My first chemo treatment made quite the impression. It was the first of many events that would lead to me taking my healing into my own hands. Within three weeks of being diagnosed I received my first chemotherapy treatment. TAC. Taxotere, Adriamycin and Cyclophosphamide. I would come to hate this chemical cocktail. I would go into treatment with no understanding of what was to come.
I believe that the system does little to prepare us for the first treatment. They worry that any input will influence a placebo effect within us. They keep information vague in the hopes that you’ll sail through treatment without many complications. I realize that each office is different and that some doctors prepare you better than others; however, in speaking with people that have undergone treatments they make the best of a horrible situation which includes leaving them with many questions and vague answers. It doesn’t have to be this way, this is just the most common experience.
My first chemo treatment happened the week before Christmas. I would recommend that anyone starting chemo wait until after the holidays. If you haven’t died yet, chances are you have another week. Do not let your doctors rush you into treatment. I half wonder if this is done in concern that you might change your mind. I don’t say this thinking that they are concerned about the money, but they truly believe that to increase your chances you need chemo immediately. Never mind what sort of emotional or spiritual stress this may put on your body (actually; please don’t never mind that. Chances are your doctor doesn’t know how to care for your emotional or spiritual self). There is also the feeling that if you don’t begin treatment immediately then you may decide to opt out and in their experience, that rarely ends well (please note, this is their experience, not mine).
When I walked into the chemo treatment room at the cancer center the holidays were in full swing. There was a table set up with all kinds of goodies. Cookies, cake, brownies, candies, a donut cake. It was like I walked into a Christmas party instead of a medical treatment room. I thought “This is great” and proceeded to snack from the assortment of sweets. I would come to regret this action within hours as my body responded to the chemo and horrible food. No one ever thought to warn the new girl that she might not want to eat this food. It was loaded with chemicals, sugar, and fat, all things that our body doesn’t really want, but gets subjected to daily.
To this day the thought of a donut cake will make me gag. For a while even the smell of a regular plain donut could cause my stomach to roll. In addition to the holiday spread I was given a cookbook, Eating Well Through Cancer. At the time I had no real understanding of food and nutrition and what my body needed to replenish itself. Instead I took the book home and looked through it for recipes. It would be over a year before I would begin my adventures in nutrition. Until then the pharmaceutical company wasn’t just pumping me full of drugs, it was also in my kitchen as I used their cookbook. Eating Well Through Cancer was published by a drug company. Drug companies do not study nutrition. As far as I’m aware they don’t even really study how their drugs interact with food, although I’ve had many doctors tell me I cannot eat healthy and receive treatment. Instead they push a steady diet of white flour, meat, sugar, and whatever else. The most important thing was that I eat. Who cared what it was, unless it was healthy.
I didn’t realize any of this during chemo. In fact, during treatment I did my best to remain positive. I used my sense of humor and positive attitude to push through and inspire others. I had to be strong for everyone else. This is something I still do to this day. I’m strong for everyone else, because if they pity me then it does something to me mentally. It makes me doubt in my own abilities to get better. At this point I’m not sure if I do it for me or if I do it for them, but it seems like a win win.
My chemo treatments happened every 3 weeks. I’d have treatment at the beginning of week one, the next two weeks off, and then I’d start the process all over again. I’d take the week of treatment off from work but return for weeks two and three. At the time I didn’t think I could afford to take the time off work. The doctors encouraged me to keep my routine as regular as possible. They often do this believing that with a normal routine people have a better chance of surviving. I can understand the theory but believe it depends on the individual. We became sick for a reason and our daily routine may hold answers as to why. I would struggle through work just doing my best to keep going and stay alive. One week I would be on my couch feeling my cells die, the next week I’d be back at work trying to sell someone fabric.
This would go on for 18 weeks. It never got better. Each treatment left me weaker and weaker. I would dread the week of chemo, and then I’d dread the weeks of work. I was just counting down until I was done. Each week separating me more and more from those who were in life, whether it was my spouse, my family, my friends, my coworkers, I no longer looked at the world the same way they did. It was at this point in my life that I realized how lonely I was. I had been lonely before cancer, but unaware of it. I would go onto to discover many things that I was unaware of in my life during my healing journey.
I don’t share this part of my story to deter people from receiving chemo, although as the story progresses you will find that I believe it to be a very last resort and even then, I can’t say if I’d ever agree to it again. That is my choice though based upon my experiences. Healing is personal and what works for one may not work for another. It requires looking at yourself and honoring yourself. Something that our traditional healthcare system does not encourage. At least not yet. Luckily it is something we can do on our own.