I’m drinking. Water, water, water. Dandelion tea. Apple juice, apple juice, dandelion tea. Water, water, water. Should I set the alarm during the night to drink more?
Flushing is key. But I hold nothing against whoever forgot to flush in the washroom yesterday morning. We’re in a cancer centre. If there’s anywhere that slack must be cut, and shit forgiven, it’s here.
I've had crazy marathon days in my life. A couple of them involved labour, c-sections and babies. First day of chemo ranks with them.
People who are into extreme sports or extreme sex, seek out adrenalin-driven activities on a regular basis. Me – not so much. Now, here I am, in the extreme sport of cancer. No one signs up for this. Like the Hunger Games – your name just comes up. And may the odds be forever in your favour.
I’m waiting for the results from the spinal juice analysis to tell me whether the incidental enhancement they found, in addition to the Lymphoma they already identified, is incidental indeed. The cancer equivalent of taking your first sky dive.
The lumbar puncture (it’s called LP around here) they gave me to get the juice, should definitely have its name changed. Unless their goal is to scare the crap out of you, then watch when the procedure proves easier than expected. In which case, to the person who picked the name, I say well done. How about naming the bone marrow biopsy BM grind and suck?
I was giddy by the time I walked in for chemo. Nothing like a smooth puncture to lift your spirits. They set me up in a nice bed, with warm blankets. Slight blip when the IV needle insertion was ten times more painful than the LP (that can’t be right). The first hour and a half were smooth. I envisioned a game of Call of Duty 4 being fought in my abdomen, with the hot dog ducking for cover. But I tired of that – literally.
My friend Brenda went to dim the loud fluorescent lights. The cockpit of plugs and buttons behind the bed requires a manual.
“I don’t want to push the code blue,” she said to the young student nurse.
“No,” the nurse replied. “Well not yet anyway.” Then she laughed.
It took me a second to laugh too as I realized I'm not the only one in Cancerland who gets to joke about the nastiness of it all. Why shouldn't the staff get in on it?
But I’m guessing the humour doesn't go down well with every patient, and this nurse is looking at a stern reprimand somewhere down the road. Too bad. The Canadian Automobile Association didn’t think twice about sending out an e-mail entitled AVIVA – Your time is running out! the day after my diagnosis. Now that’s funny!
There were four of us in the chemo pod. I was the only one having allergic reactions, which was slowing me down in the chemo olympics. I was trying hard not to be jealous of my compatriots, whose infusions were going with neither a hitch nor an itch.
Around here itchy ears and throat are cause for halting the proceedings and notifying the doctor. Mainlining Benadryl and Hydrocortisone is magic. But that kind of magic can only hold off the Rituximab for so long. I didn’t want the consolation prizes of most-drugs-ingested, and most-trips-to-the-toilet.
By the end of the day I was in a run-off competition for the bronze. Gold and silver had long since left the building. My competitor, a guy my age who was sprinting through his IV bags, also had Lymphoma. We got to talking about our meds. He was not on the Bendamustine Rituximab combo. He was on something else, no idea what. I’d heard the nurse mention CHOP as she was getting it ready for him. Thanks to my friend Tae, I actually know what CHOP is.
“What kind of Lymphoma do you have?”
“I don’t know,” he said. And I quickly understood that our conversation about the cancer would stop there.
“I’m blogging about this,” I said.
“I don’t go on the computer. Too much stuff out there.”
“I’m just writing about my own experience.”
“No,” he said. And with a wave of his arm he dismissed my blog, the internet, social media, Wikipedia, Toronto weather, Google maps, and who knows what else.
You’ve got to respect people’s choices to know or not know, their willingness to talk or not talk, as we flail for our own control over any of this. People might judge me for covering my eyes and ears as the information comes in, for letting others slowly and selectively provide me with manageable chunks of news. I might judge this guy for knowing the minimum: when he has to be somewhere for some kind of treatment, for some kind of Lymphoma. There are no right answers. There’s just getting through.
Surprisingly, my machine beeped its little finale before his did.
“I got the BRONZE!” I yelled. We both laughed, and wished each other well.