Deuces Wild.

Posted on August 13, 2014


IMG_9736It was apparent from the first consult with the radiologist, that the third week of treatment was going to be a benchmark of sorts. It didn’t disappoint.

With chemotherapy’s crippling nausea addressed and mostly behind me, I had the radiation side effects to prepare for; specifically, the radiation burn and diarrhea. The burn, akin to a severe sunburn, is just something that was going to happen. I was handed some skin cream, the knowledge that my bits and pieces were going to be fried, and told to keep an eye on it. Imagine the most awkward selfie in existence… now stop thinking about that because it’s gross. The other side effect, diarrhea, was caused simply by the radiation of my colon and rectum, causing them to malfunction (not pulling out as much water in the digestion process as they normally would).

The combination of these two things are what I really looked forward to.

Radiation is a cumulative process, which is why these symptoms didn’t occur as fast as the chemo’s nausea during the first week. Each treatment kills off a particular amount of cells, the healthy cells happen to be equipped with the ability to repair themselves, while the cancer cells aren’t. This process results in the slow accumulation of dead cancer cells into what I believe is something like scar tissue. The hope is that, over the course of whole treatment plan, all cancer cells are killed. Every single damn one.

I got to Wednesday of week three. Just when the two previous days gave me a sense that I may have side-stepped it all, radiation decided it was time to flex its muscles. The rest of the afternoon was a blur of white porcelain, sweating, and waterfalls… mostly in that order.

When in public, practice your bow-legged walking... as if you're in an outlaw gunfight.

When in public, practice your bow-legged walking… as if you’re in an outlaw gunfight.

As directed, I took an Imodium pill at first diarrhea, and monitored any further BM situations so I could make the necessary adjustments with the single weapon I had in my quiver. My sporadic sprints to the bathroom continued into the night.

After a surprisingly good sleep, I woke up, made Cassie her coffee (it’s the least I can do for her now that I’m off the coffee train), and settled onto the throne for my first deal-of-the-day. I thought the pattern from the previous day would continue… but the opposite was true. The very opposite.

That morning I gave birth to what must have been a 15.6 pound baby who nearly made me scream. It was the most bone-searing pain I have ever felt in my life. Once it was over, I caught my breath, wiped the sweat off my brow, and staggered into the kitchen… defeated. I was sapped of my energy, and exhausted of any hope I was going to dodge the bullet of radiation side effects.

The dosage of Imodium was the only logical reason for this change of stool situation (even though I took less than the recommended dose), so I placed that box in the back of the cupboard like an elementary school timeout. The only direction from here was to grab some electrolyte drinks and settle in for a long day in the bathroom. Like clockwork, I made the ceremonious march to the back of my house every two hours.

20140729_092328Each deuce was worse than the last. It was like pooping out liquid-hot magma. This kind of pain, in this kind of area, should not exist in this world. I shifted my weight, my push intensity, my breathing, my Zen mind, and any other strategy I conceived to ease the pain- a pain somewhere between battery acid and razor blades. There was no relief… and no end in sight. Through the weekend, I suffered through nearly double digit #2’s per day… none more pleasurable than pouring hot sauce into an open wound.

There was no skin cream that could help me.


This week was also the realization of sacrifice. Before this, I had bouts of feeling well enough to leave the house, see people, and feel normal for a little while before exhaustion would creep its way back and I’d be forced to resign myself to couch. Sometime during this week, I don’t exactly know when, I started to notice some of my hair. Some lone strands would show up in my hats after I took them off, or on my towel after I showered. Additionally, I started to understand the metallic taste people in treatment describe, and I noticed some shedding of my mouth skin. These cells are those kind of quickly-reproducing cells that chemo targets. None of this hurts, I don’t have any mouth sores (yet), and I won’t go completely bald, but seeing it happen, however small, made the gravity of my situation very tangible. It’s one of those, “holy shit. This isn’t just the flu” moments of clarity that will be forever with me.

It’s not just the physical toll, the social started to sink in, too. In July, I was bummed I couldn’t volunteer at the Folk Festival, though I felt well enough to briefly attended. I’m also lucky to have spent more time at the Butte 100 than I anticipated, but I still missed the start of both races. These are small but meaningful examples of my missing out on things important to me. This week I completely missed the AnRiRa Irish festival and the symphony concert under the stars. Both are great events that compose the fabric of what makes my home wonderful… and both events I could not be at.

This was my first real taste of sacrifice in the name of this illness; the first time I felt this illness dictate my life.

Perhaps this is one of those lessons you learn from having cancer. To live among shared joy and revelry, to contribute, to enjoy. Perhaps it’s that kind of lesson you hear cancer survivors talk about which helped them see and value more of this world, and to be a better person within it.

Perhaps, it is, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

folk fest

Posted in: Cancer