Lying in bed, I’m making my mental packing list for the journey of this day. I’m not going far and yet the “trip” will be arduous. Which is why this particular packing list is so critical. . . I need my creature comforts to get me through it with any sort of . . . what’s the right word . . sanity? Let’s go with sanity because dignity left the building so long ago it wore bell bottoms. Which might be back in style. So that’s how long.
I suppose this will come as no shock that I tend to overpack—both in physical suitcases and in emotional baggage alike. This being my sixth trip to the chemo infusion lab, you’d think I’d have it down. But this one will be my last, if all goes well, so I feel some self-imposed pressure to get it right. As if.
What did I really use last time I went? What did I wish I had? It’s the usual sort of inventory one makes, I suppose, before making a repeat trip. Remember to charge the earbuds. And forget those health food snacks you always pack and never eat. Be honest, just this once, and pack those chips which you craved last time. If eating junk food during my chemo infusion is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.
*Hence my cynicism.
In the midst of my mental gymnastics, my favorite workout by the way, I’m distracted by a muffled ringtone. As I rummage around the twisted bedsheets (my husband will tell you all about my poor sheet management skills), I suddenly realize… I already know. I’d seen the blast of red numbers when I looked at my blood test results last Friday. Sure, there are usually some, but this particular summary contained more scarlet numbers than my latest budget.
“Hello, this is mumble, I’m the pharmacist at USC reviewing your latest test results. I’ve consulted with your oncologist and we agree that your chemo infusion, scheduled for today, should be postponed. Your something-that-sounds-like-a-health-food-cereal numbers are too low, indicating…”
Wait a minute. I struggle to switch gears, exit packing-list mode, to process this news.
What I got: infusion postponed. I am hungry for breakfast.
“What’s that again?” I query. “What is it that you’re worried about, that I can’t do the infusion today?”
“Neutrophils, they’re on the front-line of your body’s immune response. Your 0.78 level is very low, and we don’t want to risk exposure to infection….”
I’m still thinking about breakfast cereal, as I unpack my bags and take the much-hated ice packs out of the freezer. Much as I despise them, I strap these monsters to my extremities during infusions to reduce the risk of neuropathy in my hands and feet. I already experience some painful pins & needles, and I sure don’t want more. I recall how my grandmother declined when her arthritis kept her from doing the crafts she loved. What hope would there be for me if I couldn’t use my hands to write, to create awful art or to signal my opinion of bad drivers?
But that doesn’t mean the ice packs get a pass. I’ve suffered enough close calls with frostbite, back when I was a a geologist in the Midwest, that my inner toddler delights in rejecting these objects of torture with an exuberant, “haha, not today!”
Oh, adult me knows it’s just a week postponement. Still, I’m whipsawed, trying to decide how I feel about it. On the one hand, I’m devastated to add even one more week this hellish experience. I’ve had a calendar on the wall, counting down the days of this nightmare, since my hysterectomy on August 4. I’d circled and highlighted January 10th as THE END of treatments and major side effects. Pushing it out even seven days angers me like Trader Joe’s discontinuing Cookie Butter Cheesecake. As if life wasn’t already hard enough!
On the other hand, I should be feeling much better on Christmas Eve night, when we traditionally open gifts, than I’d thought. I’d worried that I wouldn’t feel well enough for our annual gift-opening warmup exercise—a family visit to the foot massage place. If postponing chemo a week means I get to steep in pampered bliss for an hour, then I’ll land on the side of Acceptance. Just this once.
I can always get knee-jerk angry again next week, but what are the holidays if not a reminder to Enjoy The Moment? My young-adult kids are home for the holidays, and that won’t always be true. What’s more, we enjoy each other’s company. Not everyone can say that. And this year, I’ve stared down death and I seem to be winning. For sure, a lot of folks can’t say that either.
If my many blessings of this year don’t give me enough reason to give up my whining and complaining for a few days, then what will?
I dig out my phone back out of the twisted bedsheets** and schedule those foot massages with glee.
It’s finally time for breakfast.
*Twisted Bedsheets would make an excellent band name.
Cancer Log posts chronicle my journey through treatments for uterine cancer