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A Year

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Posted by Mary Beth at The Stitchery….

A year ago I spent two weeks of May in the hospital hooked up to chemo drips.

I was at war.

I had already been at war for months trying to survive a killer inside my body. But no one knew.

I had no idea why I couldn’t eat without pain, sleep more than a few hours, handle any emotional upset without excruciating stomach upset or get through the day without feeling like I had just been hit by a truck. I really couldn’t deal at all and yet I kept working more than full time, plugging through.

No one knew: I had a colorectal cancer that had spread to the pelvic lymph nodes. In March 2007 I was diagnosed at stage 3 although the doctors didn’t tell me that until after the treatment was almost over.

I deduce two “treatment” caveats: Don’t divulge “scary” info and kept ’em docile on Meds….

I was kept on painkillers as I went though test after test throughout March and April. I became addicted to the painkillers and had a second round of symtoms almost as unpleasant as the cancer. When I stopped the “Meds” I was given a lecture and more “Meds”. Enough said about that, it was it’s own hell.

Then came the chemical battle.

The first treatment lasted 5 days and 4 nights. My doctor and I were determined to kill off the cancer cells using everything in the arsenal. Chemo kills any fast growing cells anywhere in the body when injected through an IV. To counteract the massive dose of lethal drugs I was simultaneously given a saline drip at maximum rate to match the maximum rate we were injecting the drugs. Lying in bed, unable to focus my eyes or think, I didn’t realize what was happening to me except that I couldn’t function normally (well, duh, I was under major attack!)

When I got home and looked in a full length mirror I realized my legs were huge. The scale reported that I weighed 30 more pounds than when I went into the hospital. 30 pounds in 5 days, that’s definitely not pretty! Having that much weight on my 5′ 2.25″ frame meant many unpleasant things, most of them too private to discuss here. My skin was so stretched it sagged, wrinkly and crepe-like, when the water finally flushed from my body.

The second treatment lasted just as long as the first but this time I insisted my nurse weigh me each day so we could keep the water/saline drip at a reasonable rate. This little adjustment made a huge difference in my comfort and in my recovery since the chemical attacks.

Six weeks of radiation was yet another long lasting hell. Being nuked burns. It worked, so far.

My pneumonia this past month was NOT cancer even though I went through a big scare when the x-rays disclosed an “ovoid mass” in the lungs. Why did they used those particular words??? That was cruel! Unnecessarily cruel.

My skin has not returned to the smoothness I remember or thought I had, but it is much improved and I have lost another 20 pounds slowly over the past 8 months. Skin can’t keep up with rapid weight loss.

I look back at the 65 posts I have written since ~cancer~ became a hardcore reality and I can’t remember why I wrote many of them.

Chemo, in its war against the whole body’s cells, kills off brain cells as well. My memory is shot in places, unexpected places. It’s called “chemo-brain”.

On this Spring’s sales trips I had to ask loyal customers I’ve known and met many times over the past 18 years to tell me their names again, please. I used to shock them by remembering almost all of their orders so they knew something was wrong. I explained myself so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings and many related that they had friends or family who had lost memory after chemo. I was forgiven.

I’ve read that some people report an improvement in memory two years after chemo. Horrible things have happened to me in the the past year and even earlier than that, many things I will never be able to forgive nor forget. I wish I could select the things that fall into the Memory Hole. I’ve heard that others, who have gone through this become angry as a delayed side effect, too.

Almost everything in my closet is custom made by me, for me. Now, every day when I try to get dressed, I am reminded of the past. Everything is too big.

I can’t sew fast enough to erase what memories that I do have.

Maybe I should throw everything out and wear a robe until I have the wardrobe replaced? But then, I’ll still have my body’s wrapping, my very skin, to remind me.

Life is not a pretty dress. Scarlet’s frock-from-curtains has already told that tale. I understand now why a designer or an artist would make purposefully ugly things. I couldn’t wear ugly. It’s not vanity.

I literally need to sew a prettier bank of memories. Skin and Clothes after cancer, they need to fit to be pretty.

I am sewing, slowly, but I.am.sewing. I am sewing fabric to fit next to skin, a creative tradition belonging to all of humankind, pretty and ugly, and creative, sewn in hope that there will be better memories ahead. I’m just very slow.

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About Mary Beth

I am fascinated by changing patterns and colored threads. I sew garments and am teaching myself to machine knit. Since selling the building that housed my workrooms, The Stitchery, I'm searching for a place to set up the knitting machines again. There must be room here somewhere!

23 responses »

  1. MaryBeth, I thank you for trusting your readers and sharing something so intensely personal.
    I’m wishing you some loving sewing mojo so that you have some beautiful clothes soon.

    Reply
  2. You’ve been through a lot in life and you are a survivor. Even if you lost many precious things along the way, you’ve gained strength and a victory over something that caused and is still causing many to fall and loose under the same battle. Many hugs to you, MB

    Reply
  3. What an amazing post. Your words are so profound and inspiring – I’m so grateful that we still have you.

    Reply
  4. Thank you very much for this very personal post. It must have been the worst year for you and those near to you.
    From a dear friend who survived cancer I hear too that she had to adjust to a slower pace in life after her chemo and radiation therapy.
    I wish you a lot of strength and some sewing mojo to sew clothes that fits again. But most of all: enjoy life.
    Hugs, Sigrid

    Reply
  5. Bless You, Mary Beth.

