Then There Was Cancer (Maybe)

In December I had an abnormal PAP smear. I didn’t stress. There had been talk of HPV a six months prior, and while my doctor at the time of the HPV drama had been a bit of a pain, he had stated that the type I appeared to have was very low risk. It didn’t cause cancer, and it wasn’t something most people even had symptoms of. I had an impaired immune system, so I had symptoms, but eventually I’d clear the infection, and be totally fine. At least that’s what he said. I opted to see an OBGYN before starting Lupron during chemotherapy, and that’s when I’d had the abnormal PAP.

Initially I worried. They wanted me to come in for a colposcopy, but I couldn’t drive, and was seriously ill from the chemo. My new doctor assured me that I could wait for the colposcopy. It took a long time for cells to change, and the external lesion that I’d noted didn’t even appear to be HPV. She told me it was likely a skin tag, or a result of my Behcet’s. I went through my chemotherapy without really thinking much about the abnormal PAP smear. What where the actual chances that I’d have all of these things going wrong at once?

On Friday I went in and had my colposcopy. I was nervous about the pain, but otherwise okay. What were the chances? They had a screen where you could watch the procedure, and so I watched…until I realized that something was wrong. Very wrong.

I stared at the screen. I wasn’t exactly sure what a cervix should look like, but I knew that there was something seriously wrong with mine. The edge was bleeding, which the doctor said wasn’t totally uncommon, but the rest of it looked foreign to me. A large white mass covered the majority of the surface, breaking the line of skin cells that mapped out the edges of the cervical surface. The doctor informed me that they’d need to do a biopsy. She turned off the screen saying that it wasn’t fun to watch yourself be cut.

A medical student held my hand, and the biopsy was quickly taken. It didn’t hurt as badly as I thought it would, but my head was swimming. The doctor told me to be prepared for the call, that the changes were moderate to severe, and more towards severe. We talked about HPV and cervical changes, and I asked if I had any options. She said that did, but that we needed to talk once the biopsy results were in.

I haven’t gotten them yet, but I’ve talked to friends who were in similar situations. Cervical cancer is this odd taboo subject. There are odd staging levels. Even if you’re in the very early stages, it’s still cancer, but it’s approached as though it isn’t. They’ll just shave off some of your cervix, or cut out some of your cervix. My friend has miscarried, once in her second trimester, due to issues with her cervix from the procedures she had to undergo. Other women have the “cancer in situ” treated via these removals, but still end up having to go through hysterectomies, because it returns.

I’ve fought through six months of chemo. I’ve accepted limitations based on odd occurrences with my autonomic nervous system. I’ve told myself that I will still find love and start a family someday, even though I’m embroiled in a long and bitter divorce. I push and push, and then the unimaginable comes form left field. Nobody was sure if I had HPV or not. They were all fairly sure I didn’t, or if I did, that it wasn’t a strain that caused cancer. Now? Well, barring a miracle that shows it’s some odd lesion related to Behcet’s, I’m facing cervical cancer. Now I have to grasp at the hope that it’s early in the cancer game, and limited to an area that can be treated without impacting my fertility.

Of course the doctor told me point blank that I am, and always will be, a high risk case. I have to see a high risk OBGYN before becoming pregnant, plan carefully, and be followed closely. People think my depression or anger over my divorce is somehow related to jealousy, jealousy that he’s living with his girlfriend, and that they have a baby. I am jealous, but not just of him. It’s this overwhelming jealous anger at the universe, because people around me have solid careers, homes, families, etc. They’ve happily fallen into the life I’ve always imagined, while I struggle to just hang on to the bits and pieces of what I’ve managed to assemble for myself.

I want to be loved, and be in love. I want to have a family. I want to have a career that enjoy. I know that life isn’t that simple, and that nothing is as perfect as it seems, but when you’ve fought as hard as I’ve fought, just to have life kick you when you’re just starting to get up…it’s hard. I feel like the wind has been knocked out of me. I’m waiting for the call, and dreading it, all at the same time. Bills have mounted, and yet I can’t even try to find some work from home work, because if I even work just a little bit, on record, my disability could be denied. I have backpay that I’m owed, that I need, because my credit card debt is brutal.

There has to be something more than this. There has to be something better. I’m so sick of finding out that the light at the end of the tunnel is really just an oncoming train.

Then There Was Cancer (Maybe)

Cytoxan Round #3

Ugh. Ouch. Gurgle. Noooo.

That about sums it up. The process went really well, I only had to get stuck twice, but they did increase the dose. I was pleased to have manageable side effects during, but immediately afterwards I felt gross. I had a fever of 101, which I usually am around 97.3 (which was where I was before the infusion.) I knew I had inflammation issues, but they gave me steroids so I thought I’d feel better. Nope. My bones hurt. Yeah, my joints hurt, but literally, the BONES in and around all of my joints are just horribly aching. I’m dizzy. Now, several hours later, I’m definitely a little nauseas. Thankfully I ate when I cam home, so if I can keep it down, I won’t ruin the foods for myself forever.

