Sunday, November 22, 2009

Round 4

Round 4

Well, I couldn’t expect a TKO in the fourth round - but I am an optimist and that is what I was hoping for. And, in my heart, I could picture the final bloody knock-out punch but as 6 year-old Amelia reminded me as she read over my shoulder an e-mail that she perhaps should not have seen because I was simply being flip with a friend and talking about how I am “kicking ass”. She said, with an earnest look on her face: “But, Mom, I don’t think cancer has an ass.”

You may have noticed that it has taken a few days after Round 4 last Tuesday for me to send out an update - perhaps some of the adrenalin has worn off and the reality that this is going to be a long slog this winter set in. I will admit that I fell off the horse a bit - had a bit of a psychological setback when Greg and I saw the doctor and learned that instead of what we had thought were 4 more treatments every other Tuesday that in fact I now begin 12 weekly cycles of two new chemo drugs starting Dec 1 - postponing the end of chemo until about mid-February. Bah humbug. The idea of being in hospital corridors during this holiday period as people start to put on Santa hats and upbeat smiles and schmaltzy “Jingle Bells” start playing on every radio station made me a bit sick to my stomach. Now even if the chemo hadn’t made me nauseous until this point, I really wanted to throw up.

I decided I needed a new anthem. So I reached back about 8 years to an old Eminem riff that had the necessary driving beat to drag me back to reality and drag my running shoes out the door and down Mass Ave. when the anxiety started to build and the tightness in my throat left me gasping for a little more breath. I downloaded “Lose Yourself” from iTunes and had a new mantra - a slightly angry one at that. “You have one shot - do not lose your chance to blow - this opportunity comes once in a lifetime...” Over and over it played as I punched my way down Mass Ave. tears rolling down my face. Angry that I had to waste another minute on this damn disease.

I was so hungry at one point on my run - now that I am only eating vegetables - that I even looked at a dandelion growing near Dupont Circle and actually thought - hmmm - phytochemicals - good for starving tumors - I laughed out loud as I pictured a cartoon Lion with a thought bubble and inside it was a big juicy leg of beef. I now literally have dreams about how much bang for my buck can I get from eating something green and that dandelion was in my cartoon thought bubble. You wouldn’t believe the healthy stuff I am eating in an effort to starve these tumors of any sugar or starch that turns to sugar.

In fact I was at a dear friend’s for dinner on Thursday and was horrified to find that to celebrate the occasion and the intimate group that had gathered that our dear hosts had decided to reach deep into their wine cellar and pulled out to share with us a 1969 La Tache from Bourgogne. Now I used to drink a lot of wine but I never knew anything about wine. So when she read the description from Robert Parker describing what a special bottle this was and how it sells at auctions for, and I am not exaggerating, $6000 a bottle, I suddenly faced a dilemma. There I was having forsaken alcohol now in my battle to beat this beast - a mouth filled with chemicals and deadened tastebuds thanks to the last round of chemo - how could I simply politely sip this wine that any oenophile would have given his right arm for? I wanted to choke. I did not want to leave any wine in the glass - thinking what each sip was really worth in real GDP terms and how actually that whole glass could have been that pair of red bottomed Christian Louboutins that I really really wanted but left at Saks. On the other hand, I also felt like drinking wine right now was the equivalent of drinking hemlock given my condition. And the sad reality was that all I really wanted was the ice cream sundae that our dear hostess was serving for dessert - to me that beat the La Tache hands down. What would it do to my glycemic index? I didn’t care anymore (sorry, Lila). I broke down and ate the hot fudge sundae with reckless abandon (and the La Tache).

Back to Round 4 - and yes I am burying the lede again. Sorry, Jim. The doctor is over the moon at the continued shrinkage and so the AC combo in the first 4 rounds has worked beautifully and Dr. Isaacs literally says she really has to check the chart to see which breast the tumor is in because it is now that difficult to feel. So that’s good.

What’s not good is that this roller coaster continues. And there are moments when I want off pretty badly. Take, for instance, the day after chemo when I went back to Georgetown to get my Neulasta shot - that’s the one that forces my bone marrow to start producing more white blood cells so that I don’t pick up every cooty that the kids bring home. I was sitting in the waiting area of the oncology ward - again not the happiest place on earth. I have my W magazine opened and in walks a young Asian woman (about my age) her American husband in tow and her mother and grandmother who had just arrived to be with her from China. They looked like deer caught in the headlights. I could see the tears already welling in her eyes. She sat down next to me and I turned to her knowing she looked fragile and she burst out: “It’s my first time.” She still had her long beautiful black hair loosely pulled back into a casual low ponytail - just the way I used to like to wear mine on the weekends. I was so angry at myself - I had not felt like putting my wig on when I went for my shot. It was just going to be a few minutes and I didn’t feel like putting on make-up and there I was looking like such a cancer patient. I must have looked so scary to this young woman. I immediately dug deep and went into my best salesmanship mode - talking a mile a minute. I grabbed her arm and told her it was going to be alright. That it really wasn’t so bad. Really. I got very practical and asked her if she had gotten her wig yet? And when she solemnly shook her head, ‘no.’ I immediately said, “Here’s what you are going to do tomorrow. You are going to call Hans at Lucien and Eviand up on Wisconsin Ave. near Whole Foods. You are going to go there with your best girlfriends. And he is going to fuss over you and make you feel like a million bucks. Then you are going to go out to lunch and then you are going to make an appointment at your favorite salon in two weeks and take your girlfriends and shave your head. Then you are going to go to Modell’s and ask for the UnderArmor skull caps because they are so comfortable to sleep in and you can’t believe how drafty it is when you are bald.” Her husband had whipped out a pen and was taking down my every word and she was suddenly laughing.

They called me in for my shot and I sat in the chair and I simply burst into tears. Another woman from the waiting area who had looked happy a minute before rounded the corner and overcome with emotion just begged the nurse to call her doctor and bring the orders up so she didn’t have to go downstairs again. I caught my breath and asked the nurse to excuse my emotion but there were just so many sad people there today. I got my shot and then went into the ladies room and threw cold water on my face so that the nice young Asian woman would not see that I had been crying. I thought if I smiled broadly enough it would hide my red eyes. So I did. And I walked out into the corridor and hugged her goodbye as the oncology nurse called her. I decided I would never not wear my wig and make-up to the hospital again. I had let my armor down.