Monday, October 29, 2007

Welcome to the Cancer Life (Part I of III)

Continued from "My Cancer Story": Welcome to the Good Life (Part II of II)
Read "My Cancer Story" from the beginning: The Golden Age (Part I of III)

I can hear the screaming. I can barely remember anything from the first 36 hours after my surgery, but I will always remember the screaming. The dude next to me in the recovery room whined about his knee pain. The girl to my other side had just had brain surgery. No amount of opiates in the world could stop her pain, stop the screaming.

A year after my surgery, Dr. Phil told me they took digital pictures of the operation. I asked him to email them to me, and reluctantly, I looked. I was split open and the skin was folded down. Blood puddled inside me. I could see the bone, which was colored blue either because of added dye or because of the cancer cells. I was unrecognizable, even to myself.

After my first cycle I didn’t think chemo was bad, but by the third cycle I realized chemo was awful. It causes cottonmouth, a metallic taste, brain fog and nausea. It smells coming out through sweat and even worse through urine. It makes you not want to do anything except finish the day and get to the next one.

For my lengthy hospital stays one of my parents accompanied me, always carrying bagfuls of mini cereal boxes. While getting chemo my food selection was cereal, pretzels or nothing.

At first I felt odd discussing my bowel movements to my attractive nurse practitioner, Kiva: size, frequency, pain, bleeding, density, cramps, color, and my favorite, shape. I could never get used to pooping in a plastic container for my nurse to measure or culture.

As a child I hated vomiting, and just because I now developed nausea several times each cycle doesn't mean I got used to it. I took anti-nausea drugs around-the-clock, often staying drowsy for entire days. I can’t imagine treatment before the invention of the best of them, Zofran, which helps to deactivate the brain's vomiting center.

I made sure everyone at the hospital knew I was the healthiest patient there, the only non-sick one in the whole damn place. Instead of allowing my time there to make me feel really sick, I used it for energy by comparing myself to the less fortunate ones. Though unethical, it was also refreshing: I needed to feel and project that attitude.

Cancer provides an abundance of time. So often we’re incapacitated, unable to contribute to society or even ourselves. We do what we can to waste time, make it go faster. I listened to a lot of music. And when I had enough energy, like when riding home from the hospital with my mom on those cold fall nights, I pondered.

I thought about the enormous change my life had taken in such a short time. I thought about how strange, almost surreal it was that I actually had cancer. I thought about how I had become an outcast, different from everyone in a way that’s obvious just by looking. I couldn’t help but wonder how others thought about me.

I thought about school, and whether anything exciting happened, whether I missed anything really funny, what my friends were doing. I thought about Orange, and K-Dubs17, and every other hot girl at school. I thought about playing football and how much I missed it. I thought about how I loved the cold air, bare trees and dark nights. It was so peaceful.

I wondered how much the chemo would punish me in the next cycle, how low my blood counts would drop. I thought about how cool it would be if I had a stress fracture instead of bone cancer. I thought about my surgery and wondered why I couldn’t have just left the bone in there since it was already dead.

I thought about all the other cars on the road, all those red and white lights. I wondered why people were out, where they were going, where they were coming from. I had cancer and that's the reason I was on the road, but what were their stories? They were just several feet away and I'd never know. I thought about how much older they were than me and what it would be like to not be a teenager.

Keep reading: Welcome to the Cancer Life (Part II of III)

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