Here’s a secret: I sometimes envy those with cancer that actually look ill.
I know, that sounds insanely ridiculous. I hate myself for even feeling that way, but it’s the truth. When people hear I have cancer, they default to: “You look so well.” Sometimes, they throw on the “You wouldn’t know you had cancer.” It impresses people that externally I looked like a completely healthy, albeit overweight, thirty-year-old. I still have some energy, enough that I make it through my work shifts. On good days, I can tolerate food. My hair, which was fairly thick at the start of this, has thinned out, but isn’t as noticeable as being bald. If I hadn’t seen my own scans, been through the biopsy and dealt with the chemotherapy and its effects, I might honestly believe I was faking this entire thing. I’m sure there are people out there that do. Heck, I’ve had friends admit that before the chemotherapy started and the diagnosis came from a doctor that they thought I was being melodramatic about feeling sick all the time.
I probably was a little, but it was real.
I just don’t look like a cancer patient and it makes me feel…weird. Not that I want to give up looking healthy either. It’s the one thing that lets me delude myself into feeling well enough to press on. I think if I looked sick I might actually wallow more. I can push through because I can forget the cancer most of the time.
This week, however, I started to look like a cancer patient. Dr. Brooks noted that my hair was falling out, as evidenced by the amount on the back of my shirt and no longer on my head. During chemo, I actually felt really sick: my chest started hurting, I had trouble breathing and I thought I was going to vomit. When the nurses rushed over to see what was going on, my blood pressure had plummeted to ninety-five over sixty. They slowed down the infusion, but when they upped it again later I was equally as sick. I managed to suck it up and make it through, however, until we went outside. Then I lost my lunch. It was the worst treatment ever.
Friday night, I had trouble sleeping and my food didn’t want to digest. I was pale all weekend long and emotionally liable. I would go from snapping to laughing to crying at the drop of a hat. When I boil my feelings down to a reason, it’s my strength faltering. I’m incredibly tired of being sick and sometimes I think that I just want to give up. I mean, what if this new drug doesn’t work either? How many times am I supposed to let the oncologist dump toxins into me in hopes of buying more time? What quality of life do I have if I am losing my hair and dropping pounds, if I can’t work a real schedule –currently I am doing every other day to make three days a week of twelve hour shifts? What if I never can stop chemo so we can have a family? Isn’t it as bad as life support in a way? What quality does my life have if I am sick all the time from the medications?
My own suffering makes me wonder about Milo. How can I possibly subject him to this for the rest of our lives? Why should he watch his wife wither away in hope that I might someday be healthy again? Why should his life be on hold? He isn’t sick; I am. These thoughts caused me to slip into a bit of a funk tonight. Sometimes, I feel as if I am going to beat this thing and go on to have a long, healthy life. Milo and I will have children and live the fifty years we promised each other. Everything will be perfect.
Other times, times like tonight, I start to feel like our best will be half a decade. We won’t have our miracle or our family. It will just be us and Milo will be forced to watch me wither away. I’ve seen what an end stage patient looks like and it isn’t pretty. I don’t want him to remember me like that, the person I just moments ago admitted to wishing I looked like; I want him to remember this me: the one that laughs with him, who still has hair and bright blue eyes. Someone who isn’t in pain. Someone who is still vivacious and energetic.
Amazingly enough, as I was sinking into the pits of my despair tonight, a hand reached for me. A good friend of mine, Jon, died a few years ago. He was twenty-nine. Lately, I find myself talking to him a lot. I tell him about his sister, who I keep in touch with on Facebook. I ask how he managed to be sick for so long and still so happy all the time. I beg him to put a good word in for me so I can have my happily ever after with Milo. Sometimes, I ask him for help to cheer up his sister who misses him so much.
Tonight, he sister found out about my cancer and it was she who offered me the hand.
Just when my hope was slipping away, it was Erica reminding me that Jon was strong and would want me to be strong that helped me out of the dark. I couldn’t help but smile. Jon has been listening all this time and when I needed it most he made sure I got the kick in the butt. I should have known.
I’m still tired and my hope isn’t what it has been, but it’s not all lost.
Jon made sure of it.