Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Straddling the Highs and Lows

Chemo is a necessary evil.

It's sort of like a "good war," if there is such a thing.  You know the fight needs to be fought, but no one really wants to experience it.  There are all these plans and strategies and tactics. Certain drugs work on one front but not on others. Some take a proactive, offensive approach, while others fight the disease in a reactive, defensive state. It can leave you feeling ravaged, exhausted, less than you were before you began. It can beat back the enemy, but you're never sure if it's just a retreat or a victory.

But still, you have to go to battle ever so often to keep some semblance of peace. Even if you know that there will never be a victory.

For the last 7 weeks I've been on an oral chemo regimen called Xeloda.  I take 3500 mg - 7 pills, 3 with breakfast, 4 with dinner - every day for 14 days, and then I take one week off. Rinse and repeat until they decide: 1) It has served its duty in causing my liver lesions to retreat temporarily  3) It isn't working and we have to try a new tactic. Xeloda is a popular drug because it causes far fewer side effects than most chemotherapy agents.  No hair loss is a great bonus. Most people don't get too sick while taking it.  However, I have been experiencing a lot of nausea, fatigue during my experience with it so far.

I have good days and bad. Highs and lows. Some days straddle the line between the two...either I start strong and fade fast, or I struggle to get out of bed but somehow end up staying up late because I'm feeling ok again.

I realize that I'm probably experiencing more of the negative side effects than a lot of people because of the way I straddle that line.  If you know me in person, you know I go until I can't go anymore.  It's my own special sickness, I guess.  Some people may call it "type A," some say it's superhuman, some probably think I'm not quite sane.  I say it's probably all of the above with the emphasis on "not quite sane."  Whatever it is, it is my nature. It's my gift, and it's my tragic flaw.

Everything I've done in my life I've committed to until it drains me, either physically, financially, professionally, emotionally... Piano. My house, my yard. Work. Relationships...

I played piano for years until it wrecked my arm, and i literally had to re-learn how to play after two surgeries and ultimately led to a complete lack of desire to ever play again. But man I loved it when I did play. I lived for the sound. I hung onto notes until I couldn't drip any more sound out of them. I craved the physical pleasure and the emotional release of creating sound from that instrument. But then one day it turned against me. I fought it, but I never recovered.

10 years ago I bought a house that I saw great potential in. I poured all my money into this house. I poured a relationship into this house. I poured hours of volunteer/"mission work" from family and friends into this house and yard. I took a backyard from piles of rubble and kudzu into beds of flowers and trees and life. I fought bamboo and privet and ivy to lay a brick patio (mostly) all by myself.  I mulched. I hand-weeded. I painted. I scrubbed. I refinanced. I refinanced again. All with the dream that I would give it the chance it needed to be great one day even if it caused back pains, headaches, debt, disappointment, anger. I give it my all until I can't give anymore -- which explains my yard's current state of disarray, my interior's disastrous clutter, and my growing pangs of claustrophobia. I love my house because I committed to it, even when it hurts.

I've worked for the same company for over 15 years.  There are days when I hate it. There are days I want to walk out and never look back. But there are days it challenges me, inspires me, and teaches me to never stop learning.  I am so blessed to work for the company and in the company of such great individuals. But for about 12 of those 15 years I did the jobs of 3 people.  I did marketing. I did HR. I did bookkeeping. I did it all. I shouldn't have done it all.  No one should. But I was (and am) so committed that I did way more than I should have. I often feel that the stress I put on myself for so long may have contributed in a way to my cancer by way of inflammation and just constant stress and multitasking. Even now I continue to work semi-regular hours. I still mediate between coworkers. I still stress over deadlines, failures, and whether or not I'm disappointing my team. I work an 8-9 hour day, and then I can't work the next because I did too much. I just can't help it. The lows inevitably follow the highs of the commitment to being everything.

And relationships...hoo boy. That's a whole other chapter for another time.

But back to chemo....
Now that I've confessed my commitment issues, I can see why I am probably having more trouble with this chemo drug. Ever since my diagnosis of metastatic disease, I've been determined to not let it stop me.  I've worked. I've traveled. I've traveled some more. I've gardened. I've been to music festivals. I stood on the White House press podium, and sat in an NPR studio. I've been in a movie. I walked on the track at Churchill Downs. I've met rock stars, and chefs, and bartenders, and winemakers. Not to mention all my Twitter friends. I've sipped and dined and rocked and cleaned and danced and mentored and hiked and photographed until I can't go anymore. Those are the highs. And that High Life is so worth it. And I am committed to sucking every ounce of that High Life while I can.

In those moments and those days, I don't feel sick at all. My soul allows me to feel that way all the way up until the chemo kicks in to remind me to SLOW DOWN, YOU ARE SICK AND I'M TRYING TO DO MY JOB. And then come the lows.  The tears. The nausea. The seemingly unending fatigue. Then I realize that there's that battle again. It's been going on while I've been living the highs. Sometimes, I need to let that battle go on while I rest so I don't burn out.

So rage on, chemo. I'm committed to life as long as I can be, straddling the highs and lows.