Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Poison, aka chemotherapy

Apparently I was overly cocky last week--this week I have not run once! There seems to be a bit of a pattern to this chemotherapy, where week one is kind of low, and week two is a rebound week.

Like parenting and other things I have experienced, cancer is yet another lesson in letting go. Knowing that these poisons are circulating in my body is a little discomfiting for someone whose normal drug intake averages 1 Advil annually. I've always been kind of a control freak about drugs and alcohol--everything from antibiotics to wine to pot to cigarettes. I even limit my coffee intake. I am just innately, almost prudishly, averse to things that take away my sense of control over my body.

There are strange and subtle ways the chemotherapy makes itself known--a slight metallic taste, pinkish pee, lethargy, a sense of inner imbalance. A friend warned me that her mother didn't drink enough and has permanent numbness in her toes because the chemo pooled in her extremities. Don't worry, I said, I'm so paranoid I spend half my time drinking water and the other half peeing.

Needless to say, it's also a little creepy to think of the cancer inside me, and I'm grateful the chemotherapy is fighting the good fight. I'm also lucky the chemotherapy side effects I feel are so minor; many people experience debilitating nausea, among other plagues.

The most important side effect from a medical perspective is a suppressed immune system. Chemo attacks any fast-growing cells, including white blood cells. So I'm supposed to bathe daily, wash hands obsessively, avoid crowds, avoid unwashed fruit (sorry, I'm picking and eating the blackberries all over the island) etc. No more eating food off the floor or my children's plates. Such a waste!

In other news, I have a new short do, at least while it lasts. Therese's barber friend Santino offered to shave my head, but when I showed up he insisted my hair was still so thick I might not lose it and I should think positively. I've accepted that it's going to go, but I'm in no rush to buzz it off before I have to. He promised to shave it for me when I start looking like a mangy dog. (I think he'd do anything for another chunk of the smoked salmon I brought him.) 

I'm basically at peace with losing my hair, though I believe it's unnecessary and I feel no sense of cancer identity or cancer pride with hair loss. All things being equal, I'd rather not be identified as a cancer patient the instant someone meets me. There is a psychological boost to being perceived as healthy and whole. And like anyone with a visible difference--dwarfism, a missing limb, dark skin--I'd rather not be slapped with a label that represents one small facet of my identity. Which brings me back to the Pat Benatar wig: I don't know how much I'll actually wear it, but it's nice to know I can go incognito to PTA meeting or swimming lessons if I so choose.

I'm really touched by all the love and support and encouragement people have offered. Thank you! If I don't respond individually, please know it does bolster me. 

Some pics on the hair theme...
Alder's hair is longer than mine now.

New hat from the grocery store. 

*The technology exists to spare people's hair, but it's a few years out from widespread use--something called cold caps that chill the hair follicles during chemo infusions. While there is a lack of clinical data on cold caps (there is a hypothetical possibility of metastases to the scalp), they're fairly widely used outside the U.S. The real hurdle right now is that the infrastructure doesn't exist in most infusion centers to accommodate cold caps, so you have to rent your own cap and haul in coolers to keep it cold. I believe within five to ten years as clinical data becomes available and infusion centers are built or remodeled, they will be set up to provide for cold caps, and chemo-associated hair loss will be a thing of the past. Of course, as more targeted therapies emerge, the current nuke-it-all chemo approach will wane as well.

Recent article on cold caps: http://www.seattlepi.com/news/medical/article/Cold-caps-tested-to-prevent-hair-loss-during-chemo-4678788.


  1. Short do is the way to go anyway. I suspect it was just a matter of time, lump or no lump, before you recognized this. I’ve been doing the short haircut my whole life, and I’ve been cancer free that whole time. Think about that – think about how many of us choose the short haircut lifestyle. No maintenance. No heat-trap on a hot day. No need for shampoo – just use hand soap.

    For four or five years I went with the full buzz cut, only a stroke or two from a shaved scalp. My girlfriend hated it and called me an egg – I wasn’t upset, because I recognized she simply hadn’t had the pleasure of experiencing the short do. It's quite a treat IMHO

  2. Hi Rebecca! Thanks for telling me about your blog! This post reminds me of my own adventures in wig-land. My hair fell out so quickly that I didn't have time to transition with a short do. (Yours looks awesome, by the way). I asked the wig lady for a cut and she told me my hair was too far gone for that. Ha! Funny thing is, I had worn my hair short for most of my life, but had spent three years growing it out right before I was diagnosed. Figures. I had tons of hair and it was all gone within 8 days. I remember finding strands of hair in my hands every time I touched my head. I actually kind of enjoyed releasing them into the air. (Is that weird?). I felt like I was offering them up to the chemo gods, or whoever the patron saint of cancer-patients might be. (Can you tell I was raised a Catholic?). Eighteen months later, my old wig is sitting in my bedroom looking for all the world like a fat rodent. I look forward to reading the rest of your blog. It is an amazing record of your journey. Joanne