas treatment today — probably the best consolidated summary I’ve seen.
Timothy Keller talks about the birth of a baby: how in that moment, the baby who was perfectly happy and warm in the womb, is annoyed and wondering why he’s been slapped on the butt and in a cold room with everyone staring at him. What he doesn’t realize is that everything — from the slapping to the cold to the attention of the doctors and the parents — is being done for his benefit. I’m keeping that analogy in mind.
Finally, it brings me to much joy to hear of the actions you’ve taken after reading my updates. I’ll keep adding as I remember them (caveat that chemo brain can kick in any time!):
- In addition to the soaps and body washes I mentioned last time, avoid toothpastes with triclosan — even though the FDA has ruled that it’s potentially harmful, it still appears in some products like Colgate Total toothpaste. Heck, just avoid triclosan. And whatever you do, don’t put it in your mouth. I like Dr Bronner’s toothpaste.
- You can use EWG’s Skin Deep database to search consumer products you’re using to determine toxicity. Use it to search for particular brands and items, or to just check out the ingredients in something you already have.
- This blog triangulates EWG’s ratings, Amazon ratings and Fakespot to come up with recommendations on body and facial care products that are good choices to consider. There are some natural beauty brands out there that produce terrible and expensive products, and then there are affordable mass market brands that produce perfectly good products. My general rule of thumb is to target products that don’t promise to do too much — they’re more likely to have inert ingredients. Plus, I’ve come to realize, aging is a privilege — we don’t have to fight it.