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Nancy Welch

Bring on the poison, bring on the cure

    Chemotherapy.
    The very word frightened me. The first serious mention I heard of it was from my  newest doctor, an oncologist, in the dark of a hospital room. He sat by my bedside the night after my surgery, his white coat reflecting the shadows cast by the television which hung on a nearby wall.
    I wondered later why chemo scared me more than the word cancer. I suppose, looking back, I had learned to live with the many symptoms of my disease. I wasn’t slowed down. My life continued. I think I was in denial. But chemo, I knew, would take its toll and that I would not be able to deny.
    All my life I had heard and read of the side effects of having poison pumped into one’s veins for the purpose of curing or controlling cancer. On one hand, I was glad the doctor hadn’t said, “There’s no hope. Go home and die. We’ll try to keep you comfortable.”
    Still, it all sounded so awful.
    My doctor didn’t mention any of the possible side effects. Instead, he set up an appointment for me to see him and discuss my treatment. Discuss. Hmmmm. What discussion? What say could I have? Perhaps I should have chosen medical school instead of art school.
    The doctor’s office was less than threatening. As a matter of fact, he scared me more than the large empty chairs in a nearby empty room. He was SO serious. I wanted to hear a joke. I wanted to hear that I was going to be fine without chemo. No chance.
    He quietly told me what pharmaceuticals he would be using in my particular case. He didn’t tell me how many weeks I would be in treatment. I had already a list of my own fears and that was pretty bad. I really wasn’t ready for too much information.
    My first trip to the “chemo cave,” as I now call it, was not too eventful. The cave was a large, bright room. There were a number of comfortable recliners, each flanked by an  IV pump, used to administer the drugs. The wall across from the chairs was one-third plate glass windows. The view was spectacular ... mountains, sky, trees. It was calming. A nurse escorted me to a chair, administered an IV and the treatment began. I was sleepy, but not about to sleep. Who knew what would happen if I wasn’t aware of what was happening? I sat there for two hours, bags of liquid dripping into my IV. From time to time the pump would beep and a very kind nurse would switch bags of poison. So far, so good. Around me other patients slept, unperturbed by what might happen while they dozed.
    At the end of my treatment, the doctor gave me a prescription for nausea pills. I had chemo on Thursday and felt tired, but fine — until Sunday. Then I needed the pills. To my surprise, they worked. I slept most of the day, but I was comfortable. I kept waiting for the awful nausea I had heard so much about. By Monday, I was tired, but felt fine. Maybe I could do this after all.
    I was two weeks into my treatments. I woke up one morning and took a shower. I then blew my hair dry and applied my makeup. When I turned around, I saw the tiles on the wall were plastered with hair. I was surprised at my reaction. I laughed. So much for the emotion and drama portrayed in movies and on television. It was just hair and now I had to clean the stupid bathroom wall. A woman’s work is never done.

I eventually had my head shaved. Got tired of cleaning that wall. I looked forward to growing curls. I’ve never had curls. Everyone tells you when you have chemo, you will grow curls. Hah! Not me. Skip ahead a bit. I grew straight SILVER hair!!! Just my luck.

Now, on with the hair loss. Friends gave me a wig. It looked just like my hair and I felt quite complete. Even better, I didn’t have to pluck my eyebrows or shave my legs. I did miss my eyelashes, though. I had tried fake eyelashes in college. Hated them. Forget it. Somehow I always missed with the glue and ended up with fringes hanging just below my eyebrows. Estee Lauder only wants me as a customer ... and I need lots of training.

“Chemo brain” was the worst side effect. Suddenly, not only could I not write, which had been my career; but I couldn’t even properly execute my signature. Years of training in penmanship (the Palmer method) down the drain. I forgot things, names and even where I was headed when I left the house. Some would say old age. Nope, this was different. I couldn’t even read a book or magazineI found this very  frustrating . After all, I had made a living using words, sentences and paragraphs. I would stare at the many writing awards on my wall. I could no longer even read them.

The doc told me this was normal. I found that hard to digest  and I wouldn’t leave him alone about this particular side effect. When I continued to complain that I couldn’t write, he said, “Go home and practice.” I did. It worked. Or I think it did. At least I can type and use spell check. I’m not sure I get my ideas across so well. But I will continue to practice. I hope you will give me a chance and continue to read my efforts.

Then my feet and hands began to hurt. “Nueropathy,” the doc said. Nothing seemed too abnormal to him. He said the cure could hurt worse than the pain. I gave in and decided to deal with it. I had several nights of discomfort, but I managed. That was the important lesson of chemo. I could manage. So many do.

So, now I had an excuse. Any problem, must be caused by chemo. Hangnail? Chemo, no doubt. Oh yes, there was the nausea, but I suffered through it. Fever blister? Must be that last chemo treatment. Sleepless nights? Chemo. Seems that was true. Last week I asked my fellow chemo crew members what side effects they had felt. All complained of sleeplessness. Do you know how many times HGTV shows the same shows on one night? Did you know they go off the air at 4 a.m.? Hey, you’re never too old to learn.



So, the journey continues. I head for the chemo cave tomorrow. Yuck. But, you do what you gotta do!





Thank all of you who emailed after my last column appeared. It simply  took my breath away that so many remembered me. I welcome your prayers. God bless you all.



Former Bulloch County resident now resides in Highlands,NC. You may email her at nwelch@excite.com





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