Getting to the Next Thing

The four weeks after my surgery were largely inactive ones.  I wasn’t up to doing much of anything for at least two weeks.  I spent a lot of time sleeping up to twelve hours a night.  When I was sleeping a mere nine hours a night I felt I’d make significant progress.  I whiled away my days on the family room sofa playing on my iPad, watching television and reading.  Reading was somewhat difficult because my attention span was suddenly much shorter than usual for me.  All that anesthesia really did a number on my brain!

W was working from home so he would be available if I needed him.  One reason we bought this house eighteen years ago is that it has a home office on the third floor.   He can work there without being bothered by anything going on below. The mother of two of my students set up a meal rotation and we were getting lots of delicious meals so we didn’t have to worry about cooking and I got to see people regularly.  That helped me to feel less isolated and gave me a goal of being dressed and looking halfway respectable when dinner arrived.

Two weeks after surgery W and I went to Dr. F.’s office so I could have the staples removed and she could check me out.  It felt great to leave the house.  Dr. F. was happy with my progress and told me “no, you don’t have to push yourself:  you’re doing fine!” in response to my question as to whether or not I should expect more of myself.  She assured me that the attention span problem would improve over time as the anesthesia got out of my system.    We talked about chemo and how it would be administered.  I had a choice of either dose dense (once a week for three weeks, then a week off, for six months) or IP (intraperitoneal, which means the chemo drugs would go directly into my abdomen).  I don’t recall how often the IP would be administered but it tends to have more side effects and is also less well tolerated at the time of administration:  they send it into the patient’s abdomen and then roll her around to get the drug all over the place.  Dr. F. said it was a difficult decision but that in response to the question “what would you recommend for your own mother?” she said she would give me the dose dense chemo.  I would be receiving both carboplatin and taxol in the first week of each round of chemo and then taxol alone for the next two weeks.  I would get a week off and then return for the next round.

Talking about chemo was frightening and upsetting but at least we had a game plan in place.  My first chemo was scheduled for March 17, a month to the day after my surgery.  The body has to be mostly healed from surgery before chemo begins.  In my own impatient way I was ready for chemo to begin immediately:  why not wait when those microscopic cancer cells were still growing inside me?  Nobody was willing to acquiesce to my desire to get a move on, so I knew I was going to have to be patient.

I asked about resuming sex, yoga, driving and picking things up that weighed more than ten pounds.  I had to wait eight weeks for everything except driving, which I could resume as soon as I was no longer taking pain medication.  By the time of my two week visit I was finished with that.  I would have been taking the meds if I needed them but I really didn’t.  I went out in the car by myself just a day or two later and it felt great to be out on my own, just like a big girl!  I’ve always been extremely independent and I don’t like to have to wait for other people to do things for me.  I like getting things done, so being able to leave the house, even if just to run to the bank or the post office, felt like an accomplishment.  It’s amazing how tiny things can seem significant when there isn’t a lot going on in your life.

As I write that I realize it sounds ludicrous because there was plenty going on in my life:  I was getting over surgery and thinking about having cancer and coping with all the feelings that entails.  I had more than enough time to consider all that I was going through and had yet to face.  I had a breakdown pretty much every single day.  Sometimes I cried when I was alone.  A lot of the time I was not:  I cried and cried and W always knew whether he should joke me out of it or let me sob on his shoulder.   I was still so frightened and worried.  I was worried about my kids and how they were coping and I was worried about my parents and brother and how they were coping, especially because my brother’s wife had died of cancer six years before and I knew we were all thinking of her and her struggles.  I thought about my piano students and my friends and my extended family.  I thought constantly about my little grandsons and how much I love them and how desperately I want to see them grow up.  If I woke up in the middle of the night the word “cancer” reverberated in my brain.  It was the first thing I thought of every morning when I opened my eyes.  It was pretty much the main thing in my brain every damned minute of every day.  I could divert myself briefly with an iPad game, Facebook or reading material but the stupid word just kept coming into my consciousness.    The scar made playing the piano very uncomfortable so that solace wasn’t available.  It was exhausting.  But the human body can’t live under that kind of stress and pressure for long, at least not the one I inhabit.  I gradually began to feel less distressed and more cheerful.  At no point did I find myself suffering from actual depression.  Yes, I was sad and sad quite often, but not depressed.  And when I wasn’t sad I was actually quite cheerful, to the point of surprising myself.  Each day that I got up, felt a little better and had a little more stamina was a better day.  I was receiving what W had begun to call my “fan mail,” including cards, gifts, emails, texts and other kindnesses and they really brightened up the days.  I made it a point to find things to be grateful for each day and tried to pray before I feel asleep at night.  Cultivating a grateful attitude was very good for my outlook.

I was allowed to resume teaching piano after three weeks.  It was so good to see “my kids” again but I’ll admit the lessons wore me out.  Two hours of work were truly all I could manage in a given day, so I took it easy until the students showed up and then took it easy after they left.  The first day felt like it was ten hours long!  But it was great to be busy for even a short period of time.  I like being productive and useful.   A life of sloth just isn’t for me, even if I am recovering from surgery.

I was told that I could expect to lose my hair eighteen days after chemo began, so I got a cute short haircut in early March.  My friend C came and got me and took me to my appointment.  She and my hairdresser had a great talk while I got the best shampoo of my life from R, the lone male stylist in the salon.  I have always loved the way he gives a shampoo and this time he went all out knowing that it was the last one for a long, long time.  I felt so relaxed and comforted and grateful.  Then D proceeded to give me a really great short style to help me transition to losing all of my hair.  And it turned out to look super cute and was really quick and easy to style.  A big win!

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