Thursday, September 22, 2011

I'm nothing but a fruitfly

I wrote this almost two weeks ago but didn't feel like posting it because I was so sick of cancer, sick of talking about cancer, and sick of telling people about what it's like to have cancer, etc., that I couldn't muster the energy to hit the "publish" button. But I'll post it now because a few friends have recently asked me how I was coping with chemo, etc., and so.... :


Tuesday night, I returned from cousin Melissa's wedding (more on that in a bit) to find a fruit fly infestation under my sink. When I opened the bin, a swarming grey cloud rose and attacked me, then, like an explosion, spread out to the four corners of my kitchen: Cabinets. Windows. Sink. Countertops. All covered. I had left a bunch of banana matter to rot in my compost bin over the hot weekend. Whoopsie daisy.The bin's liner bag had liquified, and the bananas were now a brown lake. Hundreds of tiny egg sacs dotted the walls of the stainless steel can. Waiting for their chance.

I spent the day trying to vacuum up flies, or capture them in various liquid traps. I can't tell how much progress I've made, but I know that since I've removed the food source, soon enough, they will all die off. Then maybe we'll return to normal.

For some reason, this insect lifecycle (of quiet incubation, then, a torrent of energetic, soaring, in-your-face life!, then death, and repeat) reminded me of my own two-week chemo cycle. As I'll explain now, starting with the "death" phase, and moving toward the "hatch".

This morning, Neil and I will go in for chemo #2. I'll feel ok today and tomorrow, then by Saturday, up to my gills in poison, I'll feel like crap. On Sunday, I'll be a poisoned, thick-headed zombie who sits in quiet rooms on chairs, staring at things, turning my head around slowly, blinking, sometimes wincing for no apparent reason, unlikely to answer the phone, inept at writing emails, incapable of making decisions. Monday, I'll start to track with conversations better again, though the nausea and the head-games will persist. Tuesday, the feeling of energy will slowly seep back into my being, and I'll grow giddy at the idea that I might someday feel normal again. By Wednesday, SHA-ZAM!, you'll never know anything ever happened to me. Then! I get a WEEK of SHELLY! And all that that means! And you who know me know what THAT MEANS!!

Then, repeat. Death, egg sacs. Hatching. Glorious flight.

Because of chemo's cyclical nature, you'd think I'd be used to it all by now. Somehow, however, I'm not. At each new chemo cycle, I feel angry all over again at my physical and emotional shakiness. And at how poorly I cope when I'm in the thick of the poisoning. (When you're beaten down and sick, you cannot deal well with heavy topics, things like cancer). Last time, when they were unhooking my chemo after mainlining it for 46 hours, an anger took root in me, and I simply could not restrain it. The sweet nurses who know me as a certain type of person were subjected to a soul in crisis. A raging human. I SWORE at them. (I used the "f-word" once, with conviction.) I snarled. I swatted at things. I seethed piss and vinegar. (Not literally, although that may well be a side effect of SOME type of chemo. Wouldn't surprise me.) As I drove home, I called Neil to unleash the rage on a safe, understanding target. Through clenched jaws, I choked out my words with a furious snarl I didn't know I could produce. NO. NOT THIS AGAIN. I CANNOT DO THIS. A HUMAN SHOULD NOT HAVE TO DO THIS. WHY THE HELL IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME? I AM A NICE PERSON. WE HAVE BABIES! I AM YOUNG! I used words like, "torture," "poison," and "THIS IS NO WAY TO LIVE." And I meant every single last F-ing one of them.

I knew this was no way to start out my 9 (+?) month chemo stint. I KNEW I needed to get my mind in a different place, or I'd never be able to get through it. I imagined how it must have felt to be an ancient Egyptian, in Giza, tasked with building those pyramids. I felt like I was standing there, looking at the schematic drawings while holding that first earthen brick, and thinking, "YOU'RE TELLING ME WE GOTTA BUILD that...WITH these?!"

Flash forward a few days. I'm in northern Michigan for my beloved cousin Melissa's wedding. All the Bakers are there. So many friends. A beautiful setting. Pure joy, really. Lightness. We danced all night. I didn't think about my health a bit. I wasn't in denial, either. It just didn't have any place there. Totally irrelevant. I'd even venture a guess that no one meeting me for the first time would have suspected there was a THING "wrong" with me.

Laying in my bed, listening to the wind roaring through the trees and the waves crashing on the lake, I felt complete peace and happiness. So many loved ones, so very close by. So much more fun to be had in this life. And so much energy to direct toward that fun.

From grizzly bear to zen master, all in ONE WEEK. And this swing will repeat, bi-weekly, for an undetermined amount of time. It's a very strange way to live, and sometimes it's brutally difficult, but I'm simply going to have to rise above the bad times and continue to embrace the good times. It's the ONLY WAY TO GET THROUGH THIS and still enjoy what I know is a pretty remarkable life.


  1. shel, thanks so much for sharing this cycle with us...despite what a major drag and pain it is to write about cancer at all. your description is beautiful. so many loved ones. so very close by. and dancing all night, even. we are here, close by, during the torrential horrors and the lightness. thanks.

  2. This is an awesome blog post. We're all still reading, and we're happy to read about whatever you want to tell us about. You are a remarkable woman. (And tall.)