By Nicole Clark
The first CD that I bought with my own money was Tubthumper by Chumbawamba, specifically for “Tubthumping.” How suiting for my six months of treatment.
My treatment consisted of one round of chemo every other Wednesday. After each round, I would be knocked down for three days and come around just in time to get another dose. I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never gonna keep me down!
Keep getting back up
Our white blood cells are like little healing soldiers. A normal white blood cell count is 4,000-11,000 per microliter of blood. If your counts are less than 4,000, your body may not be able to fight off infections the way that it should. In order to get each round of chemo, my counts had to be at least 1,000; mine dropped far below that each time, so in order to stay on schedule and keep my counts up, I had to begin Neupogen shots — also known as Granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF) — in my belly once a day for five days, beginning 24 hours after each treatment. These shots force your body to make new white blood cells which are made in your bone marrow. I was told that there aren’t really any side effects but I might experience some achy bones.
The first time I had the shot, I started to get a little achy not too long after the injection took place. Then all of a sudden — BOOM! I stood up and immediately dropped to my knees in pain. It’s a good thing I wasn’t holding Madison at the time. It was a constant jabbing pain, specifically in my hips and lower back. It seemed to pulse and pound in rhythm with my heartbeat. With each sob, movement, or breath, the pain would pulse stronger and stronger and then ease off a bit as I stayed still and slowed my breathing. Chance was working at the time in the next town over with no cellphone and our only vehicle, and I was alone with a newborn. If I moved, stabbing pain would halt me to a stop. If I stayed still, I could deal with the pain.
I had no idea what was happening. “Your bones may ache,” they said. Ache! I can’t walk because of this pain, and I have a high tolerance! What if Madison starts crying and needs to be held for hours to calm down? Maybe Chance will call me just to check in today. Time, please pass by quicker. Baby girl, please sleep until daddy is here. It was the longest day ever waiting for Chance to get home.
When he did, and I filled him in while sitting as stiff as a statue, we drove to the hospital where they offered to give me a shot of morphine. I declined. The last thing that I wanted or could handle was another poke with a needle in my body. It hurt, but I just couldn’t do it. My skin couldn’t take it. My skin felt so sensitive that I felt like at any given moment it would tear open like the overcooked turkey on National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. The image scared me. My body would tense up so tightly at the thought of another jab.
My only other option was to take a pill, something I also began to get sick to my stomach thinking about, but that was doable. I was handed some heavy pain pills, swallowed, and waited for the pulsing to slow. For the pulsing to fade out. For the pain to lessen. I had endured this all day, waiting 15-20 minutes longer didn’t seem like much. Tick, tick, tick, tick. I became conscious of my breathing. Tick, tick, tick, tick. Twenty minutes passed. Tick, tick, tick, tick. The nurse steps into the room and asks how I’m feeling. “Good enough to get the hell out of here.”
The meds didn’t work as well as I was hoping, which I was fully aware of and expected. It did make the pain tolerable enough to get out of there and go home, walking faster than I was when going in there, but they didn’t take it away. They did bring on a new fear towards G-CSF injections. My body tolerated these injections better after that first week. For the rest of my treatment, I didn’t have any issues besides the fact that my skin was very sensitive at the injection sites, which were red and raised, causing my belly to look like a connect-the-dots picture.
Treatment, sick, sleep, repeat.
“Now what? Did this work?”
On September 26, 2012, I completed my last treatment. Once this treatment was over, I waited patiently for an oncologist to come in and remove my PICC line. I thought this was going to be a bigger deal, but it really wasn’t. The doc came in, told me to hold my breath, and as I did, he pulled out the line like it was a spaghetti noodle. And that was that. I didn’t feel a thing as it was being pulled out, which I didn’t expect.
I felt free. Once the hole in my left arm healed, I would be able to stand in a hot shower again and let the water pour down my body, not worrying about the water possibly infecting the incision. I would be able to soak in a deep bath without raising my arm above my head. The smallest of things we take for granted. Not anymore.
Although I didn’t ring an actual bell, I left that room relieved, yet exhausted. I had mixed emotions. Now what? Did this work? The drive home was a happy one for Chance. For him, this was all over and now we could move on. For me, I felt a bit numb not being able to fully comprehend what I had just went through. I rolled the window down, stared out at the treetops as we sped by, and then fell asleep for the rest of the drive.
I got to stay home for what felt like forever this time, but had to go back to Halifax for another scan on October 29. On November 9, I was sent to Moncton, NB, to talk to their radiology department. There was no trace of cancer that showed up on my scan.
We discussed the pros and cons of radiation. The pros were that we would get a final blast if there was anything microscopic that didn’t show up on the scan; the cons were that I would then be at a high risk for developing heart problems, breast cancer, throat cancer, esophagus cancer, and lung cancer because of the location that would have to undergo the radiation. I decided against it, because to me, it wasn’t worth the risks, especially since nothing showed up. Instead, we decided to take the “watch and wait” approach and kept a close eye on things.
I returned to work in April 2013, just before Madison turned one. Life went back to normal, as if nothing had really happened. I felt good for the most part, and Chance decided to make a change in his career. He ended up taking a job out west and travelling home on his days off. This made things busy while he was away, but with everything we had gone through a few months before, it seemed like a piece of cake, besides missing him when he was gone.
Madison was enrolled in the local daycare full time. It was hard dropping her off; she would cry every morning. I kept busy at work, and busy with Madison when Chance was at work. When he was home, we were busy catching up with friends and family, so we always seemed to be on the go which made the time fly by. We were making up for lost time in a way, and this ended up distracting us from everything that happened. We subconsciously pushed everything aside, and kept moving on, not dealing with anything, not realizing that it would eventually surface and be a problem later on in life. We didn’t have the time and I didn’t want to give this disease or anything that happened any more of my time.
What I didn’t realize at the time, was that I ended up becoming so wrapped up in the day-to-day tasks of being a mom, working full time, and trying to fit in photography on the side, that I lost interest in pretty much everything else. I didn’t have any colleagues I wanted to hang out with outside of work, my closest friends lived provinces away, and there was no family around to hang out with on the weekends. On top of that, I was still healing, so by the time the weekend would come, I was so tired from the week that I didn’t want to do anything but hang out with Madison and chill out at home.
Because I was sick when Madison was born, I never participated in any mom groups in the area. I didn’t have any interest anyway, but even if I did, I wouldn’t have been able to be in group settings as my immune system was so low.
Chance and I didn’t talk to anyone about what we had went through. We had a few conversations about it together, but we knew that we had went through it together, so what was there to really talk about? A lot of people called us when I was sick to check in, or see what was going on, but once I announced that I was cancer free, the calls and visits were less and less.
This is my life now. I’m a mom, I work full time. This is now my normal. Was I happy? I thought I was at the time, but I had just gotten really good at telling myself that I was. Now I know that I wasn’t happy. I was suppressing my emotions. I pushed everything deep down, thinking that it would just go away. It was like the life was sucked out of me and I had no fight in me to even attempt to get it back. Even if I had wanted to, I had no energy to try.
It makes me sad to think about that point in my life now, because now I see how lost I was. Now I recognize the signs and see how much I hid and lied to myself. I settled, and I’m not a settler.