Cancer is hard to feel through the chemo. I’m often so physically consumed by the discomfort of chemotherapy side effects that I forget about the cancer. It’s there…somewhere…but doesn’t really make itself known. And that’s somewhat scary, because I feel deluded into thinking I’m better off than I might actually be. I have to remind myself that I probably had this slow growing cancer for a LONG time before it really made itself known, remaining highly functional all the way up to the point it apexed.
The chemotherapy, however, doesn’t hide. I should probably talk less about having cancer and more about having chemo, because that is what really prevents me from living my life at this point. I’m keeping an eye on the big picture, but on a day to day basis, the effects of chemo are what I’m really trying to battle. And sometimesit truly feels like a battle, where I try to make advances but find myself being held back.
The best way I can describe the fight against this discomfort is like peeling the layers of an onion.
I pull away one layer of discomfort, only to find another just beneath it. At times it feels like I get rid of a greater discomfort, which allows the lesser one to then make itself known, and I peel that one away to find yet another and another and another. At other times it feels less like exposing lesser discomforts, but instead pulling away one layer only to find a brand new layer growing in its place.
As I try to keep pushing towards that point where I can live my life as close as possible to pre-diagnosis, physically at least, I’m often held back by one of these layers. Each month since surgery I would wait out the pain and make new efforts whenever possible. One month the pain would subside. The next, my headaches dissipated. The next, I regained muscular strength. The next, I could breathe easier. But I could never quite get to that point where all the problems were gone and I could move freely. Each layer was met with another.
And then the chemo started piling on top of itself. The layer of hand and foot syndrome grew thicker and thicker. The layer that had my fingers cracking and bleeding got worse. The problems with my bowels remained..well..problematic. The layer of nausea covered every moment of my days. But slowly, I tried to wait them out and let them fall off, hoping each shed layer would allow me to get back to running.
But that has yet to be the case.
I haven’t given up hope that the discomfort of chemo will finally give way to the delusion relief of JUST cancer. Now that we have taken Oxaliplatin out of my toxic chemical mixture, the layers of discomfort have fallen off in waves. Gone is the nausea. The awful taste in my mouth. The headaches. The hand and foot syndrome. The cold sensitivity. Or, at least, they are GOING. I feel like I’ve gotten very close to the core of discomfort and with one more layer shed I’ll be able to feel relatively normal (“normal”, mind you, being still very unnormal). I’ll still have a handful of physical issues to manage, but nothing that would prevent me from moving freely.
That’s the problem though. Even after all the recent layers have been shed, a layer of neuropathy in my hands and feet have grown in their place. And this neuropathy is just as debilitating as all the other side effects combined. With feet that are “asleep” every second of the day, running is out of the question. Even the pressure of short walks proves problematic and any sustained effort is cut short. I’ve managed to work through the discomfort for 30 minutes on the elliptical (my boredom sometimes outshining the neuropathy) and recently discovered that long bike rides are doable, now that the weather is beginning to cooperate with outdoor activities, but getting to that point of physical ability I so desperately crave is still proving elusive.
I still feel close to that core though, where the layers are so minimal that I can get through it all, where I can run again and just go about my days with ease, not in a constant state of “battle”. I don’t want to fight all the time. I just want to enjoy my days. It’s still not lost on me, however, that I’m significantly better off than most at this point. I CAN be active. I CAN be highly functional. I CAN keep a job and provide for myself. It’s that level of ability that I’m grateful for, but which also keeps me right on the edge, where I can taste that sense of personal freedom, but just can’t reach out and grab it.
Ultimately though, I still believe this is “never forever”, which is funny since neuropathy can be PERMANENT nerve damage. But let’s not even entertain that idea right now. The regenerative timeline for most nerve damage cases runs from 5 months to 3 years, but I’m counting on the healing properties of my body to throw those numbers for a loop. Until then, I’ll wait for this final layer to shed itself and hope nothing else grows in it’s place.