I’d rather have pain, than nausea, so I am grateful in a sense, I just hadn’t thought I’d have the choice to trade…or that the trade would be so debilitating. It feels like my joints are falling apart, and the bones are just shattering to bits. That’s it, in a nutshell.

My pre-dose drugs are a bit different than the average bear, as are my during and post-dose drugs, but that’s because my intestines suck, and I can’t stay hydrated to LITERALLY save my life. I get 500mL before, then 1L during the infusion (they piggy back the meds with the fluids. before I get the Cytoxan I get Zofran for nausea, and Decadron (the steroid). I’ve been told varying things about why I get the steroids, but ultimately they help me with inflammation, and because I do have extensive drug allergies, putting that in my system is kind of a “better safe than sorry,” thing.

The one drug I get that other people don’t usually get in a pre-dose, is Ativan. Listen, I try to be tough, but chemotherapy scares the living crap out of me. I don’t enjoy any aspect of it. The first dose made me feel dizzy and nauseas pretty rapidly, and during the infusion no less, so I was sort of done after that. I’d gotten Ativan for my muscles to stop twitching (disease side effect) and it worked, so then they opted to keep it in my regimen for anxiety. They also added promethazine at the end of my infusion, so I could have that in my bloodstream for my short ride home. Hey, anything that allows me to drink more fluids, is a win.

This particular drug combination makes me sleepy. This is ideal. I want to sleep. I don’t want to think about what the drug is doing in my body, what I’m missing by going through this process in terms of school, a social life, and just being who I want tone, and I definitely, DEFINITELY, don’t want to feel any of the horrible side effects I tend to have with these meds.

Which brings me to a realization I just literally made with the last statement…side effects. Steroids tend to cause deep bone  pain for me. Some more than others, but it is an issue. Hopefully this will fade instead of worsen, though I have had intermittent bone pain 10-14 days after each infusion, so we’ll see.

I wasn’t a pansy, and went by myself for once. Well, I did try and pansy out and find someone to come, or pick me up, but it was for the best for me to face this alone. I need to rely on myself, while still learning to ask for help when I genuinely needed it. Sure I was afraid, and I wanted someone to hold my hand, or distract me, but I did take a nap. At the end of the day, it wasn’t a dire situation, and I have enough of those that I face alone as it is, so it makes sense to try and evaluate the actual need.

Depression and anxiety are still a thing. A major thing. I wish I could say that I had more good days than bad days, but I’m like a functional alcoholic at this point. I am profoundly unhappy, not nobody who knows me would guess that I’m a negative Nancy. To the people around me, I’m the positive girl. I’m handling my situation wit patience and grace. Above all, I take it day by day and smile.

Gag me.

Okay, maybe it isn’t that extreme, but let’s be honest for just a little while: nobody who is chronically ill, is also a diehard optimist who pisses rainbows all day everyday. It’s not physically or mentally possible. There is a difference between appearing positive, and actually buying into the things you’re saying. I fake it a lot, and a lot of the times I’ll end up in a better mood having faked my way into one…but other times I get even more depressed. I see the version of me people seem to love, and I die a little inside because that girl isn’t me.

Sometimes I cry on the floor in a ball. I scream at lab reports, and books about Behcet’s. I stare in the mirror and struggle to recognize the balding, often bloated, version of me that stares back. I get anxious about going out more than ever. It used to be a fear of vomit, and getting groped or drugged. Now it’s just wondering if my wig is going to fall off, or if I should be wearing a mask because of the germs. At least my fears regarding gropers and drink drugging have taken a hiatus. Nobody wants to touch and/or drug the bald chemo chick.

This is why I get asked a bunch of questions before my infusions. I get to talk about pooping with several nurses. Then I get to talk about my weird bruising. Then we chat about my battles with neuropathy. Then it’s the mental health assessment. Yes I take medication for depression…the anxiety situation is another story. technically my antidepressant should work on both. Hahahahaha, have the drug companies tested it on someone with my particular life configuration?

That’s the point though! My life is absurd. It’s absolutely mad. If I weren’t anxious and depressed, I would be certifiably insane, and worthy of institutionalization. 

My reality is painful. I don’t feel as though I will ever be truly loved, I don’t feel like anyone will want to live with me, share a life with me, and I’m not talking marriage, though I’m open to the idea if I found someone who wanted that…I just don’t personally think marriage is what should define a relationship. How two people treat one another is really what defines them as a couple. That aside, I can’t find myself being loved, being lovable. Sure, I’m kind. I’m not a bad person, but I have issues with depression, anxiety, and worst of all Behcet’s. I feel like the only kind of man who would “love” me, would be the caliber of man that my ex was. My ex is not capable of love. He lacks empathy. He can mimic emotions having seen them, but he doesn’t feel guilt or remorse like a normal person does. I won’t ever live that way again, ever, but that decision makes me feel like I will always be alone. Like women like me have to settle for poor quality men, simply because the good guys won’t settle for broken women like me.

