“I’m Hot!...and I’m Bald!” CHEMOTHERAPY FOR WINNERS
Chapter One - Who's in Charge Here?...You Are!
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you or someone you love is facing the imminent possibility of chemotherapy. Maybe you’ve had an organ transplant, and you’re wondering how to manage the side effects of the anti-rejection meds—for the rest of your life. Or you have multiple sclerosis, or rheumatoid arthritis, and the side effects you’re experiencing are the same as cancer patients’, but your problems don’t get as much attention. Or maybe you’re in the midst of cancer treatment and feeling overwhelmed, as though your life depends on solving a puzzle where the pieces don’t always fi t and the rules don’t always apply. At least, not in your case.
As isolated as you may feel, you’re far from alone. Chemotherapy is the standard of care for many cancers, but also for multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and for people who have had organ transplants.
At this very moment, literally hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are out there undergoing chemo.
Looking back, most of what I was thinking or feeling during my two-year period of chemo treatment wasn’t reflected by anything I read. Through the whole chemo experience, which never really ends once you’ve had it, I saw so many people going through treatment like me, but not like me. They hated the meds that were saving their lives, the side effects seemed as bad or worse than the disease. I sailed through chemo, with no pain and very little inconvenience. At one point, I even accused my oncology team of not giving me enough chemical help. Everybody in that room where I sat for my infusion was caught up in the enormity of what was happening to them. I was only flirting with disaster. It wasn’t real to me.
As it turned out, I wasn’t the only one who handled chemo with ease bordering on indifference. In different ways, some of the sickest people I met were refusing to let his or her disease take center stage in their lives. Like members of a secret society, we felt each other out. If you worked your computer through the hours in the chemo chair, that was a sign. If you found yourself looking for a gin rummy challenge, that was good, too. It said that you refused to play by the rules your disease dictated, you had your own agenda. Game on!
We weren’t just not giving up, we were certain we would win. If you lost a body part, or if you had to chug Vicodin like popcorn for the pain, or if you had to throw down handfuls of pills every day to keep a disease in the corner or a body organ from closing down, well, it was a big deal, but it wasn’t the end of the world. Instinctively, we knew fear is the secret enemy, as deadly as the one attacking our bodies. Getting our lives back was the goal.
Paradoxically, it turns out our arrogance or denial or whatever you want to call it apparently keeps us alive longer than people who don’t operate that way. Somehow, the way we handle fear is in our favor. My medical team tells me patients who either had no fear or found a way to discount it fared better in terms of quality of life, even if they didn’t survive in the long run.
I didn’t join any support groups or make radical lifestyle changes. I chose to pick up where I left off, conscious that it’s possible I could “do more” to keep the cancer away. I’m pretty sure the way I was living two or three years before my diagnosis had a lot to do with the advance of the disease.