I prepared again yesterday to face the beast of chemo #5. And my sister-in-law Julie drove back down to help take care of me during the chemo-aftermath.
When they accessed my port to do a blood draw- I made the nurses pray over it — telling them they better ensure a high white blood cell count.
After waiting for what seemed like forever, my oncologist walked into the waiting room shaking his head, “your blood is being lazy. Your counts are still at 800.” (They need to be at 1,000 for treatment.) (I have been fighting a dental infection that is not helping the cause).
He went on to explain, but my mind went fuzzy. Basically chemo #5 was cancelled. Not postponed, not delayed another week — just canceled. I would still receive the two targeted drug therapies for my specific form of cancer, but not have the chemo drugs. I would still have my last round on April 1st. He assured me that my white blood cells would be up by then. He assured me that this was a safe plan because I have an early stage cancer, and have been so receptive to the targeted therapies (the tumor can no longer be felt in my breast).
Part of me celebrated. Yes! No chemo! No chemo! No lead in my veins pinning me to the couch. No sluggish weight pulling me under. No sleepless nights full of heartburn, body aches, and racing thoughts. No chemo!
And part of me freaked. No chemo? What if the cancer cells regroup, and attack? No chemo? What if the tumor grows back? No chemo?
A friend of mine who is also walking this journey often reminds me that the mental part of this battle is more strenuous than the physical. And that’s saying a lot, because the physical part is hell. And it’s the truth.
Fear is constantly waiting in the shadows to pounce, to pull me under, to drown me in doubt. It strikes in moments of weakness, and leaves me breathless.
But faith is there, too. It has flickers, and flashes of light. And when I let it, those flickers turn to flames flooding the shadows with brightness. It strikes in moments of weakness, and leaves me breathless.
It is hard to fight fear. It is hard because there are a million and one things that could go wrong at any given moment. When I gave birth to Alex six and a half years ago, I also gave birth to an endless amount of worry. Here was this precious little life, so fragile, so vulnerable. I began to worry about all of things that might happen. It didn’t help that I had a life threatening blood clot extending from my belly button to my knee. My seamless life had ripped open. Bad things could in fact happen to me. And they had.
I started struggling with moments of panic and fear. Was the clot moving? Was it in my lung? Would I have a stroke? Would I die and leave my son motherless? These were real concerns. All of it was possible.
After 10 months of blood thinner shots twice a day in my stomach, the clot dissolved — and so did much of my anxiety. Miraculous things could in fact happen to me. And they had.
Since then, anxiety has popped its ugly head in and out of my life. Joel joked that I was the queen of worst case scenarios, and would often say to me, “Melissa, just because it is possible, does not mean it is probable.”
A weird mole was skin cancer. A tick bite was lyme disease. Two tiny cuts on my wrist — clearly a snake bite. A deep ache in my leg was the return of the blood clot. If Joel wasn’t home on time, he had obviously died in a car accident.
I spent a lot of mental energy trying to divorce anxiety. I had made a lot of progress.
And then I found the lump. And I talked myself off the cliff, it was not cancer, it was a cyst.
But it was cancer.
I am living one of my worst case scenarios.
And what I’ve learned is that my fear didn’t prepare for this journey, but my faith did. What I want for myself is less worry, less fear, less anxiety, less imagining the worse case scenario. I want to chose light.
This is the opposite of easy, and when you are physically worn down by months of fighting cancer, and you have only 800 white blood cells, and you have some stupid dental infection to top it off — it seems impossible not to chose fear. To not imagine those jagged cancer particles reproducing and destroying all of my progress.
But I will not go there. Not this time. I will chose light. I will imagine my healthy cells reproducing and creating new life.
Worst case scenarios serve no purpose. They are a waste of mental energy. I simply do not have time for them any more. I am walking through one of my worst case scenarios, and I am finding ways to make the journey feel purposeful, and transformative.
So. No chemo # 5.
I get to take a breath, a pause, a water break. I will rest, and get rid of this infection. I will sit outside in the sunlight. I will listen to good music, take warm baths, read books, visit with friends, love my children, share laughter with my husband, and envision all those healthy cells repopulating.
The brown of winter will fade,
The green of spring will invade,