It’s all deeply rooted in childhood nonsense, an I can reread it and realize how absurd I sound, but anxiety and depression don’t work off of logic. I’m anxious about living alone forever because I like to cook and clean and have someone to be there for, and have someone who is there for me. I also realize space is a blessing, and have always valued my own alone time, and the alone time of others. I am a good person, but I’m not good to myself. I know this. Changing it is the struggle. Trying to sort out wants and needs, all while feeling like you’re simply not lovable. It’s a horrible feeling.

“Nobody will ever love a sick girl like you.” The last thing my ex ever said to me in person. It replays a lot, but it’s not always his voice. It’s the voice of friends who have left me. It’s the voice of family members who judge my decision to slow down my graduate school coursework. It’s the voice in my head, my own voice, when I see couples holding hands and walking. It’s the voice of my depression, latching onto every ounce of venom in those words, words he knew would break me. He said it to crush me, for leaving him, but I kept walking. I didn’t humor him, give into the fight, and postpone my drive. He would have loved feeling like he won. Instead I just kept walking. I told myself that I wouldn’t believe, and I still hope that maybe someday  I won’t. Right now? It still feels pretty real, and it’s cold, hard, and hollow.

Cytoxan Round #3

Seiz(ure) The Day

I was supposed to go see a band play tonight, but now I’m pretty sure it isn’t happening. There is a point where the stresses of life become aggravating. What I want, isn’t what I have, and I struggle desperately to reign in my expectations. I don’t know if my roommate will want to renew our lease in March, and the whole situation has me pretty anxious. It would be easier not to move, but I’d be okay with moving…if I had an affordable place to go. The truth is that I love living downtown, for a variety of reasons, but the cost is problematic. I sold my car in a hurry, but didn’t get nearly what it was worth…only to have my ex decide he would keep paying me the money I rely on for rent.

My whole life I’ve pushed for independence, and now when I actually need to be independent, my body has given up. I know that I need to relax. I know that I need to sleep. I know that I need to listen to my body and let the chemotherapy do it’s thing. Knowing things doesn’t make acting appropriately any easier, though.

Things with my ex reached a boiling point last month, and while he has assured me he’ll be civil, I’ve been fighting the military to try and have something formally put into place. Unfortunately for me, they don’t want to get involved. It isn’t a civilian issue anymore, because he has pushed me into a flare with his nonsense. Still, they insist I need to run around to about half a dozen different locations to fight for access to the funds that I’m entitled to. It’s a joke. The military clearly states a bunch of things regarding separation and payment for spousal support, but then they go and enable the service member’s intentional lack of support. It’s absolutely disgusting.

Let’s be clear, too. I don’t care that my ex has a girlfriend, or that they’re supposedly having a baby. What I care about is the basic fact that he is paid more for being married to me, and that the military states he is required to support me despite the fact we are no longer together. I do take offense to the fact that this girl is living in what was our house, solely because I’ve been forced to stress over housing, enormously, while she moves in and acts entitled to things that are literally mine. I’m talking household items I was given as gifts or purchased for myself, that this girl is using as though she’s been with my ex for years.

I stress despite the reality that my debt is less than what most of society has. It stresses me out because I work hard to be debt free, for years, only to find myself accruing debt once I left my abusive marriage. Things I had to purchase because my ex refused to send me anything? I didn’t have the funds for those items. Add in medical catastrophes, and yo get my current predicament.

Last night I wanted to hang out with “the guy,” but I wasn’t feeling phenomenal. It sucked because I felt fine, ate, then felt sick, then felt fine, then as I left for his house, it was like my stomach went completely haywire. I didn’t dwell on the situation because I knew that I had eaten a big meal. Still things felt really off. We went to bed late, but I couldn’t fall asleep. My body felt weird, and my stomach felt off. Looking back I recognize the signs of a seizure coming on, but at the time I didn’t think about it. I haven’t had a full blown seizure in months, so I legitimately thought my stomach was acting up. I remember going to the bathroom, thinking I was going to throw up, feeling like I needed to lay down on the cold floor, and then nothing. There is a block of time I’m missing, about an hour and a half or so, and the rest of how I got back to bed etc., is fuzzy.

Nobody knows why I have seizures. For a while they thought it was psychological, but then I started having them while on various monitors, and they realized there were serious issues with my breathing and heart rate during and after. Codes have been called, drugs have been given, but I don’t remember any of it. I can remember the weird stomach feeling before, and sort of after if I’ve been medicated, but if I don’t get medication, I really do lose chunks of time.

I definitely had a seizure, and it upsets me for various reasons. The first is that I sleep better at the guy’s place, than my own. I honestly was looking forward to some good sleep given that I didn’t sleep while the night before. Hindsight? Not enough sleep and not enough water = seizure activity. I went to his place dehydrated and fatigued, and stayed up without water, just adding to my problems. The second reason I am upset is that I like spending time with him. He calms me. There is just something about him that brings me from an anxiety ridden state, to a calm one. I still worry about things like where I’ll live in a couple of months, but as long as I have him around me, I don’t dwell on it.

