Cancer Grief

Done With Chemo. Now What?

Written by Rebecca Wells
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nasty, nasty barium

Almost a month after ringing the bell to signal the end of five months of chemotherapy infusions, which followed 28 radiation treatments and a five-day hospital stay surgery, and I still am not quite ‘done’ with cancer. This week I will have to drink two bottles of barium for my follow up scans to make sure the chemo did its job. If you have never had the pleasure of drinking barium, let me tell you what you are missing. Imagine sour, chalky, thick milk with a tinge of flavoring (berry smoothie or banana were my options) to make it taste even more revolting. It’s hard to believe that we can send humans to live in space for months at a time, but the best we can do to provide contrast for CT scans is this disgusting punishment of a shake. If men can swallow a little pill to “keep it up” for hours at a time, surely the medical profession can come up with a little pill for us to swallow instead of having to throw back bottles of nasty barium. 

For my initial diagnosis, I cried through the first bottle of barium and threw up half of the second bottle. Since then, I have had to drink another bottle for a different sort of scan, and I managed to get it down without incident, but not without a collection of grimaces and “bitter beer faces” that I am glad no one caught on camera. Here’s hoping I can get these next two bottles down like a college kid chugging crappy beer at a keg party.

In the meantime, I am readjusting to a new life that doesn’t involve getting stuck with needles weekly and sitting for hours every other week for three days worth of chemo and related meds. The chemo side effects are wearing off slowly but surely, although only time will tell which ones decide to take up permanent residence in my body as some of my radiation side effects have done. I will forever associate Press-n-Seal plastic wrap with chemo treatments (it works great for covering up the numbing cream one has to put on over her port prior to getting jabbed with a needle for port access). The week after chemo ended, I flushed all of my related pills (four varieties of anti-nausea meds, anti-acid meds, and more) down the toilet, and boxed up all of the sweet cards and encouraging notes from friends and family and had my son take them to the closet of the guest room upstairs. I wanted my room to look like it did BC (Before Cancer). I wanted to not feel like a patient in my space. I want to feel normal, but more importantly, I want to BE normal—as normal as one can be after surviving almost a year of cancer treatments.

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just some of the meds I flushed down the toilet after finishing chemo

 

In my new post-cancer treatment life, I no longer work full time (due to leave issues and assorted other life factors). And although I miss my full time paycheck and we are ‘poorer’ than we were before, I feel richer than ever. I found a great part time gig that I can do from home at hours mostly of my own choosing, leaving me with the time and energy to cook and eat more cleanly, more time to exercise and regain strength, more time with my husband and kids and my extended family and friends, and more time to be involved with my community.

Truth be told, I am a little torn. I am proud to be a survivor, and I truly want to use my experiences with cancer to help others, yet I want to be more than the girl who had cancer. Many people who survive cancer report going through a depression after all of the treatments are over when all of a sudden the support and attention they once had seems to disappear, even though the side effects and life impact still linger. While I don’t feel that way, I do get it. I just view finding my new normal as the next leg of the adventure that is my crazy and wonderful life. Wish me luck, and join me on my journey at http://www.facebook.com/fightlikeaboss

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About the author

Rebecca Wells

Rebecca Wells is still trying to figure out what she wants to be when she grows up. In addition to being a mom and a wife, she has been a teacher, instructional coach, and most recently, the dean of instruction at an inner city high school in Houston, Texas. Due to factors surrounding her treatment for stage 3 colorectal cancer, she has traded a career in education to pursue other passions and interests. When she gets all done with chemo, she will return to running, cycling, swimming, yoga and soccer.

Rebecca lives in Cypress, a small suburban community just outside of Houston, where there are fields of donkeys and llamas right down the street from the grocery store, and small trailer parks nestled in between subdivisions featuring homes valued at half a million dollars (she doesn’t live in either one!). She shares her home with her husband, daughter, son, and two crazy, crazy dogs.

4 Comments

  • Welcome to life AC – after cancer. Congratulations on completing one part of your journey; but you’re right – another part has just begun. Good luck figuring out what that looks like. Thanks for writing about this.

  • I just stumbled upon this article and smiled out loud as I read. I can relate to every word of it. I’m reaching the end of my treatments for ovarian cancer (9 chemo sessions under my belt and just 5 more to go, two surgeries, one of which involved the removal of my uterus & ovaries, my spleen, lots of lymph nodes, and a sectioning off of my diaphragm and intestine. Whew!) Now that the finish line is in sight, I’m feeling exhausted. Here’s a short list of the things I never want to experience again: being known as the girl who’s “bravely battling cancer;” losing my train of thought mid-sentence; having a needle stuck in my chest every week; choking down those horrendous contrast-scan drinks, only to throw it up mid-way through and having to start all over again; having conversations with ANYone about how my intestines are functioning; fiddling around with wigs and false eyelashes; and last, being too thin (never saw that one coming). I look forward to ringing that bell and resuming my insanely normal life!

    • Ring that bell HARD and with a smile! You’ve so got this!
      P.S. Chemo brain…still have it 8 months later. And, you can talk to me about intestines and bodily functions anytime. No judgment. 🙂