I have to be honest. Cancer is terrible. The commercials on TV…The ones where pretty bald ladies high-five each other, all wearing pink, as they finish a 5K… The ones where sick children are smiling as they hug each other… They show a tiny portion of what cancer is like. Those moments are beautiful and look really great on fundraising commercials. But, here’s the truth: cancer is ugly. It is scary and painful and dark.
And, though it isn’t constant, I need to describe the darkness—the deep, terrifying, spiral of depression that swallowed me over the past two weeks. This is a collection of notes and thoughts that I made between four-hour naps and vomiting spells.
Monday — It feels like I have been I have been sleeping for days. I’m not sure what day it is. But, I’m getting more chemo tonight, so it has to be Monday. I hope the nurse can find a vein this time. And, I hope I get home before 10 pm this time. I’m exhausted. My head is pounding. And, I feel like I could cry any minute now.
Tuesday — Tonight, I could hear giggles and tiny high-pitched voices in the next room. I listened. Then I pulled the bed sheets over my head, tears streaming down my face, as I hide from motherhood. It’s like the sounds I hear are a heartbreaking reminder of the life that I feel like I am losing.
Wednesday — My husband looks exhausted—like he’s about to step into the ring for a fight he knows he is going to lose. He doesn’t know what to say or how to pull me out of this hole. Looking at him… His sad green eyes. His defeated posture. It makes me angry. I am so angry that this kind and handsome man is spending his days worrying over me. I want him to go back to living. I feel like such a burden. I want to die so he can start healing. He can’t heal if I’m sucking the life out of him.
Friday — We both openly mourn the loss of our former life. We used to sip good wine while grilling steaks, basking in the sunshine, Marley playing in the background… We didn’t know how good we had it: living the simple life, the carefree life. In fact, rarely did we just savor the moment. We were often dreaming up new ideas… “We need some plants in that corner… We should plan a trip somewhere tropical… We need to start dieting, get back to exercising…” More, more, more… This is good, but it could be great! Why didn’t I appreciate the moment?
Now, I’m afraid of the sun. After receiving thirty-two radiation treatments, I’m at a much greater risk of skin cancer. I’m afraid of grilled meats. The delicious charred fatty marbling that makes a ribeye so heavenly is carcinogenic. I’m afraid of wine. The latest research shows that drinking even a few glasses of alcohol per week increases the risk of breast cancer. Everything we used to enjoy is terrifying. Life is terrifying.
After one session, my doctor cancelled my remaining radiation treatment. See, I have a tumor wrapped around my pelvic bone. In order to treat that tumor, my bowels would be exposed to radiation. After one session, I was vomiting, had intense lower abdominal pain, and problems controlling my bowels. Chemo is bad enough. Now, I’m pooping my pants?! (This is when we all start singing “Jesus, take the wheel…”)
Why am I doing all of this? Why am I going through chemotherapy to feel sick and exhausted and depressed and terrified? I’m doing this to have a chance at life.
I’m doing this because on Wednesday I learned that without chemotherapy, my body wouldn’t survive for six months. I didn’t dare ask the doctor how long I have with chemotherapy. That’s information that I am just not ready to hear. I would rather vomit and hope and pray that I will be an outlier—a case that will be featured in medical journals for years to come. I want to be that woman whose body was being hijacked by tumors…cancer growing at a rapid rate…no one expected her to survive—yet here she is, twenty years later.
Friends text. Can I come over? I want to see you. Let’s go to dinner.
They have no idea that the thought of showering and riding in the car and walking into someone else’s home or a restaurant terrifies me. The idea of small talk that turns into heavy-talk that turns into crying and hugging makes me shutter. I love my friends. And, I appreciate them so much. But, this is so heavy. And, I don’t think anyone really understands.
But, I also don’t want to sit and chit-chat and pretend that THIS isn’t happening. Let’s talk about the Today Show and mindless banter and ignore the bruised and bony elephant in the room… I’m tired of being the elephant. I long for my life before cancer…a life that is gone forever.
Saturday — I opened my eyes this morning and smiled. The fog was lifted today. I got out of bed and walked into the kitchen.
“Oh, wow!” My husband said, “Your eyes look different. How do you feel this morning?”
I smiled. “I feel really good, I think.” He handed me a cup of coffee.
Everything felt different. I held my head up high. I sipped the coffee. My babies cuddled next to me on the couch. The coffee splashed over the rim of my mug and spilled onto the sleeve of my robe. It was hot. I smiled. It didn’t matter. I was out of the darkness.
We had a full family day.
My two year old napped in my arms. It had been two weeks since we had shared this closeness. It became obvious that it was something we both needed.
As she nuzzled into my shoulder, I buried my face into her soft brown curls. I breathed in my baby. The soft rhythm of her breath was hypnotic. I closed my eyes and whispered, “thank you, God.”
See, for about eight days in a row, I literally wanted to die. I felt like a burden: a mess of a person who was taking up space and wreaking havoc on anyone who dared come near.
I talked to my team of doctors and my therapist. I was very frank. I knew that this was not me. It was the drugs.
I was diagnosed with Stage 4 disease on June 1st. Since receiving that terrible diagnosis, I have been positive and hopeful. It hasn’t been easy. But, I managed to remain faithful.
But, once I started chemo, everything changed. That’s when the darkness started. My hair is starting to fall out. My body is covered with bruises. And, I felt a depression that was so overwhelmingly strong that it was hard for me to remember what is real and what isn’t.
Side effects may include… Isn’t that what they say on the commercials? Those glossy commercials that show the lady walking her dog or the man playing golf with his buddies… The commercials don’t show the darkness. That’s not the kind of stuff we like to talk about. It makes us uncomfortable. And, it doesn’t sell.
As for me, I will do my best to tell the truth, MY truth. I have a feeling that I’m not the only one out there who is hurting and hiding from life. The darkness is temporary, even though it doesn’t feel that way. And, I will endure the darkness over and over for those beautiful little moments of grace and love.
I’ll close with words from one of my favorite soul singers, the lovely India Arie. The song is called “This Too Shall Pass.”
Love and blessings to you. — Veronica
Sometimes the beat is so loud in my heart
That I can barely tell our voices apart
Sometimes the fear is so loud in my head
That I can barely hear what God says
But then I hear a whisper that this too shall pass
I hear the angels whisper that this too shall pass
My ancestors whisper that this day will one day be the past
So I walk in faith that this too shall pass