Then there is the reality of the things I miss out on because of my health problems. Tonight I should be seeing a band with my friend, but I won’t be. I could have gone last night, but I didn’t, and maybe it’s for the best. Still, I want to be the person I was before. I was exhausted, sure, but I was working and going to school. Now I can barely function for school, and that’s doing it all from home! Forget work.

There is this thought that socializing is this extra thing we do after we’ve done the things we have to do, but when you’re sick, socializing takes on an extra meaning. Things are taking from me one by one, and I clung to socialization, even though I’m introverted, because it was the last thing I could do to feel normal. Now that is falling apart, and I feel raw and exposed. Looking for another apartment, it’s so painfully obvious. I don’t have a job. I’m relying on disability, but I haven’t gotten my permanent disability sorted out yet. I struggle but the struggling gets me no where. I tell myself if I get that sorted out, then I don’t have to worry about housing, but that would only qualify me for low income housing. Here the low income housing options are sort of terrifying.

What I want has fallen away. I know I have to focus on needs before wants. That sucks. I’m almost 31, and I want to live the life I want to live. I want to go to school, and finish my licensure. I want to have my license, and a car. I want some semblance of normalcy.

My ex wasn’t right for me, who he was is someone who shouldn’t be with anyone. That being said, I would like to live with someone who enjoyed having me cook and clean. I miss it. Not him, and not our home, but the idea of a home. It’s silly to some, but if you knew me you’d understand. I was genuinely ready for marriage when I got married, despite how young I was. I’m still ready for that structure, living with someone, taking care of someone, but I’ve had to let it go. Who would want to live with me?

I know my ex was abusive, but I can’t stop pouring over those final words he said to me. He told me that nobody would ever love a sick girl like me. I know that they were words spoken to hurt me, and that I shouldn’t take them to heart, but they fester in my mind. I keep thinking about them at times like this, when I’m not the person I want to be, when I’m not doing the things I want to do. What if nobody ever loves me? What if my health is what it is, and I’m destined to be alone because of it? I have so much to give, but I also realize that my health is a horrible drain on the people around me. Even if I don’t ask for help, it’s obvious that I don’t feel well.

Just breathe, I guess. In and out…and hope that maybe it will all make sense.

Seiz(ure) The Day

First Flare of 2017 (It’s Okay)

On the 19th of December I had my second round of Cytoxan, which wasn’t enjoyable, but I survived. By Christmas I had a nasty chest cold. The pain had actually gotten so severe, I had to be evaluated to make sure I didn’t have a blood clot. I was also worked up, and monitored for pneumonia, because of some fluid noted in an x-ray of my lungs. Yes, I was in the ER…twice…one time was on Christmas Eve. My primary care doctor treated me for a dislocated rib, courtesy of my cough, and for pleurisy.

On the 1st of January I was determined to have a flare free 2017, but couldn’t ignore the fact that I hadn’t really felt well since the 19th of December. Sure, I’d had chemotherapy, but had it worked too well…yet again? After steadily f feeling worse throughout the first few days of January, I finally caved in and emailed my doctor, worried that I’d either developed an infection, or that I’d begun to have a flare. She hadn’t put in for repeat blood work, and suggested that I head to the ER to make sure I didn’t have an active infection brewing. Begrudgingly I donned a mask, called a Lyft, and went to what I had hoped would be the last crowded ER near me.

If only hopes were guaranteed realities, how happy we all would be!

The ER wasn’t crowded, but I’d placed a bet on a smaller ER, with one doctor, and he was not into the idea of treating patients expeditiously. Worse? My condition and treatment protocol put me into reverse isolation procedures…only they had nowhere to isolate me. I sat and waited in a sort of out of the way section of hallway for several hours before they had to give up, and place me in a room with patients who had the flu, just to process me in and out with the doctor. Without even seeing the doctor, they’d ordered a host of lab tests, which I was fine with, and yet another chest x-ray, which I found annoying. I’ve had at least 6 chest x-rays in the last two months. It’s becoming a bit ridiculous.

Anyhow, the blood work was annoyingly good. While I’m happy I don’t have an infection, my white blood cell count isn’t as low as one would expect someone on Cytoxan to experience. This is kind of a toss up between aggravating and relieving. I’m happy that they didn’t over medicate me, because I don’t want to murder my ovaries, or bone marrow, but on the other side of things, I am definitely having a flare.

I got hit with a double whammy of sorts. First, the chemo wiped out enough of my immune system to make it possible for a normal rhinovirus to nearly give me pneumonia. Second, the dose of chemo wasn’t high enough to prevent the stress of my ex, and finances, from instigating a flare. The best part is that the rhinovirus likely triggered an immune response which, coupled with the stress, resulted in the flare.

My eyes are being aggravating. My joints are miserably swollen, red, and painful. My intestines feel like they’re shredding while simultaneously being filled with large pockets of air. Simply put: I’m a Behcet’s addled mess.

