I made it through the celebrated the last day of the fourth round on May 10. As predicted, the side effects were the worst during the fourth round. The anti-nausea medications given to me during the last infusion did not keep the nausea at bay, and I had to take my two medications regularly to remain functional throughout the first almost two weeks of the cycle. I also earned the unwanted badge for nausea progressing to actual vomitting, which happened while I was at work on two different days, and due to a changed work environment, I had to regain composure after being ill and continue working in the office on those days. The fatigue was also much more severe and accompanied by a headache that also lasted about two weeks. Although I battled these plus other compounded side effects, I found solace in knowing they would soon come to an end and in counting down the twenty one days of the last round and looking forward to moving into the next phase of my life: post-chemotherapy and on the road to recovery and renewed health.
In addition to the aforementioned side effects, I also felt significantly more anxious and easily irritated during the first week or so of this last round. It took me several days of experiencing overwhelming anxiety that made me feel unable to breathe at points, which I described as feeling like I had an elephant sitting on my chest, to realize the cause. Finally, during a call with my mom where she and I were engaging in our normal banter, I realized that the damn metaphorical elephant was likely resultant of the very high dose of Prednisone, which is known to cause anxiety. The mere realization of the source of the anxiety made me better able to cope and push through those numerous, overwhelming moments. I also felt like I was walking through each day of this round holding my breath, fearing the reoccurrence of febrile neutropenia from another dose of Rituximab. Fortunately, the colony growth factor (CGF) shot I recevied on day three was effective and kept me from becoming neutropenic.
Each round brought differing circumstances and challenges, and the compounded side effects made me especially grateful to hold on to the thought throughout the fourth round that the end was in close sight. It gave me the strength to push through each day, making my way into the office and work (more than) full time and then to the gym after work, even though I was terribly fatigued, nauseous constantly, vomitting occassionally, and battling a terrible headache. The largest challenge came just as I was finishing the last few days of the cycle, when I requested a meeting with my bosses to discuss what had become an increasingly hostile work environment, where it was made clear my illness was an incovneience to them, in addition to a few other issues and desire to discuss my short and long term goals with the company. They responded by terminating my employment. It came as an utter shock. I was absolutely bewildered that after months of working full time through treatment and literally working from the hospital bed and my infusion chair, all in an effort to prove my dedication to the company, that they would respond to me raising concerns by terminating me. Although I know it was the ultimate indication of their poor character and the negative culture and other significant issues of the company and that it is not the type of company nor the type of people I want to work for, it was devastating and mirrored the feelings of injustice that I felt when being diagnosed. It shook me to my core.
Throughout my treatment, although I was intellectually stimulated and enjoyed my job, at several points I found myself yearning for something more: to work for an organization that gives me the same fulfillment that my charity work does; to be working to promote a mission that has a strong social purpose; to help others. I had satisified that need to better the lives of others through charity and pro bono work outside of my job, but I think I have always thought at some point I would finally find a role that is both intellectually stimulating and fulfilling, and have always had that as one of my big picture, long term goals. Through the shock of losing my job, I had lost sight of that and have spent many days in the past several weeks completely dismayed and frozen, lost in wondering how I could end up with lymphoma, work throughout treament often putting my job before my health, and then lose my job because of it. I’ve fought desperately to not lose myself and succomb to the devasation of two significant and terribly unfair occurrances. I realized this past weekend after a very emotional discussion with Jason that it is okay to be dismayed, frustrated, angry, confused, and many other emotions that are normally (and forutnately) unfrequent to me. I have now had several weeks of suppressing those to some degree, feeling them to a larger degree, and finally recognizing and understanding them. I fought hard and frequently throughout my cancer experience to be okay knowing that the fact I had cancer or why I got it cannot be explained or determined at this point and that that is unfair and frustrating, but to remain focused on the richness of my life otherwise.
I fought hard and frequently throughout my cancer “experience” to be okay with the fact I had cancer and with knowing it cannot be explained or a reason determined why I got it. I had largely been okay with the unfair and frustrating nature of it, but to remain focused on the goodness of my life otherwise, and felt I had done well until the recently. Dr. Park and Megan warned me that the period after treatment is in someways more difficult, because I would leave the actively fighting period where I was monitored constantly to the “wait and see” phase. I thought I would also deal with the “wait and see” phase in the same way I had dealt with the active treatment phase: by focusisng on regaining my health and bettering myself and enjoying the return to rare steaks, wine, runny eggs, tartare, sushi, fresh fruits and vegetables, travel, and all of the other things I had been unable to have or do for the past seven months. Instead of doing so, I let myself get lost in the negative emotions of the totality of my circumstances. The velocity on my brain reached new heights. I found myself frequently thinking about the fact that having cancer has made me more afraid to have children, because the effects of the chemotherapy on my potential future eggs are unknown, and even if I use the embryos we preserved before chemo, those children could likely lose their mother to a secondary cancer or will lose me before they can have their own children because my life span has been shortened by cancer and chemotherapy. I worry more frequently about the recurrence of lymphoma in the next two years while my chance of a more deadly cancer is heightened. I lose myself to thoughts of terrible fears that are largely unproductive because they are all of an unpredictable and unproductive nature.
After several weeks of ferocious thoughts, I think I finally had the chance to understand my fears, face them, and be ready to move on. I realized that despite the shit hands life has dealt me lately, I am still happy. In the mornings, I wake up normally with Annabelle snuggling between me and Jason, and I could not be happier that I am awake again. I am happy that I get to talk to and see friends with whom I have formed increasingly special relationships and be thankful that they have flowered me with numerous instances of love and encouragement. I am happy that I have been able to work through chemotherapy and keep my body otherwise healthy. I am happy for the chance of new experiences and repeated, familiar old ones, all where I am able to find peace, excitement, and contentment.
Everyone has fears. Mine may come from places of injustice, but in the end, I think these experiences have allowed me to relate to others and be more sympathetic. I still insist on good coming from my cancer. I am ready to reevalaute and move forward: finding where Jason and I want to settle down, what our collective future holds, where the next places in the world we will see, and how I will enrich the lives of others. I have had days doused with frustration, unkindness from strangers, fear, and sadness, but never entirely full of those. Cancer has taken a lot from me, but the most important thing I’ve learned through this: cancer cannot take my happiness.