Firewalking

This is now the 7th day after my first experience of Taxotere chemotherapy and I can now confirm that if you put the life saving aspect of the drug to one side, it has little to recommend it. In fact, it is as vile as I ever expected chemo to be.

It has made me reflect on the analogy of ‘Battling Cancer’, one of the many cancer clichés that I dislike so much. After Taxotere I don’t feel that I am fighting a battle, but rather that my body has been hosting one. I can’t fight what’s happening in my body I can only endure it.

The last 4 days have been an endurance test. It has left me sobbing like a child in an attempt to walk from my bedroom to the kitchen yesterday morning. It left me gasping for breath while trying to climb the stairs to read my son his bedtime story, frightening him in the process.

It started on the 3rd day. I honestly thought I’d bypassed the side effects but I spent the rest of the day in bed after making snowmen with the boys in the early afternoon. It feels like the flu. My bones, muscles and joints in particular have been very painful, sometimes an ache, sometimes a stabbing pain. My feet were so sore that I couldn’t walk on them. I couldn’t rotate my ankles and the pain emanating from my pelvis was particularly intense. My body felt wracked and sleep was punctuated by sweats and more pain.

It has been a truly hideous experience which turned me into a weakened tearful version of myself that I don’t recognise. This morning I slept better, felt better and managed to go to the toilet for the first time since Friday. I had a warm bath and I don’t know how to describe the happiness and relief than both these events brought to my poor battered body.

It has felt like a test of courage or strength, like firewalking. I actually felt like I was walking on coals or nails. So I have been suffering. But this suffering, although horrible, is a temporary thing which will give me the best chance of survival. My cancer doesn’t like chemo either and this is my one shot to zap it.

I met my oncologist again a couple of days ago. Shuffling up the stairs like a 100 year old woman. This nice Dr who I like so much and I laughed with him about this terrible stuff he is giving me. Adjustments were made to the steroids to try and improve the side effects for the next cycle and I got some painkillers. From his perspective he is happy that I am able to tolerate the 100% dose and don’t need to reduce it. I am happy about that too.

Today I feel very weak and have cramps in my stomach but the pain I have been feeling has largely retreated. I’m not sure that there is a lesson in this pain. When I started writing about my experiences I felt that endurance would serve me better as a trait than optimism would. But actually perhaps I can benefit from both of these perspectives now. The last few days have been horrible but I have been looked after by my husband who cancelled his plans to stay with me.

My boys have been concerned for me too and I have hated to appear so diminished by the effects of my treatment but I could not disguise or hide it. The pain itself is not transformative; it is just an ugly truth.  I will forget the pain of this experience in time, but I will never forget the things that got me through it. The love I feel and the care I have had. I will always have that.

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