When I sent my rheumatologist an email stating that I was feeling horrible, she had responded with a few ideas regarding what could be causing it…and the option to suspend treatment with Cytoxan. Saying that I was shocked doesn’t even begin to cover things. I have only received two infusions, and was told a minimum of six would be required to even give me a chance at remission. I went into this treatment protocol with fight in my heart, and accepted the 6-12 treatment protocol plan with the understanding that any infections could slow down treatments. I also knew not to expect immediate results.

Yes, I’m annoyed I’m flaring, which following my ER visit is definitely what’s happening…but I don’t think it means the Cytoxan isn’t working. Knock on wood…but I haven’t had a seizure since starting the protocol. More importantly, the other symptoms were completely absent during the first round of chemo, minus a few minor symptoms cropping up close to the second round of chemo. Given the amount of stress that occurred a few days prior to the second round, I’m shocked I’m not having a more severe flare. Normally I’d have sores, and intense GI bleeding. I’m only dealing with minor bleeding, and have no sores whatsoever.

To stop treatment would, to me, be admitting defeat. I’d be accepting the idea of treating symptoms as they arise. I refuse to live my life that way. If I had to, if they genuinely couldn’t keep my symptoms managed, then sure, I’d find a way to go on living this way, but I don’t think I’m even remotely close to defeat at this point.

My next round is in 10 days, which reminds me that I need to inject myself with Lupron TODAY.

 

First Flare of 2017 (It’s Okay)

Depression Depression Anxiety

It’s like a really miserable game of “duck duck goose” in my head right now. I can’t figure out if the depression is making me anxious, or if the anxiety is making me depressed, but it’s probably a combination of both. The doctors told me during the first round that it was normal to have a dip in energy levels around nadir, because that was when my blood counts were at their lowest. Accepting that is what is happening, has been a lot harder though.

I don’t feel like myself. When my hair started falling out during the steroid taper, and I cut it shorter and shorter, I kept trying to find a new identity along with it. Coloring it fun colors, and denying that my life was changing as the diagnosis got more severe, and the treatment options more debilitating. When the first round of Cytoxan left me holding clumps of hair, I felt empowered for about a minute after having what hair remained, off. Then I felt lost. My wig doesn’t fit me well, and though I can go to the wig shop and have a new one made, and fitted, the process of getting myself there is difficult. (The shop is about half an hour from me, and I cannot drive.)

Friends have fallen from my life, and the people I expected to reconnect with upon returning to San Diego a year and a half ago, haven’t all been understanding regarding my limitations. Why would they be? Some get it, but some don’t, and almost nobody understands the emotional aspects of it all. I have no hair. My once clear skin is red and bumpy. My weight fluctuates 10 pounds constantly due to not eating, then eating whatever it is I happen to be hungry for.

My primary care doctor increased my depression medication upon my request, but I haven’t found a psych doctor that I like yet. The practice that takes my insurance and is within reasonable distance cost wise for commuting, has really odd opinions on medications. Mostly they push what the drug representatives drop samples off of. They are making a move away from controlled substances, despite the fact that I do well when I have Xanax or Klonopin to take as needed. I will get my medical marijuana card renewed so I can get new marijuana strains that work better for my specific needs, but even that wouldn’t help me much right now. I can use it to cure nausea and help me sleep, but it doesn’t do much for depression.

Nothing really can, because my reasons for being depressed are completely logical. I don’t look like myself. My divorce has become bitter and hostile, despite the fact that we initially were in total agreement regarding terms. Things with “the guy” are still comfortable, but as I become uncomfortable in my own skin, I risk everything around me, including our situation. Both of us tend to be anxious people, and when my own anxiety and depression mounts, I have to distance myself to spare him added stress. I know he’d do his best to cheer me up, but ultimately be brought down in the process.

Is it really depression, though, if someone is going through all of what I am going through? I’m positive that I’m chemically imbalanced, given what I take for my Behcet’s and PTSD, and my limited diet…but how does that differ from depression in someone who eats normally and has no other underlying medical conditions? Depression in the chronically ill, or terminally ill, isn’t a new issue. There is a reason that mental health questions are asked prior to each chemotherapy infusion, but that doesn’t change the internal struggle I have with myself when these moods come on. I’ve lived with PTSD for a little over 10 years, and the symptoms have decreased, only to increase with this recent loss of self identity.

For so much of my life my identity was defined by what I did for others, and who I was to others. Now that I’ve finally been forced to focus on myself, there is a shock value associated with it. Suddenly I’m thinking about where I want to be, and go, in life, and then I see where I am now, and it all becomes overwhelming. There are things we can do as people to get where we want to go, but there are so many things out of our hands. When your health becomes a roadblock to success, you feel vulnerable, and exposed. A huge part of me feels unloveable. A friend has suggested that I have been uncomfortably comfortable in the situation with the “guy” because I don’t think I deserve more.

But how could I look for more? Right now I’m barely capable of maintaining myself, let alone a relationship with another person. Financially, emotionally, physically, I’m struggling, and while there is a huge part of me that lusts after the comfort of having someone there for me in a more concrete manner, I have to recognize that I’m not in a place to return what I would take out of a partner, at least not without sacrificing some of my own health in the process.

