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  • Martha Rasche

Some Ugly Truths

I had my fifth chemotherapy treatment Wednesday. Every three weeks, I receive regular chemo and then, because of the location of my tumor, I receive intrathecal chemo, in my spinal cord. So maybe it's more accurate to say I had my ninth and 10th chemo treatments Wednesday.

A friend asked me yesterday how I am feeling. I decided to expand on my usual one-word answer of "Okay."

My energy is starting to wane, I'm losing urinary control and my taste buds are starting to shut down. Experience tells me that all of this will worsen and last through next week. Ninety-six hours of anti-nausea medicine is part of my chemo regimen so I won't start to feel nauseous 'til early next week; then I'll have to medicate for a few days to keep from vomiting. When that passes, I'll continue to be really weak for a day or two.

I won't make any commitments for next week and will have no expectations of myself — except for making a visit to a physical therapist, because now that the tumor is no longer crushing two nerves that affect my left arm and hand it is high time to get the fingers on my left hand fully functioning again. Fortunately, that appointment comes at the end of the week or I'd definitely have to postpone it. I still might have to, but I'm hoping not.

By a week from Sunday my taste buds will be back and I'll be regaining strength. That week — the week leading to the Fourth of July — will be a good one. I'll have energy and will feel like doing things. Those are the good days of my cycle, and I've even been able to get some exercise in during these days in the past. I always have an ambitious to-do list for those days. This time around it will include seeing some business associates, doing some transcription work, taking one of my cats to the vet for his annual appointment, helping a niece with a pre-4-H project and seeing as many friends as I can squeeze in. The following week is my next/last treatment and I'll go through the cycle for one more time.

Throughout the entire cycle I usually don't sleep for more than two or three hours at a time and I might spend half the night awake. After about five months of this, it is getting really, well, tiresome. I always talk with God during this time. Some nights I get up and watch TV for a couple hours, read or turn on some quiet music. Last night I just waited it out, petting my cat and playing rhyming games in my head. I've tried drinking chamomile tea, and someone suggested sipping on tart cherry juice for an hour before bedtime. I looked for tart cherry juice at my regular grocery store but didn't find it. I'll try another grocery next time and look for it again. (I don't go grocery shopping often. Not being able to taste most food for a week to 10 days diminishes my appetite.) Forgetfulness also follows me throughout the cycle. Nothing major, but little thing here and there — like having a word in my head but 30 seconds later, when I want to say it or type it, not being able to think of it.

I still take some pills every morning and evening, but each sitting is down to three or four from the 10 or so I used to have to take.

My doctor has advised me not to clean the litterbox during this time, so some sisters and a sister-in-law take turns doing that every other day. I don't have the energy to mow my yard, so my brothers are doing that each week. They've been skipping the weed-trimming, so I look forward to doing that when I am able. During my last good week I swept my carport, getting rid of dried leaves from last fall and dirt and cobwebs that had accumulated. It felt so good to be able to do that simple, 15-minute task.

People have said I am "strong" and "tough" and have a good attitude about it all. The way I see it, I am just doing what I have to to get through it, day by day, week by week. Believe me, some days I am grouchy (on those days I ignore my ringing phone and hope no unannounced visitors stop by), some days I am withdrawn. But I have become very sensitive to the hardships of others and generally see no reason for me to complain about my own lot. My family and friends and even people I don't know have rallied around me in numbers and ways I couldn't have foreseen. As much as it is possible for others to do so, they have lessened my yearslong depression — or at least helped me reconsider it. That has been a most unexpected blessing in the midst of this.

I don't know what happens next. My treatment in early July is supposed to be my last. When my good days come around after that, they should be here to stay. There are no guarantees, but that is what I look forward to.

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