I just wanted to reach for the sandwich I got before I boarded my United Airlines flight. I reached, but the sandwich wouldn’t budge. I’m keeping a close eye on the coffee sitting on my tray. It’s in my grip, I pulled harder, knocking the coffee and spilling it on my lap.
Normally this would be an annoying accident. Right now, in this moment in my life, this “accident” makes me panic, I start to shake, feel embarrassed, a single tear may or may not have surfaced. Why such a response? Because ever since finding out the course of chemotherapy that’s required to cure my cancer, everything from a spilled cup of coffee to a lackluster Wi-Fi signal ignites an emotional breakdown.
My course of chemotherapy is called BEP (bleomycin, etopside, platinum). I will have at least two cycles, with the possibility of more. Side effects include…
- Hair loss
- Neuropathy (a tingly feeling in my fingers and toes)
- A constant ringing in my ear
- Chronic fatigue
- Pulmonary toxicity
- Loss of white blood cell and their creation, resulting in a suppressed immune system
- Weight loss
- Great material for a memoir
Sitting in the Beverly Hills office of my Oncologist, I’m surrounded by middle-aged women with pulled faces and very expensive wigs. I’m easily 30 years younger then anybody in the room. On their cell phones, they talk as if they aren’t being pumped full of poison. Yelling at their husbands, bitching about their ungrateful kid, for a moment I’m convinced I’m sitting in the middle of a “Real Housewives of Chemotherapy” taping.
My doctor tells me the bad news. Well, he did it when he wasn’t name-dropping celebrities he’s treated and comedians he likes, waiting for my professional opinion of them. “Richard Pryor? Carlin? Adam Carrola?” I tried to list two iconic Oncologists and a shitty one to match the three comedians he just referenced, but my mind drew a blank.
After getting my prescription for medical marijuana (thank you California), three Filipino nurses entered. Their statements, for they never gave me a chance to respond and make it a conversation, went like this….
Filipino Nurse 1, “You have such nice veins! Doesn’t he have nice veins? You like your veins?”
Filipino Nurse 2, “Very nice veins. You work out. You’re strong!”
Filipino Nurse 3, “Very strong. Beautiful hair. I wish I had your hair. So thick! So much hair!”
Filipino Nurse 2, “Amazing hair. Amazing veins. You’re going to be great at this!”
Filipino Nurse 3, “Just great!”
Filipino Nurse 1, “Beautiful veins.”
I didn’t know getting cancer entered me into a competition to be “great” at.
I sat there, half pissed at their praise of hair that I shortly won’t have and half exhausted from being poked for the 100th time to draw even more blood.
Then it was over. They all left. That’s it? A douche but well regarded Beverly Hills doctor tells you bad news (but of which will potentially save your life), while name dropping and introducing a chorus of Filipino nurses to admire your hair and veins? Is this really how it’s supposed to be? Just go about my life as if it’s totally normal for the next month until my chemo starts?
It’s not normal. I don’t feel normal. I’m scared, but not worried. I know this is for the best, but I don’t want to do it. It never will feel normal. I don’t want it to ever feel normal. I want it to be over.
So I spilled some coffee. I wrapped my black jacket around my waist to conceal the stain. That’s normal! Or at least that’s the only kind of normal that I can deal with right now. Eventually I won’t be able to wrap a black jacket around it and move on. It, what’s about to happen to me, will just be real.
Til then, let’s be clear on one thing, I do have great hair.