It boils down to wants versus needs. I have to recognize that my body is a need state, I need to do what I need to do to knock Behcet’s down, so I can pick up the pieces and build the life I want. I just wish I knew how to kick the depression that bogs me down in the fight. This last few weeks has been absolutely miserable. The treatment is never fun, but this time around it was more painful because I went alone, on very little sleep, with a ton of stress mounted on my shoulders. Going alone made me realize that “the guy” could and would be there when and if I asked him, and if he were available, but that I had to lean on other friends, and myself. In that moment, I wasn’t strong enough, though. I went into that treatment on the brink of collapse, having shaved my head the night before, and dealing with stress from my ex.

I am depressed. I am anxious. I am chasing both of those conditions around and around, to the point where I must look somewhat manic to the few people who choose to still remain close to me. As I focus on my needs, and give into the sleep my body craves, I hate my body for it. I pretend pain that I feel doesn’t exist, and that I can do things I know I can’t do simply because a huge part of me wishes it were true. That I were capable of achieving whatever I set my mind to. I pretend that it is me walking my dog for an hour along the bay. I pretend that it’s me, dancing downtown, and living it up. I can only pretend for so long though, before I succumb to the sad reality of the four walls of my bedroom.

There are inspirational quotes around, and jokes, and funny photos and movies…but there is also reality. Sometimes it’s just too much to deny. Sometimes you just have to cry, and accept the raw pain of a chronic illness, and serious medical treatment.

Then there is chemo-brain, which I almost forgot to mention (ironically.) Some people have said that the chemo-brain scenario undoubtedly contributes to depression, because you’re in a fog, an you’re operating slower. It’s definitely a real phenomenon, and I’m grateful I’m only taking anthropology during chemotherapy (thus far anyhow) because the professor agreed to let me audit the course from home versus come in and do the labs. (I still need to sit in on the course in six months when it’s on campus, but that’ll be doable, hopefully.

If there was anything I clung to, it was that I was in graduate school, and I had a plan for myself. When that all went out the window, I lost my identity as a student. Now that I have one class, I’m thrilled, but I’m still freaking out. What if I don’t do well in this class? What if they can’t fix the filing grade I got from taking an incomplete and not finishing within six months? (I took the course during Rituxan, couldn’t finish, and then the first month of chemo fell RIGHT on the six month mark, so I obviously missed making it up.)

I’m the one who tells everyone where everything is, courtesy of PTSD hyper vigilance now I’m the one running late due to misplaced keys, or sim,ply running into a room to get something and forgetting what I came for. My identity has been stripped to the bare bones, and it truly is a struggle for me to figure out what I’m going to do at the end of the day to define myself i na positive way. Right now I just feel like that “sick” girl.

Depression Depression Anxiety

Wigging Out?

I got a wig. At first I felt ridiculous with it on, and to be honest, I still feel a little ridiculous. I know people who know me will realize it’s a wig, and there is fear of judgement regarding that. I’ve worn it in public a few times, and actually had several people ask where I get it cut and colored…my hair. So yeah, it passes for real, I just have to get used to it myself.

The idea behind chemotherapy, haircuts, and wigs, is that if you cut your hair shorter beforehand, and get a wig beforehand, then you can get used to both prior to the hair falling out. Also, shorter hairs falling out are less traumatizing than long ones. Since my  hair started falling out after my Prednisone taper, I’m not really sure how well that works. Every strand was the end of the world until I caved in and had 8 or so inches slowed off. Even then it was hardly any hair because it was so thin and brittle. I just had more cut off when I went to get help with the wig, because it’s been falling out, and my hairdresser suggested a bob.

Truth? I hate it. The bob, not the wig. The wig I love, aside from feeling like everyone knows it’s a wig. The wig makes me less afraid for my hair to fall out. If anything I feel like my hair falling out more will justify the wig. I’ve had some judgment for purchasing it pre-hair loss, but the people judging don’t understand I’ve already lost a significant amount of hair. The people who know me well, have seen the hair transformation, and have been shocked at how much is coming out. Long hair is my thing, it’s what makes me fee comfortable, and not having it makes me feel exposed and vulnerable. That mixed with the Behcet’s rash on my face makes me feel ugly.

Other recent Behcet’s issues: constipation. What the hell? I’ve eaten foods I know will instigate a bowel movement, and still nothing. I need to go tonight since I have some plans tomorrow, but we’ll see how it all plays out. It’s a bit annoying, but what can I do about it? Don’t say laxatives. That will just ensure that at an unknown moment, my ass will explode like an atomic weapon, and I will have no control over when, where, or the ability to get to a restroom.

Pain and fatigue are the other two big ones, but I can’t do anything about either. The pain could be controlled with pain killers, but the problem with that is that the pain killers lower my seizure threshold. So if I’m dehydrated (and I am often) and haven’t slept well, the combination could be catastrophic. My last seizure was so long and severe it scared everyone involved. I was scared once I was alert enough to understand just how bad things had been.

