Chemo makes me meaner.
If you're lucky, you'll never notice. But if you want to stay lucky, you'd best step clear of me in grocery stores, parking lots and anywhere else we might get on each other's last nerve.
It's not that I'm not grateful to the chemicals that are taking down the breast cancer cells that my dear friend Technology found before Christmas. I am. I'll be a happy wrapper next Christmas because of them.
Cytoxan and adriamycin went to war on the cancer with every-other-week infusions in February and March. They feasted on every fast-dividing cell they found and left me breathless, also hairless, at their force and initiative. Whoever invented the electric recliner surely spent a few months with these drugs. How else to explain a chair that understands that you do not have the energy to flatten yourself?
Taxol took over in April. It is refueling weekly for three months of search-and-destroy missions.
“It'll be easier,” all the health professionals say.
True, but at this point that's like saying, “The ocelot will only eat three of your toes.”
Those chemicals have been snacking away not just on malignant cells, but on the reserves of civility that kept you, Dear Reader, safe in random encounters with me. To compensate, I have a new policy of offering you my place in the checkout line if you appear to be on your lunch break, tired after work or have kids with you. Karma counts.
Still, these drugs are challenging the manners my mom instilled, and all the optimism I brought to these five months.
Not that I regret harboring optimism born of incomprehension. It's been one of my best tools, especially when it's taken the character of a cattle prod and poked me into exercising, getting to community events, even writing. Without it, how would I know that six goats and eight donkeys live on the perimeter of the 1.7-mile walk my husband takes me on in our neighborhood? How would I have noticed that Connell's Dahlias are ready to be bought, planted and offered to marauding slugs? Or that you had to act quickly on that red pickup so enticingly priced on an elevated front lawn?
That's the very world in which chemo invites you to lose interest.
It would be so easy to click on Netflix and finally get into “The Good Wife,” from season one, instead of replanting the pots on the front porch.
It would be so easy to fall into a book instead of talking with a friend.
I've done both, and disappointed myself. What happened to that optimism?
One of the bravest guys I know gave me a clue.
For grit and educated confidence, you can't top the people you meet in a chemotherapy infusion center. We with the tubes in the ports in our chests can talk about anything. We can, if need be, whine to a nurse about fatigue, and be told it's okay to feel that way. Chemo is cumulative, and we did great through the grueling part.
We can go to sleep with the big dose of IV Benadryl and wake up wondering if we snored. It's no problem, even if we did. Our sinuses lined, as they are with the fast-multiplying cells chemo hits on its forays, aren't what they were a few months ago, before the nosebleeds.
We can ask if our sore, sore fingernails, turning orange after a month of drugs, will fall off, or just stay hideous. FYI, they will just stay ugly, and it is not a good time to take up knot-tying or needlepoint or to enter dime-picking-up contests.
We can ask if sometimes, not always, anyone else is too fatigued for a meaningful, or even casual, conversation. Yes, said my brave friend, that happens.
I asked the nurse about the guy who backed into our car in the McLendon's parking lot. Would it have been okay to punch him in the nose?
His excuse: Our car, though entirely in its space, was close to the white dividing line.
I didn't punch him, but I wanted to. I wanted to so much that I looked at his weasel face, said I did not have time for his brand of jerk and stalked inside, leaving my poor husband to deal with him. Granted, it was cruel to my husband, but it was less problematic than explaining to a Pierce County deputy that I am too tired for this kind of manure, and the guy was overdue for a flat nose.
To her credit, the nurse did not inch away.
Instead, she listened as I told her about the guy riding the auto cart around the grocery store, blocking aisles and, when he did not want to steer around me, beeping at me until I moved.
I have a set of particular skills, I told the nurse, and they include executing swift, precise turns with a shopping cart. I deployed one such maneuver, a rapid turn, very near to that man in the dairy aisle, I told her, and felt better for it.
But would it have been okay to punch him in the nose?
Chemo wears us out, she said. It may bring us to edges we'd never visited. Still, no nose punching.