Things fall apart…some just seem to fall apart quicker than others, and if there is any truth I’ve learned in my years, it’s that it takes significantly longer to build than it does to break. Think about how long it takes to construct a skyscraper, and then how long it takes to level it.
The analogy works in running too, but we use the phrase “Use it or lose it”. We spend months, years even, building our systems to the utmost efficiency and all it takes is one little injury or a couple weeks of necessary post-marathon rest to send us all the way back down the mountain of effort. Our very first run back feels like our…well…very first run.
And now, with cancer, the same holds true. Everything is falling apart it seems.
For a while I was continuously working away from the destruction of surgery and so, physically speaking, I could only build. I was at square one…or square negative one even, and so I could really only get stronger from that point on. And that’s what I did. I worked at building my body back up. Moment by moment, day by day. It started as walks around the hospital hallways, then moving furniture around my house, then short drug-enabled runs, then drug-free runs, then conscious efforts to keep building and building.
Then we introduced chemotherapy, but even with the inherent destructive process it embodies, I was able to fight back and continue building my body. There were momentary setbacks, yes, but I kept building on a progressive trajectory, getting stronger, getting faster.
Now, however, I’m getting worried. Things are falling apart at a rate that has me increasingly concerned. It’s not that I’m a mess right now or that I’m inevitably going to crash and burn, losing everything I’ve gained so far, but after this last treatment and the accumulation of all the treatments up this point, I’m wondering just how long I can keep progressing before chemotherapy starts pushing me back down the mountain.
My dad has noticed patients on the same chemo schedule as me deteriorating throughout their treatments, barely able to walk across the room, looking closer and closer to death with each visit. There are images of patients from last Tuesday’s treatment I wish I could erase from my memory, their physical edifices quickly being blown to bits from the destructive nature of chemo. Their hair is gone, their skin pale, eyes sunken, a listless body covered in blankets to fend off the cold from hours of passive rest. And although I am seemingly worlds away from this point of deterioration, the accumulative effects have shaken my foundation.
“You look really good!”, well meaning friends often tell me. And I appreciate their comments and encouragement, because often I FEEL good, mostly when I’ve had a great streak of running. And when I look in the mirror, I do appear good. But that isn’t the whole story. Because right now, after this last treatment, things are falling apart.
When I lower my feet to the ground in the morning I begin to hobble around the house, delicately placing each step to minimize the pain and aggravation. I feel like a bone-weakened, elderly man. The skin on the bottom of my feet and toes hangs pale and dead, waiting to be cut or pulled away. The creases between my fingers have now begun to crack and separate, risking infection, painfully and constantly reminding me of my circumstance as I try to open various containers or bend my fingers into a fist. A mild headache lingers throughout the day, an effect of my chemo pills, that not even a heaping dose of caffeine can alleviate. When I brush my teeth in the morning and end up spitting blood in the sink from sensitive gums, I feel like my body is melting away. I blow my nose only to catch a reddened phlegm, generated by dried and aggravated nasal abrasions. The acne on my face comes and goes with various states of my treatment and processes related to my cancer. The shock to the back of my face catches me every time I try to eat powerfully flavored foods soon after treatment. And the nausea…it lingers and lingers and lingers, making the simple and necessary act of eating seem less desirable with each passing day. I could go on. But…
You know the scene in The Fly when Goldblum is peeling away his finger nails and facial skin as he transforms into something else? It FEELS LIKE THAT. It really feels like that.
I’m sorry for the TMI, but this is the reality a lot of people don’t see, the little deteriorations that begin to build rapidly and hang around longer with each passing treatment. These are the parts of cancer that really wear a person down.
I don’t mean to sound so pathetic about this all, painting a picture of an individual on the verge of death, but instead to continue painting the ENTIRE picture, the good and the bad…because this is important. This is important for me to express and others to know. There are encouraging moments. There are processes of building and regeneration. There are days when cancer doesn’t exist and everything, well, MOSTLY everything, feels pretty damn good. It’s just…the nature of chemotherapy demands that this won’t last. And that’s where I’m really starting to freak out.
The last CT scan showed the same lack of progress or regression as before, and what scares me is that continued accumulation of chemotherapy and the toll it’s going to inevitably take on my body. I work hard to build the physical self, to achieve everything I possibly can no matter my circumstances, and usually the only thing holding me back is my own resolve…so to hand over that restriction to forces I can’t control and that will only get stronger and stronger, well, that’s just hard to internalize. I don’t want to break down.
I don’t want to break down, because I’m afraid of how quickly it happens. And it seems these small deteriorations right now are harbingers of bigger things to come, as if chemo is just getting started, just giving me a little taste of what lies ahead.
And maybe I’m just reacting out of fear. Maybe I’m just expressing in a moment of frustration, so my concerns are unnecessarily heightened. I don’t know, but this is my current reality, and I’m also learning that how I feel in the moment is the right emotion at the time. Right now, it simply feels like the momentum I had running up cancer mountain just hit a descending boulder of chemotherapy and am now being pushed back down.
I’m not done attempting to build yet though. I’m still resolved to push back and hope that the effects of chemo relent, momentarily even, so I can make even just a little upward progress. I know how quickly things fall apart, but I know they can always be rebuilt as well.