I want to believe that Cytoxan is going to be the medication that pushes me into remission, but I’m just hoping at this point. I thought that things were done with Rituxan, but they weren’t. Then I was so convinced the combo of Remicade and Cell Cept would work, I planned a vacation, only to have to ask for a refund when that ended with a severe reaction to the Remicade. It’s like the disease destroying my body, is somehow in cahoots with my body. My body is fighting off the medications that are trying to fight off the disease, and all the while I’m humming, “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” in the corner while I try not to pass out, vomit, or both.

Holiday seas0n doesn’t help. Not that I’d planned on going home for the holidays, I had classes, but now I’m stuck doing chemotherapy treatments, while the people around me go home for the holidays. I know I have friends that would invite me to Thanksgiving, even if I didn’t eat, or Christmas, but because I’m doing chemotherapy, they won’t (or I won’t be able to stomach it). In any event, I end up doubly screwed because then those people aren’t around when I have treatments meaning I’m fending for myself.

I’m happy the guy is coming to my first treatment so I’m not alone, even though I felt bad for asking. He’s going to be out of town for the first week of December, and then I’ll have an infusion around Christmas, and he’ll be going home for Christmas, so I’m not going to see a lot of him next month I’m sure. (He’ll be busy with friends in between, and I’m a big fan of not burning people out.)

He’s been the only one who has really stepped up consistently through this whole ordeal. Other people have helped, but it hasn’t been consistent, whether by choice, or through no fault of their own. The majority, however, have chosen not to get involved. It’s been painful to see how many people only want to be a “friend” when that means going out and doing things together. I guarantee you when certain holidays hit, like New Year’s Eve, there will be people who want to come stay at my place. It wasn’t a huge deal on Halloween, but I wasn’t feeling well, and a lot of people have their own things going on.

Maybe it won’t be, though. The other issue is that a lot of my friend are married, or in serious relationships. They’ve made their significant others such priorities that they’ve alienated their friends. I get that your significant other should be a higher priority than your friends, but only slightly, and that’s contingent on circumstances. I have friends who spend every weekend 100% with their husband/fiance/boyfriend and it’s aggravating. I don’t care how in love you are, I guarantee you that you’d be happier if you unstuck yourselves for a fraction of a second and led your own lives. Moreover, I don’t know any men who want to give up all of their man friend time, to be with their female significant other. Being sick I can’t even fathom the thought of monopolizing someone like that. I used to send my ex out while I was sick, and he’d feign like he didn’t want to, but with all of his cheating it probably didn’t matter what I suggested. Now though, I mean it when I tell people around me to take a day or two off from worrying and let me worry.

I lie. I tell people I have it all sorted out support network wise, and while I do have a support network here, it’s not nearly as strong as I let people believe. It’s just easier to pretend that it’s better than it is, so that the people who do care, and who are involved in it, don’t burn themselves out worrying. I need to be able to take care of myself, and that might mean calling an ambulance and having to be hospitalized if I’m alone during a holiday with nobody to keep an eye on me. There is no shame in including the ER and hospital in your support network.

So yeah, I have a wig, and I’m sort of wigging out. The year has flown by, and while I still don’t know what is going on with my life, I know that I have to throw myself into this fight harder than I have thrown myself into any others. This is it in terms of treatment options, and I will make it work.

I’ll also rock the long blond hair, because it does seem to reel in some positive attention 🙂

Wigging Out?

Caregiver Fatigue

I constantly worry that the people around me are sick of me being sick. Hell, I’m sick of being sick, and even though I don’t ask for help, people step in and help when it’s obvious I need it. Still, people get tired, especially when it’s the same people being forced to assist over and over again. Okay, so they aren’t forced, but certain friends step up more than others, and patterns emerge.

The guy has been a consistent shoulder to lean on, and someone who always runs to the store for me, or even more impressive, sits with me, through whole infusions. That being said, he’s been there even when he had to drive to me. Now, he’s within walking distance, and the general assumption of friends is that he is going to be the one who is there for me through the majority of my health woes. WRONG. 

Yes, he could and would be, but it isn’t like I expect him to be. Why? For starters, I don’t expect anything from anyone. My philosophy is that people should help because they genuinely want to, not because they feel pressured by societal conventions to do so. If I were someone who gave into societal conventions, I wouldn’t be calling him “the guy” after over a year of whatever it is we’re doing. He is a great friend, one of my best friends, if not my best friend, and while the whole situation is complicated, it’s worth it in the end.

Still, it makes it hard to explain to friends why the guy isn’t going to do this or that for me, or why I refuse to ask him to do something for me. I know it brings him down when the symptoms or treatments make me sad or super sick, and he has a lot going on in his own life to deal with. Not everyone can take care of someone chronically ill, especially when the symptoms can be intense, and not have it negatively impact them. All caretakers eventually get worn out if the person they’re caring for is someone they genuinely care about.

