Part 2

Once my terrible, awful, no-good biopsy was complete, we waited for whatever unknown would follow. I was moved to 8A, which would become my home (or, as I felt on some days, prison) for the next long while. I started chemo (I think?) the day after I was in the ER. The first few weeks, although difficult in the sense that 1) I had cancer and 2) I wouldn’t be able to go home until they deemed it acceptable, were mostly “good”. By that I mean I was in good spirits a lot of the time, and this whole thing, although shitty, was an adventure. That sounds weird, like I was glad it was happening… But I wasn’t. Anyway, another slight interjection– since this is sort of a ranting session punctuation and all that isn’t really my top priority right now. Or probably ever in these posts… Whoops. Okay, back to it! I knew pretty quickly that my hair would more than likely fall out, and I couldn’t think of anything more horrifying than having my long hair fall out in clumps in my hands. So I figured that since this cancer thought it could determine what happened in my life, I’d show it who was boss. It wasn’t really a difficult choice to cut my hair and shave my head. I had always wanted to donate my hair, but whenever I went to get it cut I’d chicken out, unable to part with my long locks. But now– now— was the perfect time. I had probably a good ten inches hacked off and sent away to make wigs for kids suffering hair loss, and that was the first time I felt I gave the cancer a big “fuck you!”. Instead of seeing the situation as me losing one of my favorite things about myself, I saw it as a wonderful avenue to take with positive results on both ends. And I still see it like that. Someone somewhere will be enjoying my hair as much as I did, and I learned to accept myself as a baldy. I had made a plan that a friend would do the honors of buzzing off my remaining locks, and I’m so glad that I did. Although I was in a good place mentally, the situation was made even more enjoyable by being surrounded by such wonderful people. Before I achieved optimum-baldness, I figured we may as well have some fun. First I rocked a Ben Franklin ‘do, then more of a friar cut. Ultimately I rocked the Matt Stimac, the hair style of my dad. Being able to laugh was such a wonderful thing. Never would I have thought I would voluntarily shave my hair, nor laugh the entire time, but it happened. And I don’t regret it for a second. In a situation with such little control, being the one to decide when and how I lost my hair was an incredibly empowering feeling. I was also surprised to see that I didn’t look like a complete weirdo without hair. In fact, I sort of liked it. And in a situation where you’re not going to have hair for a while, it’s probably a good thing that I was able to accept that. Now, there were definitely hard times where seeing my shiny scalp was upsetting. Everyone experiences good days and bad days, but I felt like mine were amplified. I much preferred to be in positive moods, and laughing was definitely something I tried to do often. But I had my fair share of what we deemed “moments”. There were a handful of times I’d look into the mirror (I think I went about a week after getting my head buzzed that I didn’t really look at myself, or my head) where I’d feel emotion crash over me. It was rarely a violent “holy shit I’m going to drown in this torrent of emooooootion” but it was more of a melancholy wave of “how did this happen?” And tons of other answerless questions as well. These times were mostly short lived when compared to the times of smiles and laughs and for that I’m definitely thankful.

I don’t remember specifically when this next bit happened, but I assume it was pretty soon after my arrival to 8A. Instead of being poked all the time, I was to receive a PICC line, which was a three-lumen catheter that was inserted into the upper arm and allowed one to receive blood, chemo or whatever else is required (blood can also be drawn from it, which is awesome for labs). The idea is brilliant, especially since, like I mentioned, needles are not my friend. However the procedure was done in my room with only lidocaine. In concept, that’s totally fine. For other patients who aren’t me. Before I even started the procedure I had a bad feeling about it. I don’t remember a whole lot, but I know it didn’t really feel like anything after the fiery feeling of the lidocaine faded into a joyous numbness. It also wasn’t a particularly long procedure, but I was anxious the entire time. That’s something else– I’ve always been incredibly anxious. Usually about just about anything, too. But throw me into a situation like this– a fuckin’ medical situation– and nope, nopenopenopenope there is no such thing as “calm”. Not for a while at least. Well, shortly after receiving this PICC (shortly meaning a day or so) my arm was sore and, although I’d never had anything like a PICC before, something just didn’t feel right. An ultrasound was conducted, and it turned out I had a DVT as a result of the PICC line placement. This was pretty shitty for several reasons. 1) it would have to be removed, which meant MORE anxiety 2) no PICC meant more IV’s and a need to be poked 2-3 times daily for labs 3) a DVT meant I had to be extra careful not to dislodge it, and therefore certain motions were restricted and blood pressures could no longer be taken on that arm. The good news about this shitty experience was that from then on when I got a PICC line placed I’d get to be under conscious sedation in the IR unit. Now, the fact that I was out of it is good, the fact that I needed another PICC, not so much. The second PICC would last a decent amount of time…

Now we’re gonna get a bit out of order I think. After the first round of chemo, which lasted a week, I started to get neutropenic fevers. Those weren’t a huge deal, they were mostly the result of having zero immune system, and they often lasted a pretty short amount of time although they happened pretty damn frequently. I LOVE to be warm. And when I’d get the chills and start (fun fact, I’m in bed typing right now and I accidentally typed shart instead of start hahaha! I’m a child…) shivering uncontrollably I was completely miserable. I couldn’t wait for the Tylenol to kick in so I could heat back up. My fevers ran pretty consistently between 100-104 degrees, which might sound awful but I was never alarmed by that. As the days after my chemo passed, and my immune system continued to decline, I got plenty of transfusions (both blood and platelets) and started to develop mouth sores. Now, those aren’t particularly fun. It starts out feeling like you bit your cheek or you have a cold sore growing by your gums, and as time passes it evolves into this white chunk of skin that aches like no other. Talking is difficult (I think I nailed my Don Corleone voice as a result, though!)  and eating is almost impossible. Between the pain in my mouth and the chemo making everything taste like cardboard, there was a long period of time with little to no food consumed. Typically whatever I did eat would end up coming back up not too long after. I would get oral morphine to help the pain, but it hardly made a difference. The sores only lasted a couple of days, and after that I started using their “salt and soda” mix to try and prevent that from happening again. But now that the sores were gone, it was time to usher in the next, and worst, of my complications. I like to call this my “Cherry Pie Phase”. Stay turned to find out why…

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