In The Neapolitan Novels, a wildly popular series of books about two friends growing up in Naples, Italy, one of the main characters uses the term “dissolving boundaries” to describe moments in her life when her connection to reality loosens, leaving her unmoored, lost, scared.
It’s an apt description of what it feels like to have breast cancer.
It’s an apt description of what my life is like these days.
I had my third round of chemotherapy this week. I’m taking a combination of two drugs over a 12-week period. Once a week, typically Mondays, I go to Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston for treatment. The chemo takes a few hours, with labs and appointments as bookends.
A friend who is a breast cancer survivor advised me to think of chemo as a “spa day,” which, despite my best efforts, I have been unable to do. It’s fair to say that the chemo nurses do everything possible to make you comfortable: they cover you with warm blankets, sit you in comfy chair in front of your own personal television to watch HGTV until you’re convinced renovating your house is a good idea, a lovely woman brings around snacks, there are cheesy magazines, and everyone oozes kindness – so, so much kindness.
But chemo is anxiety provoking and stressful. I wake the morning of chemo wishing it wasn’t that day, wishing I didn’t have to go into the hospital. I know it’s necessary to get better, but the days that follow chemo aren’t good, so I wake up with dread and a desperate desire to be anywhere else.
The chemo infusion itself isn’t bad; there’s mild discomfort from getting an IV inserted and sometimes the drugs going in feel weird – cold or even sharp. The experience isn’t awful. It’s the after that is. And, of course, the reason I’m there to begin with.
Another friend, also a breast cancer survivor, was quick to recommend that I never go to chemo by myself. I could travel there myself, but getting home, after all of the drugs in my system, would be better with someone else driving. My husband and friends are taking turns being my chemo buddies, and already the difference is striking. My friends make me laugh; with them, I work hard to be brave. With my husband, I am safe in a different way and more relaxed at letting the emotions come out. The mix is good for me; it’s a balancing act I am doing a lot these days: the exterior confidence, the internal fear and worry.
The days after chemo are what you might expect: they suck. I am exhausted, nauseous, achy, and uncomfortable. My gums hurt and I have an odd taste in my mouth. After the last two rounds, I spent the day after chemo in bed, binge watching television and being quiet, working to conserve energy for dinner with my family that night. Two days after chemo, it’s unclear. Last week, I felt good enough to cross things off my to do list at home, primarily paperwork, phone calls, and emails. This week, I was wiped out, while being simultaneously nauseous and hungry. Three days after chemo, I rally for kids. I shuttle them to gymnastics and piano, and maybe even boost myself to go to my book club or see a friend.
I’m not sure how I’m getting through this. Slowly? One day at a time? Every trite phrase comes to mind, and they are all true. With support, definitely. Also, with gratitude for all that is good in my life — and for tomorrow.