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Day Zero – official diagnosis of Stage IV pancreatic cancer that has begun metastasizing in the liver
Day 1-1 Chemo infusion #1 (two weeks later)
Day 2-1 Chemo infusion #2 (two weeks later)
. . .
Day 5-1 Chemo infusion #5 (two weeks later)
So, it’s been 12 weeks since my diagnosis and prognosis guess of one year before embarking on The Biggest Adventure. One year? Well, with every other week being a Week of Daze courtesy of the chemo treatments, it is effectively only six months of life to live. I think it’ll be longer because the doctor says my test numbers are good and I don’t have any other pressing health issues many 60-year-olds have. However, I don’t think it would be prudent to bet on that. Also, I’m sure that as the cancer progresses the usefulness of my time will diminish. So, here at Week 12, I’m looking at nine months to go, which means about four months of being able to accomplish anything.
Shit! That’s not much time to clean up lose ends, prepare for the practical aspects of my exit, and hopefully make progress on any of my projects (such as the sequel to my novel, Jack Poww and GO-Girl.) Shit! Okay, okay, I have much to do, so I must get busy!
For this round of chemo, I had the company of my nephew, Danny. He’s a grad student (the first in our family, yeah!) and on holiday break, so he was able to make the drive here and spend a few days. It was very good to have the company. I have friends, but I do live alone, so having family with me – whether or not I am ill – is a subtle, soul-soothing balm. Although I was able to rest and doze at my pleasure, with him here I was more active. Connection to other people, and especially being in their presence, is very good medicine.
He drove me to the chemo and sat with me all damn day. During the last part of the infusion, the “swelling, itchy eyeball” thing happened again (and would remain for a few hours.) My thumbs acted up again, more numb and uncooperative than last time. That also lasted only a few hours, but I did notice in the days in the days afterward that sometimes my fingers felt a little funny. It is hard to describe, just an odd feeling, especially during the first few minutes of sitting down at this keyboard. Also, beginning during the last part of the infusion, came the squirming sensation all through my guts. It was like something was very slowly crawling around in there. This weakened but didn’t disappear until a day and half, two days after treatment.
After any of the chemo treatments I usually come home pretty tired and take a nap immediately. Part of the infusion is anti-nausea meds, and part is steroids, though I’m not sure which kind. I do not know if it is the chemo itself or the steroids, but neither makes Body comfortable. Imagine being awake and working for 24 hours straight, pumped up on a gallon of coffee: you’re quite aware that your body is tired and wants sleep, but the megadose of caffeine won’t let you drift off easily or deeply. It seems to be more like that with each treatment.
So I didn’t get much sleep the evening or night of this fifth chemo. I would rest my eyes and happily descend into half-sleep, that wonderful state of mind where you have one foot in reality and one in dreamland. For the most part you don’t feel your body, and although silly, non-sequitur thoughts run rampant, you’re consciously aware of them. (If I ever get trapped in a multi-year coma, if I were stuck in that state of mind, I wouldn’t mind at all!) Images of nondescript faces in blue Xray format approached my closed eyes in a slower but similar way the stars come at the camera when a spaceship kicks into hyperspace. Cosmic vistas, blurs of twinkling swashes of color, did the same, probably due to watching the movie “Interstellar” the night before. (Great movie, btw. It’s set in space and on other planets, but it’s really about how parents make the best decisions they can at the time and how it might take a lifetime for their children to accept that.) So, although the first night was uncomfortable and not truly restful, it was somewhat amusing.
Continually getting up almost exactly every two hours to piss also preempted good, solid, deep and refreshing sleep. The days passed. I didn’t do much at all beside sleep, snack, and snooze. I listened to music, I listened to audio books, I stared at the overhead paint (already dried.) I watched DVD movies from the library, watching several of them in the two sessions because my mind would lose the story halfway through. With Danny here I was definitely more active, but “more” is a relative term. By Saturday I was still sleeping most of the time, even through the day via sequential naps. I had no energy to do a damn thing, even to take a shower, nor did I do anything that required even a little bit of focus (like watching a DVD movie the whole way through). Thinking and deciding about important matters was pretty much out of the question. It was another Week of Daze.
I began to wonder if the torpor was due to the chemo treatments alone or if my old companion Depression was once again whispering from the shadows and dark places in my mind. I won’t go into all that now, but I will mention that clinical depression is a sneaky, insidious, ghostly bitch of a demon.
I am growing acceptance that half of my bi-weekly treatment cycle (and therefore half of my remaining calendar days) makes me nearly totally useless. Personal productivity is reduced to accomplishing little more than doing the dishes and overcoming constipation. I’ve begun to wonder when I will cross the line into mostly just existing and how I will know when it is time to gracefully bow offstage.
At the other end of the spectrum, I keep remembering about the time from 25 years ago when I rushed a couple of hundred miles to see my mother in the hospital. At this point she had beaten non-Hodgkins lymphoma into remission twice and was on her third go-round. She has always been not just thin but downright skinny, and still, somehow, when I saw her in the hospital room she looked physically deflated. Her skin was cartoonishly yellow from jaundice, and to me it was obvious that she wasn’t long for this world. I thought she had only hours, maybe days. Well, she came back and lived for another year and half. And my father, who had two open-heart surgeries and other issues, had hoped to make it to the year 2000 but lived all the way to 2016. Maybe I also will be around for significantly longer than the doctor’s statistical guess.
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