Pep Talks

We interrupt today’s regularly scheduled blog to announce yet another wonderful person is embarking on the fight of his life.  Fuck you, cancer.  Fuck you, lymphoma.  While we’re at it and it simply can’t be said enough – fuck you, Rod Stewart.

Rocco has a friend whose husband was recently diagnosed with some crazy rare form of Lymphoma.  He’s 40 years old.  They asked me to join them for dinner so their two kids could meet someone who’d lived through it all (or most of it) and is fine on the other side (or mostly).

Of course this morning I keep reliving the whole night and chastising myself for all the things I said wrong or completely forgot to say.  I completely forgot to share my cousin Sarah’s Pac Man analogy.  That shit would have been empowering, comforting, and amusing for the kids!  Damn you, chemo brain.

I don’t know if I did any good or if I just scared the ever lovin’ shit out of him.  Then again, as I recall it couldn’t possibly get much more frightening than where he is now.  Still, how do you tell someone that they’re about to face hell on earth for the next however many months?  What parts do you share and what parts do you skip?  It went something like this (the parts in parentheses were in my head):

Well for Monday’s treatment you’ll be in a private room in a bed (because there’s a pretty good chance the Rituxan will stop your heart and they’ll need to get you flat for the crash cart immediately).  I brought you a DVD player to help the time pass (because your arms will be too sore from the chemo to hold a book and your chemo brain won’t be able to follow the story anyway).  This heating pad will make the injection site feel better and warm the chemo a little as it goes into your body (and might delay your veins blowing out or thrombosing so it won’t take them fifteen minutes and thirty tries to find an open vein).

That could have gone worse, I think.  I tried to focus on the positives.  Some parts of chemo were only awful rather than horrible.  I only puked once over the entire course of my treatment.  Most of the time I was just annoyed by the nausea and the meds totally worked.  I told his kids it felt like I’d been on a long drive through the mountains sitting in the very back of a minivan with my dad at the wheel.  The bone marrow biopsy and extraction isn’t as brutal as they depict it on TV and movies, fortunately.  All you really have to do is make your self go to the hospital and hold still long enough for them to get the IV started.  Then all you have to do is take it…and stay alive.  Just stay alive longer than the cancer does and the rest is cake.

Breezy right?  It’s not your normal pep talk I guess.  I vividly remember calling my cousin for advice before my first treatment.  I had no idea what to expect.  Sarah coached me, “Chemotherapy is a way to get you as close to death as possible without actually killing you.  They’ll get you as close as they can then dial it back ever so slightly.”  While those words helped me at the time, they felt a little off for a friendly gathering at a burger joint in Midtown.

I had to tweak the pep talk.  It was hard to deliver while picking and choosing words I couldn’t find with my weary and emotional chemo brain.  It was even harder with a precocious nine year old hanging on my every word, a mixture of curiosity and horror in those round eyes peeking through long blond bangs.  That kid mystified me.  I can just imagine me ordering a rare tuna burger at age nine.  That boy was way wiser than his years.

“But you didn’t have to have a transplant, right?”  I tore my eyes from the child and looked at his father.  His face was filled with fear and something disturbingly close to defeat.

I sighed.  “No.”  I smiled and knocked on the wooden table.  “With my type of Lymphoma…” I paused only now realizing I wasn’t supposed to say that word in front of the kids.  Shit.  “My course of treatment doesn’t involved transplants unless there’s a recurrence (because that shit is CRAZY tough on a body and they won’t do it unless there’s nothing else to try).”  Every inch of my scar tissue screamed like Harry’s does when He Who Shall Not Be Named is near.

This poor guy is guaranteed to go through the thing that currently scares me the most.  Well, I guess he isn’t guaranteed exactly – now he’s hoping he gets the chance to have that terrifying experience.  That’s the crazy shit about chemo.  Every tiny task is a tremendous burden and responsibility.  Today I’ll force my body to lay here and absorb these toxic chemicals.  Tomorrow I’ll drink lots of fluids and try not to puke.  The next day I’ll try for a BM and shuffle around an empty park for thirty minutes or so.  For two solid weeks you struggle through eating, drinking, sleeping, and avoiding anything that could delay your next treatment.  And what’s your prize?  You get to do it all again!  But even better, the effects are cumulative so this time the nausea will be a little worse, the fatigue a little more draining, the brain a little fuzzier.  Then the mouth sores and hot flashes start up and…maybe it’s better I erred on the side of not saying much, eh?

I made it through dinner, though.  I even managed to crack a few jokes and pull out some awkward smiles over the course of the meal.  We hugged, said our goodbyes, and started walking towards Port Authority.  I made it just past the crowds of Times Square before I started bawling.  I can’t go back there, dude.  With my next scan only two weeks away I’m losing teeth by the mouthful in my dreams.  I get that life is short.  I promise, I GET IT.  I could do without the constant reminders.

I offered to visit and sit with him if he needs a chemo buddy.  Lord knows I never wanted to sit there alone.  Part of me worries my upcoming scans will show those dark depressing shadows again.  I’d rather my commute to sit with him in the hospital not consist of me hopping out of bed, unplugging my pump and rolling my pole down the hall to his room.  The bus and train will be just fine, thanks.  I honestly don’t know if I could survive it again.  I guess maybe there’s something to all that PTSD stuff they keep telling me about.

Sorry to be a Debbie Downer but it’s one of those days.  Think happy healing thoughts for him, ok?


  1. Elly, reading this now somehow I feel guilty for not being “there” (here) for you. Silly huh since I didn’t know you back then and I mean I am just someone on the Interweb. You must hate it when people say Oh, you make me really appreciate what I have like WTF you didn’t want your life to be a lesson for the others. But you know, whenever you talk about what you went through, what you had to go through, even now, what you have to go through in your dreams, when you are not careful in guarding against it, I feel like crying.
    .-= submom´s last blog ..Forget about WTF Wednesday… =-.

    1. …and that is why I am freakishly fond of this strange asian woman who travels flat on airplanes, who brings new meaning to “bleeding heart liberal” and who I’ve never met. That’s going to me a whole mess of squealing and giggling. Hugs.

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