I was feeling healthy - boisterously, radiantly healthy - in the days leading up to and even beyond my first chemo treatment. I was jogging and working out and even jetted around Chatham in a friend's boat on Memorial Day. I slathered on sunscreen. I sipped (only sipped, as it tastes like pavement) on wine. I stretched and breathed it all in and felt grateful. People asked how I was feeling, and I answered, "Surprisingly, I feel great!" I was being honest. I did feel great. And they were pleased and I was pleased and everything was normal and it was like I didn't even have cancer. Except when the darkness crept in.
Since the beginning of all this - "this" being the lump, I suppose, the worst, the dark filthy worst, is what has been swirling inside my pretty little head.
It begins with phantom pains. The pain in my chest comes on fast and is a nagging pull, like someone's tugging at my right clavicle while at the same time stretching the skin. I press my hand to my chest and it's hot. My mind races. Is this stress or is that more cancer? Is that anxiety or is it creeping into my lymph nodes? Is this shit only in my breast like they claim, or is it everywhere? A tinge of pain in my back appears. An ache in my hip. This is IT, I think. This is the end. And off I go, careening into the darkness.
When I started treatment, feeling healthy, feeling well - really started to represent an odd, misleading dichotomy. I had cancer but I hadn't felt like I had cancer.
Until yesterday. Yesterday, the day after my 2nd treatment, was my first sick day. My first physically sick day. I had chills and a fever and I ached. I have scores of acne all over my face from the steroids (the acne gods are getting me back for years of clear skin; I suppose we all have to pay our dues), a slightly bloody nose when I woke up, and heartburn. The early side effects have arrived, and I can't say they came unannounced.
Now, I feel like I have cancer. There isn't a relief per se, but there's a kind of matching up of expectations - mentally and physically. It oddly lends a dose of sense. I should be at least a little sick - no? It's killing off the cancer, is it not? So if I continued to feel amazing, wouldn't I begin to doubt it was working at all? Or, good God, should I just shut up and enjoy when I'm doing well?
This is the mind-bending stuff I think about and try not to think about and think about anyway. This is a day in my head. And I don't write this to make anyone feel sorry for me, or to reap pity on my zitty situation, but to understand. I think that is what I most wish for myself: Not to feel alienated from my healthy friends and family, but for them to understand. And for anyone you know going through a health scare or a chronic ailment, talk to them like a human and know there is a very thin divide between the sick and the well. One day you're on one side, the next, the other. And that a disease is just as mental as it is physical.
My very circuitous point of all this, I guess, is also to stay informed. Not just about me (that would be pretty self-absorbed) but about you and your loved ones, healthy and not. Don't ignore any signs. Feel each other up - look for lumps, get mammograms, check your family cancer history. (One thing I learned: if you're young, mammograms don't always catch everything; our tissue is dense. My doctor had told me not to get one until age 35!)
The good news is that today, Friday - I am feeling better. And I must mention that Memorial Day Weekend was one of the best weekends I've had in a long while. I was afraid of feeling that alienation around loved ones and that is the furthest from what I felt around the wonderful people who make up the community of the Cape. I'll never forget the kind words, advice, parents and friends and acquaintances telling me they are praying for me, that they think of me every day.
Here's to the days I'll feel sick. And if it means this pizza-face-inducing poison is working, then I'm good with that. More than good. I'm surprisingly great.
Hair update: It's still attached to my noggin. Not that I haven't been preparing my lair. Look at the creepy wig garden I have going on in my closet.