The Other Shoe

This is post #5 in a series.

I wonder if anyone who has really suffered with cancer read any of my early blog posts and found them to be annoying.  When I read them now, I’m frustrated and a little embarrassed at my naïve optimism.  I’ve learned a lot since September, and one of the things I have learned is that the side effects of chemo build up and hit harder at the end.  During my first two rounds of chemo, I was surprised at how easy it was and how much energy I had.  The positive effects of the medication outweighed the negative effects of the cancer and the chemo.  However, starting with round 3 of my chemo in early November, I learned new depths of fatigue and I experienced a rotation of side effects that sent me to the emergency room twice in a month. 

For about six weeks, starting in early November, I slept about fifteen hours a day.  I had to drop back to only two (of six) classes at school, and some days I could barely handle those.  Since we had a special series and a children’s program at church, I only needed to prepare and deliver one sermon in December, but I had a couple of rough Sundays in November.  I haven’t watched the video recordings of those messages, but I imagine that they are alarming.  Gina and I took two road trips in November – one to Tallahassee for the cross-country state championship race, and one to St. Augustine to visit Andrew and Rachel.  Road trips used to be fun and easy for us, but I am not as useful as I used to be.

Now it’s Christmas Eve, and I’m three weeks past my last chemo.  I feel like I’m getting stronger every day, and it’s more noticeable from one week to the next.  I will have a few more productive weeks before my bone marrow transplant at the end of January, then I will be out of commission for about two months.  My next blog will include details about that procedure and my expected timetable for recovery.

My symptoms and side effects have ranged from merely curious to alarming and disabling.  I’ll try to list them here in chronological order:  back pain (that was the first sign that anything was wrong with me), cracked and bleeding hands and fingers, nerve cramps in my hands (I call this one “the claw”), fever (ER visit #1), itchy rash, swollen feet and ankles and face (my least favorite side effect), persistent cough coupled with sharp side pain (ER visit #2 because I thought I cracked a rib), “chemo fog,” sore legs and numb, tingly feet.

“Chemo fog” is a curious thing that bears further explanation.  I am not as clever as I used to be, and that is even more of a problem because I am sometimes more stubborn than I used to be, and that is not a good combination.  It also includes a curious disassociation from reality.  I will wake up in the morning, and in my mind’s eye I am watching a show (or reading a story) about a boy who needs to get out of bed and get ready for work.  It takes a while for it to dawn upon me that I am that boy, and I really do need to get up and get ready. 

Still, it could be worse.  I am not in serious pain, and I have only experienced nausea one day.  Fatigue really is not so bad after I learned to adjust expectations and clear out my schedule for extreme napping.  It made me take a two-month break from blog #4 to blog #5, but now I should be able to post a few more before my transplant at the end of January.