“You Make Chemo Look Good.”

“You Make Chemo Look Good.” This is what a very close friend said to me last night. I laughed because I agree – I don’t look “sick”. When I go out I get similar responses from folks and I never know what to say….. “Thank you?”.  It is nice to hear I look good but it also feels weird. My inner gut reaction is “I swear I am not making this up” or I question myself “Am I making this chemo thing a bigger deal than it should be?”. The answer –

Dear Kate,
You are ok. You are living your experience and that is all. I love you.
Your friend,
Kate

What I have taken from this is that chemo is not what I assumed it would be. I am hearing about many other experiences with cancer and chemo – some very hard and complicated and some more straight forward. They are all so different. The cocktail of drugs for different types of cancers which come with their own mixtures of side effects. People of different ages and levels of health and outside support. Some folks also have had to deal with radiation (which I thankfully did not). Before when I thought of chemo I immediately thought of hair loss, pale skin and thin. With my chemo drugs there was a small chance of losing my hair but not likely. Jenn says I get a weird color grayish after my infusion but personally I don’t care much to notice in those times and it passes soon enough. And then there is the chemo diet – I am not going to lie I was kind of seeing the possible weight loss as a silver lining but my appetite is as healthy as ever although more focused on french fries and cookies than healthy for fighting cancer foods. So, I look like me and for that I am thankful.

The Day after my last infusion I was in to get my IV fluids as I have done every round. We shared a room with a woman in getting her infusion she was accompanied by her husband. She struck up a conversation with me asking about my diagnosis and treatment. I inquired the same as you do in this place – she had active cancer that they were trying to reduce the tumor for her to have surgery. We then chatted about our kids and work. It turned out she knew some folks that I knew, small world. Over the couple of hours we were there as her drugs kicked in I was able to observe her sparkle fade into the chemo fog. She started to report to the nurse about the side effects she started to feel as the infusion progressed – that’s what they ask us to do to gauge how things are going. That night I told Jenn about meeting that woman and about watching her fade into the chemo fog. In that moment I saw a familiarity come to Jenn’s face. I said “I am sorry, that must be hard to bear witness to.”  She replied succinctly “Yes.”

For all the players in these stories there are some similarities but many differences – biologically how we respond to the drugs we are given, mentally and emotionally with our diagnosis and all the other factors of life, and socially or logistically with what kind of support we have in family, friends, and health care coverage.

Something I have been rolling around in my noggin this week was the statement “I know how you feel.” or “I know what you are going through.” These are statements meant to express compassion, I think, with the intention of the recipient of the words to not feel alone. The truth is never does anyone ever know what someone is feeling or going through even if they have gone through the exact same experience to a “T”. We are all different humans with different histories, backgrounds, and experiences that make our filters of how they experience the world around us absolutely unique and individual. Those sentences are rarely helpful. More frequently they shut down conversation. It would be more appropriate to ask how that person is feeling or inquire what it is like for them to be experiencing whatever they are experiencing. I am working on that path of inquiry. I am usually one to not say or ask anything in fear of offending or seeming nosey. I need to understand that if someone wants to share they will and if they don’t they won’t but to ask shows you care.

***

This week I am doing really great. All my work stuff is going well. I made it to yoga most of my days last week. We went to a birthday party Saturday afternoon at Decode Detroit which is an escape room – that was super fun. I spent Saturday night making butternut squash soup, vegan apple muffins and homemade bread. We went to the temple yesterday morning and hung out with friends in the afternoon, well I hung out while Jenn helped build a fence. Last night we took soup and bread to some friends who have been very busy in their world. We ate a delicious meal and caught up on all the goings on – it felt good to bring support to others in the form of food.  Balancing out the receiving of support with the giving of support is important to Jenn and I.  This was probably the most social I have been in months. It was nice – I have missed my people.

Life goes on regardless. Babies are learning to walk. Toddlers are turning three. Separations and divorces are unfolding. Folks are dating again. Friends are turning 40. Fences are being built. Newlyweds are settling into married life. Parties are being planned. Exciting new work opportunities are popping up for people. Dogs are sneaking up onto kitchen tables and eating many sugar cookies. So many things happening as this planet keeps spinning.

Tomorrow marks the official halfway point of my chemo. It is still an uphill journey but I got to make muffins this weekend and that made me very happy. A reminder that where our focus lies dictates how our story is written.

Movie recommendation:  Life is Beautiful with Roberto Benigni

I am thankful that I have the support of friends and family, the financial stability, good health care and random luck to “Make Chemo Look Good.”

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