Last night I wanted to go out, but my body refused to comply with my brain, an I knew that I would probably pass out, or worse, have a seizure, if I pushed myself into a crowded bar. The guy as having a flare up of his own issue, and I opted for a low key, dual digestive issues cuddle fest instead. (I know it sounds gross, but it was fine, trust me.) Today I woke up in more pain than I’ve been in in a long time. I actually had a decent period of time here moving my head was physically impossible. Then the guy woke up, and he was also in decent abdominal pain. My dog made it clear he had to go out, and the two of us were there, in bed, wondering how we were going to deal with this little dog’s insistence. I knew that he was my dog, my responsibility, and that at the end of the day, moving a little would help me determine the severity of the joint pain. I used it as an opportunity to get the guy some things he needed, and the dog some things he wanted. (I forgot to get my own caffeine which really irritated me, but allowed for a nice three hour nap upon my return.)

The result of my expedition was the realization that my joint pain was legitimately not going to go away. I called another friend to get my prescription from my doctor as I was too out of it to take a Lyft or Uber, and then had my roommate pick the script up from the pharmacy across from my apartment on his way home from work. I could have asked the guy to grab it on his way back from the doctor, but I wanted him to be able to go to his pharmacy and get his scripts filled. I also wanted to prove that if I was incapacitated I had the ability to summon some assistance other than him.

While I may need him for general tasks like that sometimes, it isn’t what I need from him the most. What I need is for him to make me feel as normal as possible, despite the fact my body is giving out on me. I need what we have to be what we have, despite the fact my hair is shorter, or eventually gone. I need him to look at me the same way when my makeup is on, as he does when it’s off, despite the Behcet’s lesions on my face. I need our joking banter and light hearted conversations, along with the more intellectual ones, to continue, even when the brain fog makes the latter difficult to attain.

I need someone who makes me feel human and alive again.

Sometimes a caretaker isn’t someone who helps you with your dishes, or runs to the store for you. Sometimes it’s someone who ares for your emotional needs. The important thing is remembering that you are responsible for making sure you don’t drain them while they attempt to sustain you. I hadn’t realized for a long time that my illness was concerning him to a point that it made him anxious. He had a lot of people in his life with health issues or personal issues, and because he’s such an amazing guy, he was doing his best to accommodate them all. In turn, he wasn’t looking after himself. He laughs a lot at how often I worry about him when I’m at a constant 4-5 on the pain scale, but it’s the one benefit of living at a constant 4-5. I know how to cope and continue despite things that would trip up others.

People assume a lot about us, simply because he cares for me in a literal sense, and I don’t doubt that there is emotional caring there, too, I just try my best to steer people away from judgments based solely on what the see while I’m battling Behcet’s. He was still dating around until I got really sick, and I still worry that my illness has kept him from pursuing women and finding someone who can make him happy. Then again, the reason he’s still the guy, isn’t because I’m wrong per say, but because he isn’t sure what he wants. You can’t slow someone down if they’re already standing at a crossroads.

All of this laid out though, you have to wonder the toll it takes caring about someone, as a friend, and whatever else, when you find yourself being dragged into a caretaker role. One guy has continued reaching out to me, despite the fact we never actually went out, and despite the fact I’ve made it clear I’m not currently interested in seeing him. He’s tried to say he has cancer, and hasn’t had chemo but did and does other treatments, so he understands, but a lot of it seems like a ploy. Even if it weren’t, I don’t date more than one person at a time, I’m just not capable. (I don’t judge people who do, in fact, it makes finding the right person easier, it’s just not something I have ever had the capacity to do, and now I don’t have the energy for it.)

Things with the guy make me happy, and while I could use more friends, I don’t need friends who secretly want to sleep with me or date me. That’s not really the goal at the moment. Someone about to go through chemotherapy isn’t exactly at their prime dating potential. Sure, I could, but it’s cold and flu season, and again, I’m happy with my weird little thing I’ve got going. Why mess with a good thing?

There is also the fact that if the guy wasn’t in the picture, and I were to attempt dating, anyone who became my significant other would fall into a caretaker position naturally. That can destroy an otherwise promising relationship. I do not need to start something off with me puking my guts out and bald, though I suppose if they can get through that then the rest is smooth sailing.

I just hope that the chemotherapy isn’t overly taxing on the people around me. I’m prepared for hell, while hoping it isn’t. I’m also prepared to ask my doctors to admit me for a day or two if it turns out the drug makes me puke my guts out. Some people throw up and move on. I do not. Every time I’ve ever thrown up, it becomes a literal vomit fest. My dad used to hate when I’d get the stomach bug as a kid, because even as a kid old enough to attempt to make it to the bathroom, I would vomit with such force it would go all over the place. To this day I sleep with an empty trashcan next to the bed, and I have a set of blankets and pillows just for the bathroom floor. There is something about my system that doesn’t understand the idea of stopping once I’ve started. I’ve pulled muscles, popped blood vessels, and ended up in ketoacidosis…twice.

Tomorrow is the day I find out when I start. Everyone keeps saying “if you start,” but I know what the doctors have said, and the fact nobody was willing to call me tells me that the news is what I expect…chemotherapy. I just hope I can figure out a way to freeze my eggs before it begins.

Caregiver Fatigue