In exciting news today, my side effects from the taxol are manifesting about a week to a week and a half early! And, as Cheerful Cheerleader Boyfriend reminds me, I still climbed like an awesome person yesterday!
Because I’ve been on taxol before, my body is prepped to jump on the side effect bandwagon a little bit more enthusiastically than it did last time. This means that, while my nose is already bleeding, my body and skin already aches, my tastebuds are already dying, and my scalp is already pretty sore (and I’ve had one treatment — a timespan that didn’t even register the chemo last time), I’m also going to lose weight more rapidly and be even more fit for climbing. In truth, I don’t have that much I can stand to lose, but if you know me, you know I will do anything for abs. Chemo might seem a little extreme, but it’s probably the most effective diet I’ve ever been on and I’m reluctant to switch to some wimpy diet plan where I have to eat less chocolate and don’t get steroids.
But side effects I’m okay with. I expect them — not only do I know they’re coming, but they mean the chemo is working, so they’re almost welcome. And, because I’ve been through this before, I know how to manage them pretty well. Morphine works really well for pain and the steroids work for energy. Even so, three months (11 more treatments) of this seems like a lot if I look at it head on. Like the diagnosis in general, I need to approach my treatment cycle one day, or one infusion, at a time. Step by step. Day by day.
Today’s also the Boston Marathon, which is one of my favorite days to be living here. Last year, we watched the marathon from BC’s main gate and arrived early and stayed late enough to see not only the elite men and women come in, but also others we knew participating — friends of ours, students of mine, and my dissertation advisor. I always love watching the runners, both because that kind of athleticism is generally amazing to see up close and because giant displays of human achievement always uplift me a great deal. I love seeing the objectives we can accomplish as humans, the lengths to which we are capable of going if we push ourselves.
This isn’t to draw a false comparison between running a marathon and having cancer (although there is a metaphor in there I use a lot — having stage iv cancer is like running a marathon in a lot of ways; though Cheerful Nerd Boyfriend informs me cancer is more like a siege because “whereas a marathon implies a defined finishing point, a siege implies that you’re looking to outlast it”). No amount of determination or fighting spirit will push me past my cancer like a runner’s determination can push them to a finish line. Lately, I’ve even been reconsidering the use of words like “survivor” or “fighter” when applied to stage iv patients, since such rhetoric silently presumes individual failure when cancer, almost always, ultimately wins. I have a lot of energy, and I am determined to live as fully and intensely as I can for the time I have left, but I know I am more than likely fighting a losing battle.
And that’s okay. I don’t watch the runners to evoke some facade of strength that, if only I could tap into, could cure my cancer. I don’t imagine that I’m the protagonist in some horrendously written Lifetime movie that would reduce my illness to some forced and superficial story of individuality. I don’t kid myself that this is a winnable battle that I only need to muster the strength to persevere. I watch the runners because each day, no matter how close to the end that day is, holds the potential for experiential joy. I watch the runners because their energy and force puts me firmly in the joy of today — the excitement and amazement of the day. I watch the runners because they make me happy.
So today I’m off to be a Marathon spectator. Tomorrow I’ll be a PhD student and climber; Wednesday I’ll be a teacher. Thursday I can be a cancer patient in the morning and a movie watcher at night (thanks Cheerful Attentive Boyfriend). If I look at each day like this — holding the potential for a number of identities, most of which can bring me joy — cancer suddenly doesn’t seem so big and bad. Sure, I always feel the effects of the taxol and will for the next three months, but while that’s playing out in the background, I’ve got better things to be.