Who said radiation was easy? I think it was me, a few weeks ago. I was so consumed with NOT doing a full round of chemo that I fooled myself into thinking radiation would be a simple matter of lying on the table and getting a little targeted sunburn on my chest. I admit it. I was flippant. I was wrong. I grossly underestimated the side effects of radiation. I’m not talking about the end-of-the-week fatigue that makes it so I can’t keep up with my friends on bikes. I’m talking about trying to eat, drink, even swallow sometimes, without wanting to double over in pain. Or cry.
The radiation field includes my esophagus, which I knew was going to happen. It was going to causes esophagitis, which I also knew. I expected a supersized sore throat, but a little lower in my chest. What I have, after 14 days of radiation is what feels like a giant inflamed ball of fire and knives right behind my sternum (how’s THAT for descriptive exaggeration? But maybe not so exaggerated). Eating literally takes my breath away. I’ve given it up. Just kidding. Kind of.
I have this solution mixed up by a pharmacist that numbs my throat and coats my esophagus so I can eat really fast before it wears off. I tried it last night before trying to eat a piece of pumpkin pie, my favorite. Within seconds, my whole mouth was numb. But the pie tasted like Lidocaine (logical, as the mix is made with Lidocaine). And it still hurt to eat. Disgusted, I gave up. And threw away a piece of pie for the first time in my life.
Now, it’s getting so I dread getting hungry, which is an outrage and an abomination. I love to eat more than most people do. And I can eat more than most people can. I love food. It’s ironic and supremely unfair that eating is causing me pain. And don’t think I don’t realize that Thanksgiving is coming. It’s the day after my radiation ends and my favorite eating day of the year. I don’t hold out high hopes for the annual Day of Gluttony, though. These will be a long 2 1/2 weeks that are shaping up to end with me watching people eat all my favorite foods.
Last Tuesday, I was kicked out of chemo. My white blood cell count was too low. My body hates chemo and apparently revolts by sacrificing all my white blood cells to the Taxol god. This happened last time I had chemo as well. When I pushed back a little in Poison Control, (Can you imagine, I’m trying to talk my way INTO getting chemo, after all this? Cancer makes you CRAZY) my favorite nurse, Mary, said I’d end up in the hospital if I got chemo with so few WBCs. Always trying to find that silver lining, I had hoped that missing a week of chemo would slow down the snowball of side effects. No dice.
These days, I go to bed knowing that when I wake up, I’m going to feel worse. It makes me stay up later and later (if you can call 11 pm later. How did I anchor the late news for 20 years???). Plus, now, I can’t sleep on my side. It puts too much pressure on the giant hairball of fire in my chest. So I sleep on my back, which Emmitt Smith sees as an invitation to sit and/or sleep on me (Emmitt Smith is my cat, btw, not the former Dallas Cowboy. Thank God. But he still weighs 12 pounds.). I’m not actually sleeping much anyway.
I’m not complaining (well, maybe I am, a little), but I want people to know that no matter what how good your attitude is, cancer treatment still really sucks. I’m now taking 3 medications to address the side effects of my treatment… and I may have to add another medication to address the side effects of the medication for the primary side effects. Cancer makes you CRAZY.
But life is funny. Just as I’m thinking about how miserable breakfast is going to be, the universe lobbed me the ball. I just found out that I’m a finalist in the Chocolate milk/Refuel endurance team contest. When I was in Kona to watch friends race the Ironman World Championship in October, someone at the chocolate milk booth asked if we wanted to make a video as an application to be on former Pittsburgh Steeler Hines Ward’s Refuel team for next year. You may remember Hines Ward raced Kona as his first Ironman this year. Patrick and Martha ran off, but I still can’t walk away from a microphone and a camera, so I did it.
Surprise! I’m one of ten finalists in this round. If I get the most online votes, I’ll compete next year on Hines Ward’s racing team (he’s said he only wants to do one Ironman, but the sport is addictive… He’ll be back.) Here’s the link. You can vote once a day til Dec. 6.
editors note: this contest is no longer active
https://builtwithchocolatemilk.comSo, how am I doing? I feel worse than I did yesterday, and better than I’ll be tomorrow. But, to quote cancer warrior Robin Brewer, it’s This, for Now. Starting today, I have a new project with the chocolate milk race team contest. Ironically, chocolate milk is one of the few things I can drink painlessly. 13 days of treatment to go. Blue(r) skies are ahead.