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.