She dresses in layers on a bitterly cold morning in January, as she heads for the doctor’s office for her last round of chemotherapy. Her eye twitches from three months without enough sleep. Her pale face turns beat red with every hot flash. She’s crabby from all the steroids. Her taste buds are almost completely gone, replaced with a constant taste of dull metal in her mouth. And, she’s still nauseous and throwing up from the last round of chemotherapy three weeks ago.
“You look kind of glum,” her doctor commented with a note of surprise.
“I’m so over this,” she replies. “I don’t want anymore.”
“Given how you’ve been feeling, you have to expect that this round will be the worst. The effects are cumulative. You probably won’t feel better from this round for six weeks.”
“Six weeks?!?” she exclaims.
She goes in the bathroom and cries. The average person recoups from a round of chemotherapy in a week to 10 days. The average person just needs one day of IVs per round, and that’s it.
For her, six rounds of chemotherapy translated into 26 days of IVs. (Her body really didn’t respond well to chemotherapy so she needed more drugs and fluids to alleviate the side effects.) She knows that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but she doesn’t want six more weeks of feeling this poorly.
She takes a night to process that the next six weeks will be rough and then decides to focus on the positive. As the week progresses, she feels worse physically, but better emotionally. By mid-February, the effects of chemotherapy will be a thing of the past. This was caught early. She is lucky. And, she has faith that she will fall within the 85% of people whose cancer doesn’t return in five years.
She thinks of all the many blessings in her life. She has the best health insurance and medical care available. She has never had to go to the chemotherapy room alone. Her friends were by her side at each and every visit – all 26 of them.
As the week draws to a close, she returns for her last day of chemo-related IVs. She sees a 32-year-old woman getting her first round of chemotherapy. The young woman looks like a deer in headlights.
“I’m sure this seems surreal. I was there, too. You’ll get through it, though, and if you need anything, just call me,” she tells her.
A few hours later, the last drops of fluid drip from her IV bag. She and her friend watch, holding hands with tears in their eyes and smiles on their faces. The nurse comes over with tears in her eyes to announce to the room that she has graduated. She knows that she will remember that feeling for the rest of her life.
She did it.
She’ll begin 30 sessions of radiation later this month. And, because her aggressive type of breast cancer is HER2+, she’ll need to receive an IV of a drug called Herceptin once every three weeks through September.
The light at the end of the tunnel almost blinds her from its brightness. She wipes tears of pride, joy and gratitude from her cheeks and smiles.
She prays that she will never have to go through that again. And, she vows to continue doing what she can to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer prevention and research.
We all need to have a plan after graduation, don't we?