No thank you no thank you no thank you no thank you
I ain’t about to die like this
I couldn’t afford chemo like I couldn’t afford a limo
And besides this shit is making me tired
It’s making me tired
It’s making me die
You know I plan to retire some day,
And I’m-a gonna go out in style.
Regina Spektor, “Chemo Limo”
I don’t want to do this anymore. I have to keep doing this. I don’t want to feel this anymore. I have to keep feeling it. Lying in bed, I am a fuzzy tv screen of soft focus panic. I have to go to sleep so that I can get up and do the thing I need to do. The thing that keeps me alive.
The thing I need to do is get up and go to the place where the grey and sad people are. Where the birth date announced from the other chair is always so much older than mine. Where they take me back and wristband me up and stick a needle right in my port.
You can almost forget the port until your son bangs his head into it. Or until you have to wear a seat belt. Or until someone sticks a needle into it. Then it becomes a blazing emblem of soreness. A branding that the enclosed contents are the property of cancer.
Scarlet tubes on a silver tray mean that blood work is done and it is now time to squat over a toilet, cup angled for preciseness. You admire the clarity before placing your contribution in its box.
You are quantified with digits for weight, temperature and blood pressure. The doctor tells you to look at his big nose and say “aah” and then feels all of your lymph nodes and tells you to schedule your next appointment with the nurse. It has the makings of a sitcom but it doesn’t make you laugh.
In a spacious waiting room with 3 doors, you are told which one to watch while coughs echo over from the far corner. They call your name and take you back and assign you your place to sit and stare. You stare at the tv, out the windows, and at your husband sitting uncomfortably. And looking straight at you.
The thing that keeps me alive smells like chemicals draped over sickness. One’s weak attempt to engulf the other succeeds like Febreeze on a piss stain. The thing that keeps me alive sounds like the Price is Right with the volume down and machines beeping. The thing that keeps me alive feels like bubbles rising and stomach contents emptying. It feels like grease lying on your skin like a double cheeseburger in 90 degree weather. The thing that keeps me alive looks like peppy nurses pretending that you will get better, and sicker people quickly wheeled past you for infusion, reminding you that you won’t.
I will get up and do the thing I need to do, knowing that by this time tomorrow night, I will feel like I took a bath in toxins. My face might flush while I attempt to eat dinner but decide to go lay down instead. This time tomorrow night, I will be tethered to a pump through a needle in my port. It stays with me for two days. I might try to take a shower and the steam will creep under the clear bandage casing holding my needle, causing an itch left unscratched for the rest of the night. This time tomorrow night I will be runny and flattened. I will be tired and tingly and restless. The after effects from pre-treatment steroids will keep sleep away and thoughts awake.
Thoughts about how I don’t want to do it again. But I have to do it again. Because the thing I have to do keeps me alive. There is no break from the cancer, there are no breaks from the thoughts. Things will get better and then things will get worse. You do not stop dreaming of a way out, and then wake, each time to reality. You grow sicker on this ride with every loop and the loops spiral endlessly ahead.
On the night before chemo it isn’t always this bad, but on some nights it is. I know that a lot of people get side effects much worse than mine, so I try not to complain too much. Or I save my complaints for when they inevitably get worse down the line. On nights like these, when I muster up the resolve to go back and do this again, the hardest part is the reality that treatments like these will never stop until nothing works any more. The end of treatment, for me, is the end of everything.
On some nights I wonder how they can call me brave. Don’t they realize? How is it bravery when you don’t have a choice?