My last day of chemo, treatment 12 of 12, the last of the six cycles, was Friday. Why am I not setting off fireworks, organizing a parade and popping the champagne?
Well, even sparklers scare me, I don’t have time for a parade, and I can’t drink. It’s a bittersweet (and still slightly scary) time. My boyfriend says I always see the glass as half-empty. But I don’t think I’m being pessimistic. I’m being cautious. I don’t want to announce the end of chemo prematurely.
Because there’s a chance, even after these past six months of ABVD, that the cancer isn’t gone. I’m not saying that I know that for sure. I just know it’s a possibility, one that weighs heavily on my mind.
The last PET scan, after eight treatments, showed a reduction in the two remaining tumors, but they’re not gone. Ideally, the oncologists like to see the cancer gone at that point.
My new PET scan is slated for Oct. 10, and then I see the doctor about a week later. So I wait. I try not to think about the pains in my side and my chest. (Is it the tumors shrinking? Are they still there?)
I have plenty to busy myself with in the meantime. On Saturday, my community garden had a Bluegrass, Blues, Bake, Bulb Bonanza. (There’s still time to buy bulbs through Oct. 30 to support the garden!) And then I spent the evening making costumes for my cats for our Breaking Bad finale party. I have work, which I’m thankful for, though I’m still getting used to freelancing. It doesn’t feel real.
I also have something else to celebrate today—the last of the blood thinners! It wasn’t so bad, though the injections sting a bit, no matter how slowly you do them. It’s slightly less painful than listening to that LMFAO song about shots. What I noticed the most after the shots those first few days was that my butt felt funny. That’s right. My butt. It’s where I feel my squeamishness. It’s also the center of my fear. If I’m in a high place and have a fear of falling, or if something gives me the heebie-jeebies, the area around my tailbone feels funny.
After the first few days, the heebie-jeebies died down, but then I noticed the stinging. Also, making someone pinch her abdomen after she hasn’t been able to work out for months is a little cruel, but oh, well. I have more abdomen to poke.
The blood thinners appear to be clearing the clots, although my brave right arm, which bore the brunt of chemo since July, finally gave out on Friday. This time, I got an IV in the hand—but not the vein used last time, because it was a little achey. The IV was in fine, but for some reason, when any medications went in, I had an uncomfortable feeling in the middle of my arm. During the administering of the anti-nausea medication, raised red hives appeared on my arm, and it started to swell a bit.
The nurse put some cortisone on my arm, and she called in the doctor. They agreed it was an allergic reaction, though I’ve had that medication before. I think my right arm just had it with chemo. I feel as if they were protest hives.
The nurse administered the doxorubicin, bleomycin and vinblastine through that arm, but ouch! It wasn’t a searing pain, but a few times, I felt that feeling in your head when you have a lot of pain, like you might pass out. Maybe it was because my arm was irritated and swollen. I know I’ve been extremely lucky pain-wise until now, so I won’t complain. (Incidentally, I just recently found out that vinblastine is made from the Madagascar periwinkle. Who knew that such a pretty flower could be such a strong drug?)
When it came to the dacarbazine, the one that does kind of hurt, not to mention the most caustic of the medications, the nurse, the doctor and I all decided maybe we should try the left arm. The nurse found probably the last good vein in my left arm. I couldn’t even see it.
The next day, my hand was black and blue. The swelling went down after a day or two, though I still have some raised red marks. My entire right arm feels like it’s bruised. Sometimes it’s a shooting pain in my hand and arm, but more often, it’s a gnawing pain. I actually want to chew on my arm, like a wounded animal. It feels as if I could gnaw the pain out somehow. It’s really not so bad in the grand scheme of things.
This is temporary. Even the cancer, if it lingers, is temporary. At the very least, I get a break from chemo for a while. Once the scan results are back, the next steps are determined. I’m hoping that nothing is needed and I’m cancer-free forever. If it still looks as if there’s some left, there’s the watch-and-wait option, which I’m not a fan of. I want it gone! Or there’s the biopsy route.
I feel like I can’t start getting back to my “normal” life until I know what’s in store. I don’t want to make plans and then have them taken away.
Yet I also find this limbo, this uncertainty, comforting, because if it’s bad news, then I don’t know yet. So I wait and try to be cautiously optimistic.