I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed for an article on dealing with life post-chemo for our local newspaper, the Dallas Morning News. I say pleasure, but it was actually tough to talk about that time in my life, even though I think about it all the time. Looking at photos of that time was even tougher.
If you’re interested in reading, here’s the link: https://www.dallasnews.com/life/healthy-living/2017/10/02/declared-cancer-free-still-feel-sad
CHEMO WEEK 2, Treatment #3:
The first two chemo treatments were really rough. After years of running, and being a naturally outdoorsy type of person, it was so hard to lie around in bed and be sick. By Thursday of the second week, my third chemo treatment and the last one in the first three week cycle, my appetite had returned and I felt good. Just in time to get knocked back down again!
The week after the first two treatments I pretty much lived on white rice, homemade fruit smoothies, Ensure, and cheddar popcorn. I realized quickly that any calories I could tolerate were good calories, no matter how nutritious they were. Nothing sounded more disgusting than vegetables, raw or cooked. The chemo made me so sick I didn’t even want to drink water–which is bad because chemo can damage the kidneys if they are not flushed out enough.
After surgery and the first two chemo treatments, my weight was just south of 110. I was very thin, and I knew I had to eat. And drink.
The “electric” feeling I had after the first two treatments slowly dissipated from my body, and I was even able to meditate a little and do some very easy yoga. The meditation really helped me to calm down when I felt like I was going crazy. Meditation is usually one of the hardest things in the world for me to do, but it really helped.
I had also decided to cut my hair again, even shorter, because I knew its days were numbered.
I was starting to recognize certain people in the cancer center waiting room: the breast cancer woman who always came with the same friend, who rarely looked up from her iPad and looked like she might be a teacher (all teachers have “that look”); the tall, thin man wearing the track suit who moved to another seat away from us the first time I saw him–who this time said hello, talked about being bald, wished he’d cut his hair years ago, talked about how expensive it was for his wife to do her hair, discussed his wife’s friend who had a beauty shop in her house, and how we should go to beauty school and cut hair in our retirement; and another tall, thin man who smiled sadly at me and walked very, very slowly when they called him back to the infusion rooms.
I also met a possible distant relative. The receptionist told me one morning when I checked in that there were two patients with my last name in their computer. Turnage is a fairly uncommon name, and this was unexpected news. As we waited in the lobby, a nurse called out Turnage! from the wrong direction. I stood up, confused–and so did the man sitting next to me. We looked at each other, I asked “Are you a Turnage, too?” and he nodded. We agreed we had to be distantly related when he told me his family could trace their ancestry to two brothers named Turnage who emigrated from Ireland to North Carolina, which is similar to a story I’d heard years ago.
Sometimes you may discover you have more than cancer in common with the people in the cancer waiting room.
It was a very long day. I went into the chemo room at 8:15am and wasn’t done until 5:00pm. My oncologist’s nurse was waiting for me when I got to the chemo room and said that I looked great for someone who had such terrible numbers. Apparently my blood work showed that my potassium and magnesium levels were low and my heart rate and blood pressure were elevated. I knew the IP chemo had been tough, and the numbers agreed.
I was given a 6 hr potassium IV drip in addition to the Taxol IP. My sister stayed with me the entire time and we watched The First 48 Hours on A&E.
Chemo is boring. IV (intravenous) chemo is administered into the port in my chest. I sit in a recliner and let the cancer killing chemicals slowly drip into my veins. IP (intraperitoneal) chemo goes into the port directly into my abdominal cavity, on the same side where the tumor was located. For IP chemo I have to lie in a small bed and turn on my side every twenty minutes. I set the alarm on my phone in case I fall asleep (which is often). In addition to the chemo drugs, a massive amount of fluid is pumped into my abdomen. It’s not painful, but when IP chemo is finished I feel like a big juicy watermelon. And I have to go to the bathroom a lot.
