Recovery Weekend –
The day after my first chemotherapy treatment, I went to work. Due to the heavy dose of steroids I received over the previous 36 hours, my energy levels were high. But, I felt a bit “manic,” which may have been due less to the effects of steroids and more about the anxiety I was feeling over what my recovery would entail.
I knew that my side effects would start kicking in 24 – 36 hours after treatment. What this would mean exactly, I wasn’t sure.
After returning home from work on Thursday evening, I made plans to settle in for the next three days. The only activities I had planned were an acupuncture treatment on Friday morning and to follow a schedule of anti-nausea medication with military precision.
When I had my port implanted a week earlier, despite being assured by the surgical nurse that this would be an “easy” procedure, I spent six nauseous hours where my stomach went rogue and was unwilling to settle. Not wanting to endure even a fraction of that experience again, I set multiple alarms to remind me when to take my meds.
As I waited, I recalled an experience I had as an audience member at a play. At a very young age, my parents introduced me to Broadway shows, which inspired a passion for theatre that I have carried well into adulthood.
In over four decades, there is only one play that I found to be an absolutely excruciating experience to watch: Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.
The play focuses on the encounters of two characters who are anticipating the arrival of someone named Godot, who never arrives. The literary, political, philosophical and religious interpretations of Beckett’s message are many – and I won’t even attempt to provide my own simplistic opinion.
However, I will say that the impending arrival of chemotherapy side effects was my own personal “Godot.” I recalled my experience as an audience member watching the over-three-hour play unfold.
Does Godot ever freaking arrive? When will this be over?
Fortunately, Beckett was not the author of my chemo narrative. As it turned out, this role was filled by Shonda Rhimes. For at 9pm, just as I turned on the television to watch Scandal, I felt the first waves of side effects.
Chemotherapy side effects are similar to high tide. They roll in slowly and quietly, then seemingly surround you all at once.
Many times, I have witnessed the tide change from my beach chair while reading a book. Typically, I survey the transition unfolding in front of me and decide to hold my position, believing I have enough time to read another chapter before I need to push my chair farther up the beach.
But inevitably, I am jolted from the words on the page by the sensation of water lapping at my feet while soaking my beach bag and towels.
This is what chemotherapy side effects are like.
They come in waves, but they are strong. At first, I felt a warm sensation through my body, which progressed to a feeling of numbness, where my limbs felt heavy and my reactions felt slow.
I took a sleeping pill and went to bed.
When I woke up the next morning, I felt as though I were in the throes of a hangover circa 1994, following an evening out in Boston barhopping between Copperfield’s and The Bell in Hand. I took a moment to pat myself on the back that those days ended in my twenties, as I prepared my fortysomething self for the day ahead.
Although I saw my acupuncturist only two days earlier, her advice and support made such an impact that I scheduled another session to help ease me into my recovery weekend. My acupuncturist was scheduled to attend a conference, but she connected me to another doctor in her practice to handle my treatment.
I decided to walk to my appointment. The cool February air and misty Seattle rain felt wonderful on my face and helped me feel more present in my body.
The acupuncturist I met with was also very helpful – to a point. While very well intentioned, she had a lot of “ideas” for how I should handle my recovery from treatment.
As I was pulling out my credit card to pay for the session, the acupuncturist gave me the following advice:
You should go to a butcher shop and get some bone marrow to make a broth. After that, there is a great store in Chinatown where you can pick up some herbs – I will write them down for you. You will want to simmer the broth all day…
There were several more instructions, which I don’t remember. As the acupuncturist spoke, I just smiled and nodded my head. Aside from the fact that I hadn’t been to a butcher shop in over thirty years, I had no intention of making bone marrow soup.
Maybe that would have been the exact thing I needed, but I was more comforted by the idea of picking up premade soup at Whole Foods and settling on the couch to watch the four episodes of The Real Housewives that I had on my DVR.
So that is what I did.
As the rest of the weekend unfolded, the side effect tides continued to roll in and out. I was fatigued, but never in pain and grateful that the anti-nausea medication did its job.
As the hours progressed, I walked around the house as though tiptoeing on a pond after the first winter freeze, fearful that the ice may crack and bring forth an urgent situation. Fortunately, this never happened.
On several occasions, I had an internal debate with myself as to whether I should have handled my first treatment and recovery on my own. Going forward, my parents and sisters would divide my treatments between them and travel to Seattle to stay with me.
But this first one I wanted to do on my own.
I had several members of my Seattle tribe on call in case I needed anything. I was very conscious of not shutting myself off to help, but I balanced this with trusting my instincts that getting through this first treatment on my own was a milestone of great importance.
Throughout the weekend, I had several conversations with my dear friend Christine, who I met while attending college in New England, where she still lives. As I was riding out my recovery, Christine kept me updated on the weekend snow storm she was experiencing.
Having spent many years living in New England, I enjoyed hearing of this winter rite of passage through our conversations.
On Sunday evening, as the tide rolled out and I started to feel the side effects lessen, Christine asked me to describe what the weekend felt like.
I thought about my experience with the tides, but decided to answer the question with a more Northeast sensibility.
I prepared for over a foot of snow, but fortunately, only three inches fell.
I was deeply encouraged by the start of my chemo winter, yet how it would continue to manifest, like Godot, was still to determined.
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