On Thursday, July 20, I took an Uber to MD Anderson bright and early to have my port accessed, get my blood drawn, and receive chemotherapy treatment. The first two tasks accomplished, I awaited the phone call alerting me that the infusion team was ready for me. I’d secured a comfy lazy-boy style chair in front of a bank of windows overlooking the trees along Holcombe Boulevard.
Wrapped in a warm blanket, I pulled out my iPad and prepared to finish an episode of House of Cards. (My opinion: the writers of this show have “gone and lost their minds!” as it’s said in the south). I was feeling o.k. that morning, but with continuing dyspepsia, or stomach issues. Eating right and enough has been an issue for some time now. Following my diagnosis I slept little, and ate even less. But at least I could eat without feeling sick. With the advent of chemo rapid weight loss became pronounced, as food completely lost all appeal. When I do feel hungry, which isn’t very often, I experience premature satiety. When I eat, a nearly instant feeling a fullness and heaviness ensues. It feels as if the food is just sitting on my stomach for hours on end. Digestion is either non-existent or extremely slow. Reflux, belching, hiccups and constipation round out the list of annoying, ill-mannered, and (too?) personal chemo side-effects I’m learning to proactively address. Zofran stops nausea in its tracks, but Pepsid is not nearly as effective for my worst symptoms.
So when my phone rang and I answered to the voice of the clinical trial study nurse, Charla, I assumed it was just another routine status check. Instead, after exchanging pleasantries, Charla got right to the point. “There’s a problem,” she said. Oh, man! In my pre-cancer life those words were followed by such benign objects. “There’s a problem…with your carburetor…with your credit card…with your cable box.” Now when I hear those words I find myself holding my breath and bracing for impact. “You’ve developed leukopenia,” said Charla. I had no idea what she was talking about, so I naturally asked, “What is that?” Charla responded, “It’s a low white blood count. We’re going to have to reschedule your chemo. I’m sorry.” I asked her a few questions, like what I should do, if anything, about it. “Avoid sick people,” she answered. “You’re more prone to infection.”
Disappointed by the postponement and prospect of allowing cancer a reprieve from chemical attack, I threw off my blanket, lowered my foot rest, and gathered my belongings. Within 25 minutes, I had Ubered back to Sally Jo’s apartment and was making plans to spend the weekend at sister and brother-in-law, Jenny and Clay’s, home. As I had to be cautious about being around children who are in day care or school environments, prior plans to spend the weekend at Eric and Natalie’s home had to be cancelled. Eric, however, still drove into Houston, picked me up and delivered me to Katy before returning to pick up precious Avalyn from daycare. I am so blessed by my family’s generosity and kindness. It touches me to my very core.
The silver lining of cancelled chemo was that I would be free of worsening stomach issues, and could prepare the “Magical Chicken Soup” recipe I’d discovered last year on an oncology website and made for a dear friend recovering from cancer surgery. I desperately need nutrient dense foods on hand, and this soup is a complete meal chock full of organic, anti-inflammatory vegetables, chicken and broth. Mason jars of this elixir will be frozen at the apartment, ready to serve when I can stomach it…
Shopping at HEB for my ingredients required use of a surgical mask. A wad of antibacterial wipes were kept close at hand. But, I felt uncomfortable the entire time. Not because of the mask. But, because I knew that if I contracted and developed an infection, my body may be unable to fight it off. Cancer treatment, ironically, comes with its own potentially fatal consequences.
As I exited HEB I was greeted with a rainbow – a symbol of hope and promise of the future. Awestruck by the moment, I offered a prayer of gratitude.
I had not slept well Thursday night. I’m generally fine during daylight hours, but once I reach my bed, I become restless. Tired, but restless. So Friday was a slow start. Brother, Patrick, called to say he was planning to drive in from Austin to spend the weekend with me. I had hoped to give him the weekend off from the Austin-Houston commute. But, I was alone at Jenny’s and Clay’s, as they were getting some much needed down time in Leakey, Texas, and my sweet, sweet brother “couldn’t stand” that I was by myself. I hadn’t realized how much I needed Patrick’s always welcomed company, but the sense of relief and comfort I felt absolutely overwhelmed me. I slept soundly Friday night knowing my brother was just across the hall. It’s so familiar. Kind of like childhood…But my “little brother” is looking after me now.
Patrick and I spent the weekend watching the Astros and movies, talking by phone to relatives, and eating the simple dishes I prepared with leftover soup ingredients. Tonight, I am tired, but wide awake. I don’t know why. Nevertheless, I am finally headed to bed to attempt sleep. I will pray in gratitude for my many blessings, and count on chemo for Monday. Maintaining the treatment schedule is key to a successful response, but slight delays like this will not be problematic, I’m advised.
I keep thinking, “It’s weird to want chemo”…But, I guess it’s really not. Chemo is the vehicle that will deliver me home to my family and a cancer-free future. Chemo gives me hope…Like a well-timed rainbow.