Some of the drugs make me sleepy. I’m actually happy when I nod off because it makes the time go by faster. I rarely watch TV. Sometimes I turn it on just for the distraction, but mostly I just recline or lie in bed and somehow the hours tick away. I always have someone with me, usually my husband and either my daughter, Dominique, or my son’s girlfriend, Nicole, to stay with me and drive me home.
After the third chemo treatment, I thought maybe I could eat some Asian food with rice. My stomach and the chemo drugs gurgling in my belly had other plans. I will spare you the details of dinner and the effects of the IP chemo on my stomach. Maybe Thai food wasn’t such a good idea. Lessons learned . . .
If you’ve stuck with me through these tough past three posts, bless you. I promise it does get better. I don’t generally like to dwell on the hard times, but those who know me know that I don’t like to sugarcoat things. Chemotherapy is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and in honor of all the people through the years who had no choice when they were dealt the cancer card, and were saved by chemo, I’m giving it the respect it deserves.
Chemo, I may hate you, but I salute you nevertheless!
Six months ago you sent me an email. You had just left a comment on my first post about being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. You had also just been diagnosed, and you were scared. You were so scared you asked me to delete your comment because you didn’t want anyone to know.
Thus began our friendship. We traded stories of our surgeries, gave each other advice on how to get through chemo, and compared notes on our lives. You told me about your young daughter and your brother, and we promised each other we would run a race together when this was all over.
You made me promise, over and over, to NEVER GIVE UP! You always wrote it like that. You also put actions in your emails with an asterisk. *nods nods* was your favorite. God, you were funny. I could always hear your Irish lilt in my head, even though I’d never heard your voice.
On Sep 29 you told me that things weren’t going well. Your cancer wasn’t responding to chemo. You didn’t want to tell me the news, thinking it would affect my own recovery. I wrote emails to you periodically after that, knowing you would write back when you were stronger.
Tonight I found out you didn’t make it. You went into the hospital two days after your last email and passed away a couple of weeks after that.
I am devastated. Hearing the news was like a punch to the gut.
We never met in person. I don’t even know what you looked like. We were friends. You were my hero.
Your last post was titled “This Isn’t Goodbye . . .” I think you knew it probably was.
You touched other lives just through your comments here on my blog. People asked about you when you disappeared. I understood why you stopped writing and needed a break. I did so as well. After a certain point in chemo, when it got really tough, I needed to save all my energy for the fight. My brain was all jumbled up and I couldn’t string a sentence together, let alone make my fingers work on the keyboard. I’m sure it was the same for you.
You fought hard, Katie. You never gave up and you never lost hope.
You went so quickly.
Now that I know you’re gone, I feel like the only survivor of a plane crash. We are a small club of women. This cancer doesn’t leave many behind. It is selfish and claims most of us for itself.
I never felt anger towards our cancer before now. It was just something that happens to some women. Now that it has taken you, it’s become personal. Now I’m angry. This cancer can mess with me, but how dare it take someone as good and kind and honest as you were? And how dare it should take away the mother of a fourteen year old girl?
I bought a sticker for my car while I was still doing chemo. It’s a teal ribbon and says “I won.” I’ve saved it all these months until I got the official news from the doctor that I was cancer free. I’ve debated actually putting it on my car, thinking it might seem arrogant or disrespectful to the women who didn’t make it. You fought harder than anyone I know to beat this cancer. In your last email you told me you hadn’t given up hope. You told me once again, as you had so often before, to NEVER GIVE UP.
That sticker is going on my car today. I know you would want to see it there. I hope it makes you smile when you see it from wherever you are.
I didn’t give up, Katie. My fight was nothing compared to yours, but I never gave in. I was only lucky that we caught it so early. Most are not so lucky. It doesn’t make sense to me that someone can fight as hard as you and others have done and not win. I will never understand that. My victory is a hollow one without you here. It’s like breaking the tape at the finish line and realizing you’re the only one who made it to the end.
Rest in peace, Irish Katie. Your fight is over, and we’ll miss you here on Earth, but you’ll always be in our hearts.
Your friend forever,