December 20, 2005

O Best Beloveds, you may recall there was discussion of whether I should get some kind of semi-permanent line through which chemo could be delivered, rather than a nearly-weekly vein hunt. This talk seems to have died down, and I’m glad, though not when the otherwise excellent Lisa hit this week’s vein in one try, only to have a bruise blossom instantly, and to have to withdraw and try again elsewhere. (“She could not hit it sideways,” I hummed to myself.) My arms are looking like something out of a Lou Reed song.

This little anecdote is telling because as far as chemo has been going? That’s about the most traumatic thing that has happened. I cannot stress how mild this experience is. Yes, there’s some aches and pains, yes, I need to drink water pretty much nonstop because of that fuzzy mouth that gets only more so by the end of the day, yes, my hair is falling out. But. I’m reading, I’m writing, I’m taking walks, I’m hanging out with friends, I’m going to the occasional movie and party, I’m prepping Xmas dinner for twenty-something people…I’m not really sure what else I could be doing, except all of that in greater quantity. I knew things had changed in chemo-land during #3 session, when my fellow patients, who were gnawing on onion-laden turkey sandwiches even as they were being infused, looked puzzled when I questioned how that was possible. And some of them had even done A/C, the dreaded chemo regime most notorious for its vomit-inducing properties, and they still thought nothing of noshing while infusing. Apparently, in the last few years, the research gang has come up with industrial-strength anti-nausea meds, and even the A/C vomit buckets have been replaced by snack bars. Meanwhile, when I told Chemo Nurse Lisa about my own post-chemo need to snack throughout the day (fortunately, in tiny quantities), she gave me a prescription for something that would clear up the acid in my stomach “which will cut down on your need to fill it, and so you won’t gain weight.” It’s like Christmas in a pill!

So, yeah, one three-week cycle down, five to go. I woke up on Sunday feeling itchy thanks to the loose hair that had fallen down the back of my pajamas, and so Craig and Jamie came over for my now ritual chemo-cut. “Here is a photo of Princess Diana, taken by Mario Testino a few months before she died,” I said to Craig. “I want this cut.” And as Lisa kibitzed and neighbor Emma waited her turn for a trim, he produced the cutest little pixie ‘do this side of a Vanity Fair photo shoot, and the bittersweet part is that back when he sheared me the first time, I didn’t recognize myself, because I had not had such short hair before, but this time, I just glanced in the mirror and thought “Oh, there’s my haircut. Nice work, Craig.” It’s deeply comforting to not be a stranger in one’s own mirror, but even so; I miss my long hair, already. And then Jaime gave me some nifty Chinese herbs–he’s a trained Chinese medical doctor and you can see him for acupuncture and herbs any old time (James Kelly, 310-991-1352)–to keep my blood count up, because the one thing that will screw up my chemo schedules is that weekly blood draw. Which I totally forgot to have done last week, which shows you how well I’m assimilating this new schedule, and what a responsible Cancer Chick I am not. The nurse said “It’s early in your regime, so we will just assume your blood count is fine, but don’t tell anyone, okay?” So it’s just between us, Beloveds. Anyway, henceforth, I must have my blood drawn the day before, and if the white or red count is too low, I can’t have chemo the next day. This isn’t a huge issue; a shot of something or other will raise the count and chemo can happen the following day, but there will be at least two times when I am hopping a plane that following day, and chemo delays will not be possible. Fortunately, Chemo Nurse Lisa remains Perfect, and as I explained it to her (Jazz Fest! I said, and not negotiable!), she came up with all sorts of amiable solutions, including just hitting me with a double dose the week before, so I could have two weeks off, and no risk of missing my flight. Also, she’s thinking about going to Mardi Gras and we told her she should. We are telling all of you that, in fact. It’s going to be a historic party, to say the least.

And speaking of bittersweet, I finally canceled the tickets for Steve’s and my trip, the one that should have started just a week from today, bitter because, you know, shoot, it was going to be fun, but the sweet part was turning them into tickets for a rollicking adventure commencing with Midsummer Night’s celebrations in Estonia (apparently, quite the bacchanal) and ending with an academic conference in Salzburg, at which, I just learned, I will be delivering a paper (I won’t be the most eloquent bald scholar in attendance, but will strive to be the cutest), and capped with one precious night in London with Paula, Mark and Katie. This whole thing gets rolling about three weeks after my last chemo cycle ends, so I’m just operating under the assumption, as always, that Dr. W. is getting it right.

Speaking of, amusingly, I have not yet laid eyes on said Dr. W. since this whole thing began. We’ve only spoken on the phone. I had my chemo appointment on Friday instead of the usual Thursday so that we could have an actual meeting/examination, but he went home sick before I got there. The nurse practitioner and Lisa were rather stunned I hadn’t seen him at all, but Steve and I had to explain my weird relationship with him–“They seem speak in their own twin language,” Steve said–to wit, he tells me what’s going on and what I need to do and I get on with it. “You are a low maintenance patient,” Lisa said, and I had to laugh, because she doesn’t know me outside of the clinic, where she might have a very different opinion about the level of said maintenance.

And now ’tis the season, and look how good it is: I don’t have chemo this week. I’m getting my work work and even some leftover schoolwork done, slowly. There is Christmas dinner coming. And then Steve and I are taking a short trip to San Francisco, and food porn will follow. Ellen and Sue sent me a five pound box of See’s, and Brigid painted me what we are calling a Bug Icon, so I feel protected inside and out.

We hear a lot about the “reason for the season” at this time of year, and let’s remember what that really is; not mass consumption (not that there is anything wrong with meals and presents), not the birth of the Sun King of your choice (though it is that, too, if that is your thing), but this:

Peace on Earth, Good Will Towards Men.

Sexist language retained for the poetry, but we really know it means “towards humans. And dogs. And all creatures great and small.”

And to you, my best beloveds,