    I’ve walked your path…and am walking it yet again…this time I don’t know how many “tomorrows” I’ll see…..

    Reply
  6. MB, you are one of my heroes.

    Reply
  7. MB, wow! Thank you for sharing all that. I’m adding to Marji’s wishes for “some loving sewing mojo”. Big hug.

    Reply
  8. MB – I felt so many emotions when I read your post…understanding, sorrow, loss, and triumph! I don’t even know if you hear it in your own words but these are the words of someone who is determined to triumph and move on.

    Sew slow, enjoy each stitch that makes your new clothing so that when you look back you can remember what a remarkable woman you are to stand up and overcome an odd that many just lay down and submit to!

    I hope that if I ever face a challenge such as this that I can be as courageous as you’ve been and are…

    Reply
  9. I hope you’re doing better now. Stage 3 colorectal cancer is a real bitch. Every year at my physicals I’m screened for that among other things and so far nothing.

    And I’m seeing some promising cancer treatments coming out of the pipeline, ones that target only the cancer cells and not the cells of the brain or other organs. It’s getting better, my step-mom was diagnosed with Stage 3 colorectal and was dead within a year.

    Reply
  10. I was so moved by your post. A year. It’s a milestone. A celebretion. I salute your courage and determination; it’s an inspiration to us all. You’re already wearing the beautiful new you, the new clothes will just enhance it.

    Reply
  11. thanks for sharing. my dh is at high risk for colorectal cancer. he gets screened every year. the irony is that the cancer he has dealt with for the last 4 years has been melanoma, not colorectal. he did 4 months of chemo…a cake walk compared to what you went thru. however, the oncologist did tell him that it would take 6-12 months for the effects of his “lite” chemo to wear off. during that time he was exhausted, forgetful, and quite testy. one day, he woke up and said, “wow…i actually feel like myself again.” the moral of my story is to hang in there. your body needs lots of time to heal after such a chemically induced ordeal. you will get there.

    in the meantime, i think sewing is great therapy. 🙂

    teri

    Reply
  12. Wow. That was an amazing post. I am in awe of your strength (even if you don’t feel particular strong, writing this was brave and gutsy.)

    Nothing wrong with being slow! I’ll be thinking of you as I slowly sew my new clothes to adapt to my new shape, too.

    [gentle virtual hugs] if that’s not inappropriate.

    Reply
  13. God Bless You, MaryBeth. I’m glad you’ve shared such personal information, and will be praying for you and your family. Here’s hoping your new sewing endeavors will provide wonderful times and even more wonderful memories.Take care.

    Reply
  14. MaryBeth, what a nice surprise to see your posting on SG. Thank you for sharing your very personal battle. I am glad that you are ‘back to join the living.’ I asked Georgene a couple of times for any update she had and I prayed diligently for God to extend His mercy to you. Bless you, my dear.
    Joan

    Reply
  15. I have, after remembering that I could!, replied to most posters via private emails, but Sewsy, my response didn’t go though. So, I wanted to thank you here for stopping by. Here is the part of the email that’s important:

    “Thank you for the “God Bless”. Those words mean a lot to me. I hope you are doing well and doing good, too!”

    I infintely appreciate all the good wishes and thoughts expressed here. After the year and a half I’ve been though, your posts here mean so much to me.

    Reply
  16. What an eloquent description of your past 12 months. Wow. In the future, when I hear the phrase “cancer treatment,” I will not think it is as simple as taking aspirin and having a headache go away. I will think of this essay about the journey you have taken and are taking. You really are a survivor and thank you for sharing experiences: sewing, and emotional reaction.

    Reply
  17. Hello Mary!

    First, I want to show you my admiration that I have for you, to share your stories and the most personal scenes of your life with us.

    Second, I admire you for had past all this and fought against the evil and today you are here with us in your blog.

    Every day, day by day, is a fight… everything to live and to be happy forever!

    Thanks Mary,
    and a big hug of friend from Portugal

    (Sorry any mistakes, but my English is not perfect)

    Reply
  18. Anyone searching for a true survivor should look no further. You have been through so much, not just physically, but emtionally and in your professional like, too and yet, there you are, still in the fight. I do hope that you’ll continue on the path to prettiness and enjoy the flowers along the way.

    Reply
  19. Mary Beth .- nobody us extraordinary, but you have a story that is an example to us all. A big hug from Barcelona. Paco

    Reply
  20. Mary Beth, I am just so very glad you are here with us, glad to be able to read you. Thanks for this very intimate and touching post.
    This means a lot to me.

    Reply
  21. An incredible journey, eloquently put. I wish
    you the best of health and better years ahead…
    You are an inspiration!
    Hugs,
    Kristen

    Reply
  22. MaryBeth, what a moving post. It puts all our trials in perspective. Fighting for life is a scary thing. One you can’t really understand until you have to face it. Sending you continued “good vibes” and well wishes. Vicki

    Reply
  23. MaryBeth — May the coming year bring you health and happiness as the past year recedes into, hopefully, a distant memory. I found your post extraordinarily moving. Thank you for being so brave to share with us.

    Reply

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