Attitude, everyone says, is the homemade asset that can haul you through your cancer fight. With the right attitude, you can bad-ass your way into chemotherapy, then ride the momentum through the worst of it.
Welcome to The Lucky Woman's Guide to Breast Cancer, Chemo Prep Edition.
It took a while to get to the chemical warfare portion of killing my snotty, aggressive invader cells. First, the people behind the machines tracked them down then the lab techs analyzed them. The surgeon went in after the mothership that had been dispatching the enemy to assorted lymph nodes. Now it's nothing but a nut-sized mass preserved in a research facility somewhere. Nice work, Commander.
Next up, the strategists: The oncologist, pharmacist and radiologist who drew up the eight-month battle plan – and gave me about a pound of reading on what that will do to my body. Chemo, the material read, makes most people tired. So does vacuuming, I thought. How tired?
Tired to the middle of your bone marrow, where it's attacking fast-multiplying white blood cells, it turns out. The drugs kill every fast-multiplying cell they find. They want to kill the cancers, but there's collateral damage. They get the fast-regenerating cells in your mouth, your gut, your nose, too.
That tactic can change your sense of taste and make your hair fall out. It can make your nail beds turn brown. Unchecked by countermeasure drugs, it can make you barf. Oh, there's more. And there is the caveat that every patient responds differently. Patients have different doses, different drug combos, treatment lengths and, possibly, different experimental therapies.
Looking through the summer and into the fall, I saw a fight, but no clear picture of it.
So I mustered my Attitude.
I've got lots of it, probably too much, probably too intemperate. But this was no time to get all moderate.
I imagined a mama grizzly attacking, then me grabbing two big branches and yelling until she decided against messing with me.
I imagined an outmatched Scottish army sending bagpipers out in a first wave of terrifying, skirling noise.
That, I figured, was the intensity I needed. But, lacking bears and vandals, I decided that Attitude would bring me to every appointment with a grin on my face and a swing in my gait. Attitude would put a lightness to my voice in every family phone call. Attitude would remind me to thank everyone who poked me – there are a lot of needles in all of this, and every one of them has a role in saving my life.
This level of Attitude would require some bolstering, some prepping.
This biggest, longest unknown in my adult life, made me want to overpack, literally.
I thought about the tubes you slide into for a scan, and imagined cold feet. So I bought socks, warm, soft boot socks with extra insulation.
Once I got my Power Port, I bought low-cut tops. The port is that bump in my skin over my left clavicle. It's where the chemo drugs – and IV fluids, and antibiotics and who knows what else – go in. (You can feel it if you want. If we run into each other, just ask. As any kid righting cancer will tell you, ports are cool.) Forget T-shirts and turtlenecks and anything else with a high neck. This baby demands scoops, even cleavage, for proper access.
What about the fatigue? Were 7-year-old, $5 Christmas pajamas the happiest garb for healing? I thought not, especially with fresh sets at 85 percent off on the sale racks. Cute, or the illusion of cuteness, bolsters Attitude.
It was my husband who noticed the big problem. When the first wave of fatigue hit, right after the lumpectomy, I got flat. Sitting up was a stretch, so I stayed in bed and read and napped and drifted downstream from reality. No watching birds in the bushes. No identifying blackberry stalks to be rooted out on the first good day. No keeping an eye out for the shady people who occasionally mistake our neighborhood for a home electronics and jewelry store.
“You need a recliner,” Mike said. “You need to be engaged. You need to sit up.”
The pro who prepared our taxes agreed. Recliners, she said, can be a legitimate medical expense, right up there with mileage to doctors' appointments.
And wigs, or, technically, cranial prostheses.
Back when I was used to having hair – that would be in February, Gentle Reader – I could not imagine going out in public the way most of the dear men in my family do, with nothing between the rain and their bald pates. So I blew $35 ($50 with shampoos, rinses and accessories) on a Diva Soul wig.
Do you watch “House of Cards?” This wig looks like Cashew, the serial hacker's oft-imperiled guinea pig, only in auburn. Now, given the heels and crunch-holds delivered to Cashew, I am reluctant to put it on my head. What if a corrupt political operative should see me at the Safeway? Instead, I'm wearing hats.
Hats are more fun, especially with a pirate-style scarf underneath. Hats, also, are almost always on sale. And rogue politicos pay them no mind at Safeway. The worst that's happened was an incident with two pushy women who simply could not wait for an extra grocery divider, even though I had not yet begun to check out.
“Sir, sir,” they kept saying. “Sir, give us a grocery divider.”
It was Attitude that saved them. Attitude does not bop senior ladies with plastic sticks.
Attitude does, however, get tested when the drugs kick in.
Next week, I'll write about how Attitude survives chemical warfare on its own turf.
Until then, let's talk.
We'd like to hear how you, or someone you care for, prepped for chemotherapy. How did you deal with the unknowns? How did you work with your family and friends? What worked? What was a waste? How did you manage your workload? Was your employer helpful? And what about the money?
Today's Self-Care Tip:
Hit the library and get the books you need for a good binge-read of your favorite authors.