Nobody Dies From This
I ask too many questions. That’s always what has gotten me into trouble. And it’s what happened just before Jackie dropped by with her gluten-free baked ziti and salad. She bustled in burdened with bags and an industrial-sized aluminum tin bearing a huge grin that lit up her whole face.
“Hi-ii.” She had a habit of drawing out the greeting into two long notes, but by the time she reached the second one, she saw through my own plastered smile that something had happened. Most people couldn’t see through my best Southern-bred smile, but Jackie always could.
Her own smile went from genuine to frozen in an instant for the benefit of the kids while she mouthed “What happened?” She tossed everything onto the tile countertop without a second glance and placed her newly unburdened hands on both of my arms, looking up and searching my face for unsaid words.
“Bedroom” she whispered, and we hustled down the hallway before I let it all out in an escalating mode of panic. It was my classic holding it together until someone asked me how I was.
The surgeon had just called about some ultrasound results. He told me how he found the positive node by feel instead of the normal indicators and it seemed to make him nervous, as if it could have been easily missed. He was deliberating between continuing to cut away at lymph nodes and starting chemo right away. He wasn’t completely satisfied with either option, and his brutally honest answers to more of my “what if” questions had made me unhappy about the choices too.
Finally, when I got it all out, I stood in front of Jackie, full of fear and questions, “What if it’s already spread past the nodes? We know it’s on the move because it got that far. It could be anywhere. He said blood, bones… brain…” I stumbled over the last word, an image of my mother’s motionless body lying in the hospital room flashing through my head.
“Aime, look at me. We don’t know that. We don’t know that it’s spread. It probably hasn’t. There’s nothing that has happened yet that’s gotten you out of that high success rate.
I know you’re worried about your mom, but this is totally different. Just do what the doctors say and you’ll be fine.”
“But they’re not sure what’s best. What if they made the wrong choice? What if it doesn’t work? It's too soon for me! Even Mom got to see all of her children married and so many grandchildren. I can’t leave yet! I can’t leave the kids. They still need me. Scott will be okay after a while, maybe even Catherine can live on with some scars, but Wesley will not be okay! He is too young, he is too emotional. He still needs me. He will not be okay.” Tears started flowing freely as I shook and held onto Jackie.
I gulped some air and wiped my face a little, letting out a nervous laugh, “I’m losing it. Tell me nobody dies from this anymore, right? Nobody!”
Jackie looked back straight into my eyes, still holding both of my arms. “Nobody dies from this.” God love her. We both knew she was lying, but she did it convincingly for me.
I pulled myself together and we started back toward the kitchen. She stopped me. “Aime, more importantly you will not die from this.”
Maybe that last part I could believe.
I spent a couple more days shuffling around the house with my left arm pinned against my side trying to recover, but I still had not hired a babysitter to help out with after-school care. I placed an ad on a childcare service I used explaining my circumstances and hoped to find someone who would be comfortable taking care of the kids while I was around. It was a tall order compared to the college kids I usually hired. I needed someone who wouldn’t be squeamish about my being sick, who could act normal around the kids, who could drive them around and pick them up from school and help out with light housekeeping.
I got a few responses, but one turned out to be much more than potential childcare. Our email exchange went off like rapid fire:
To: Aime Card
From: Laura Z
My name is Laura and I live in San Carlos.
I may be available to help you but most important, I just wanted you to know in case this is your first time with Chemo? I have been through this too.
I had a lumpectomy, chemo and radiation. How I dealt with cancer was to act like it wasn’t a big deal. It was a bump in the road. I was very clear on my intention that…leaving this planet before I am 93 is not an option.
That I believe was the best attitude to have for myself and our 6 kids.
Yes! .....This SUCKS! ....
But it’s only a year from our lives where things will be ridiculous around here.
We will get through this and we will all learn great strength and compassion from it.
So that is the Gift you get from cancer.
Also tripping around the house in your jammies for months isn’t so bad either.
Everyone processes their fears together as a family.
It’s such a teaching time. When they are older they will be the brave friends that are capable of showing up when someone needs them.
Getting the best nutrition into your body and staying hydrated is crucial also.
I never lost my appetite, damn it!! I think I was the first woman to gain mass amounts of weight during chemo! And I still have it. Ugh!
I'll send you some photos.
I cut my hair short, then when it started to fall out I went to the barber shop and shaved it. Nothing felt right to me on my head except a bandana. I didn’t want to wear a wig because I think it helps other women know they can go through it and be fine. No need to hide it for others comfort. What about mine? Lol. A bandana felt better than a wig. That’s a personal choice everyone makes. It surprised me how significant it felt.
If you want I can come by for 30 minutes and we can chat some more if you think I could be helpful.
I eagerly kept up the exchange, loving her candid approach and upbeat energy. We ultimately determined the timing didn’t work out, but we kept in touch via email.
To: Aime Card
From: Laura Z
I would love to be your chemo buddy if you like.
The first several treatments are no big deal at all. By my last couple of treatments I insisted on going alone and driving myself. The nurses are so nice and you are just chilling in your chair like you would be on an airplane but there is an IV in your hand. Bring things to keep you busy or rest or sleep.
The tougher part for me came toward the end when the skin on my tongue got raw.
(But they give you stuff for that) I had several bloody nose instances. I broke out with itchy bumps. Basically the build up of the chemo in your system taking its toll on the rest of your body.
I got very cranky feeling. Not toward the family, but my body felt antsy and it made me want to scream. Like I drank 20 cups of coffee and had bad anxiety.
My husband would come home from work and I would just want to crawl in his pocket and cry. Then he would remind me our friends gave me medicinal marijuana. I would take one hit and EVERYTHING was better! I swear By it and recommend it for everyone to have on hand.
Ha ha, you were looking for a nanny and you found a drug pusher.
I'm going to send you some photos of me before, bald and after that you can show the kids. Then if I come over to meet them they will see I am back to normal and you will be too.
And PS, all of our kids are grown and five are out of the area. My husband had four and I had two. This was a second marriage for both of us. Like the Brady Bunch. Lol, When I went through cancer in 2010 we had 3 at home. I managed fine.
I will send photos ASAP!
I pored over Laura’s photos and words, hoping and believing that my experience could be like hers. It almost sounded like fun the way she described it. I had thought about the prospect of pot making the whole process easier. I had heard that it could be helpful with nausea for chemotherapy, but I thought it might be even better to help me chill out. There could be advantages to living in California where medical marijuana was legal, after all. I started doing some research, and after seeing the results of studies that had shown a significant decrease in tumor size in mice, I was willing to give it a try.
That Saturday morning Scott and I drove to a medical marijuana clinic right in downtown San Carlos, and after a quick meeting with the doctor, I officially had my pot card. I still keep it in my wallet for fun.
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