Yesterday I spent a wonderful afternoon feeling nearly normal. I had the opportunity to go out for lunch with my husband, do some shopping, then get a peppermint hot chocolate at Starbucks. Before October 17, 2012, we did this at least once a month. Now it’s a major production and I’m not talking about getting a sitter. We need to time our dates based on where I am in the chemo cycle. Actually, yesterday wasn’t a great day since my white count is tanking, but I really needed to get out of the house. And sometimes sanity has to trump health concerns. Besides, it gave me an opportunity to wear my new wig.
While we dining at our favorite restaurant, we talked about, what else, my cancer. It’s an all-consuming topic. I cannot wait until the day that I can actually go an entire day without thinking about my cancer. That will be a while. John wanted to know what it was like for me, aside from the physical challenges of joint pain, neuropathy and nausea (all of which were in the brochure, by the way). I told him it was a lot like being on a beach.
Imagine you are on your favorite beach in late fall or early spring. The sky is gray and it’s misty, cold and damp. Despite the conditions, you are at the beach and you will take a walk on the sand since you are, after all, at the beach, and by golly this is what you do. Jacket zipped, hat in place, mittens on and shoes tied, you tell your husband/wife/traveling companion that you are taking a walk. After they point out the obvious bad weather, you reiterate that you are, in fact, at the beach and you did not come all this way to just sit and watch the ocean. You are going for a walk – period. After they roll their eyes, you set out, determined to enjoy this walk.
As you set off, you realize the air is much damper and colder than you realize. It’s like the air is trying to push through your pores, straight to your bones. You pull up your collar and march onward. A little wet weather is not going to ruin this walk. As you walk, you try to remain upbeat and talk to yourself. However, it’s hard to make sense when your teeth start to chatter. Pulling the hat down and crossing your arms across your chest for warmth, you pick up the pace to stay warm. This weather is not going to beat you. You can hear the surf pounding next to you. When you pause to look at it, you realize you can’t see it. They you look toward higher ground and you can’t see that either. In fact, you can’t see past your own feet. Like many damp, cold days by the ocean a fog has rolled in and it’s as thick as the proverbial bowl of pea soup.
Fog has this weird way of disorienting you. Even with GPS and fog lamps, it’s still hard to tell where you are on the road even if you’ve driven the road hundreds of times. There are no landmarks you can use to orient you. Basically it’s a leap of faith that you’ll make it to your destination safely. When John and I were dating, there was a really foggy stretch of I-71 I had to drive between Louisville and Cincinnati. Even though I drove that stretch every week, I still got disoriented when I couldn’t see more than 3 feet in front of me. I knew the fog bank was generally 5 miles long, but that was the longest 5 miles I drove.
Back to the beach where you are now standing in a fog disoriented. You weren’t paying attention to where you were walking because you were making a point. Are you 500 feet or a half a mile from your starting point? There is no reference point. Shivering you realize that while you know you’re on the beach, you’ve got no clue where or how you’ll get back. You know you need to do a u-turn, but how far do you walk back. Now a light rain is starting and messing up your footprints, which you had just brilliantly decided to track back to the starting point. Now you are not only cold, but you’re wet, mad and a bit scared. You turn around and start walking back trying to figure out where exactly you need to stop.
You try thinking in reverse – what were you thinking as you walked to time the trip back. The fog is getting thicker and thicker and aside from the sound of the waves you hear nothing to orient you and your visibility is down to zero. After what seems like an eternity, you hear a song. It’s a song that means something personal to you. It’s your song, the one you share with your special someone. And there is a faint light in the distance. You slowly make your way toward the sound and light and realize it’s coming from your vacation home. Your true love is guiding you back. When you finally reach home, you rush into their arms and realize you are safe. What’s even better is they don’t give you “I told you so,” or anything else that you probably deserve. You just get a much-needed “I love you.”
Chemo is like a foggy beach. You can’t see where you’re going. You’re stuck on the beach. If you stop chemo, you’ll be forever in the fog because the monster will definitely be lurking in the fog waiting to grab you. You know that at some point the fog will break, the sun will shine and you’ll see the sun shining on the waves and you’ll be able to see your path. Until then, you’re stuck in the uncertainty of side effects, lab numbers, and doctor visits. You just wait until the fog starts to lift. And if you’re lucky you have a true love that brings the music and has a light to keep you safe until the sun shines again.