Wednesday, June 28, 2017 This Week's Paper

What’s Right with Tacoma: The Lucky Woman’s Guide to Breast Cancer Chemical Warfare Calendar Edition

Keep a chemo calendar, my husband told me. Log your treatments, he said, and every day, note how you feel. That way, he said, we'll get the pattern of how the drugs hit my body. We'll be able to predict how I'll feel. We'll have a sense of what I can eat, when I have the energy to write, and when we can try a walk.

It's the best advice anyone has given me since I started on chemotherapy in February.

Naturally, I did not follow it.

I was a doof, and I regret not bothering to build what could have been one of the most valuable tools in managing my response to the effects of chemo.

I did not recognize that chemo would shift my status with my own body from owner to observer, and that I would need every bit of predictive data I could muster.

Welcome to “The Lucky Woman's Guide to Breast Cancer, Chemical Warfare Calendar Edition.”

Chemotherapy, as every nurse, doctor and pharmacist who gets the drugs into us will tell you, is always improving. So are the drugs that mitigate its effect on us. But the basic tactic remains the same: It goes after greedy, fast-dividing cancer cells – and any cell that acts like cancer. Those include hair follicles, the soft linings of our mouths and guts and the white blood cell factories in our bone marrow.

The symptoms vary with the drugs we get – and you'd be surprised by how many different variations and combinations there are. Thanks to science, we get the medicine best equipped to kill our personal tumors and rogue cells.

Still, all chemo meds have brute force in common, and they all threaten us with symptoms. We can go bald and get mouth sores. We can forget why we ever loved food, what with it tasting like coppery crud and all. Once we get it down, we can resort to great new drugs that help us keep it down.

We might get bone pain. Imagine being a length of metal siding, and having people shake you at both ends. Lucky for us, someone figured out that a daily dose of the antihistamine Claritin chases that pain away.

There's a pill for most every chemo ill, and I am nothing but grateful to the miracle of modern chemistry.

But then there is the fatigue. It lays us so low as to amaze and alarm even the people who are on to our secret slacker ways.

That is why I feel so guilty about not doing the one simple thing my husband requested. I should add that he even proffered the 2014 Longs Drugs “Kauai – The Garden Isle” 99-cent calendar to keep that chemo log.

It would have been a great help to him, as it would be to anyone who is kind and strong enough to be helping someone through any kind of cancer treatment.

The log would put every appointment, weeks out, on the bulletin board or refrigerator. It would show the difference between a blood draw or a shot and a doctor's visit followed by three hours of infusion. It would give an idea of whether I can go by myself, or whether it would be a good idea to have another set of ears in that meeting with the doc, or someone to drive.

It would show when I need to be drinking a gallon of fluids a day. That takes nagging, and hot tea, and ice water, and sherbet sodas and Jell-O. No beer, though. That would be too easy.

That log would track the fatigue. It would alert us to the days when, after an exhausting night of deep sleep, I'd get up, have a banana, juice and yogurt, then need a four-hour nap. It would flag the day we need to hit the library to stock up on recliner reading.

That calendar would prove that the good days come around with every treatment. It would tell my sweet husband when we could maybe catch a matinee, or a late lunch of fish and chips. It would tell him when we could go for a drive punctuated by errands, just to prove that we remember normal, and we're ready for it – any day now.