Friday, February 24, 2006

Which Way the Wind Blows

To oversimplify things, here's the basic deal with chemo:
  1. Day 1: I have treatment.

  2. Remainder of Week 1: Most acute side effects hit.

  3. Week 2: Most acute side effects pass, others may arise. White blood counts drop, putting me at risk for infections.

  4. Week 3: White blood counts bounce back. I generally feel fabulous (relatively speaking), right in time to start all over again.
That was the pattern last time, anyway, and it's what I was told to expect this time around. Usually the first three-week cycle is a relatively good predictor for the ones to follow, with the caveat that some side effects—like fatigue—may be cumulative. And, of course, there are no guarantees. ("Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.")

So what do I mean by acute side effects? Nausea (no—hooray!), fatigue (yes), bad taste in my mouth (yes), fuzzy-headedness (in spades), tingling in my hands and feet (not so far, but it happened last time), hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms (ditto), muscle and joint pain (ditto), mouth sores (yes), digestive-tract issues (big time), hair loss (any day/week now), finger- and toenails that get soft or brittle or discolored or fall out (no), changes in appetite (yes), nosebleeds from dried-out nasal passages (two so far), and, well, there are probably others, but that's enough for now.

The side effects come and go, and it occurred to me the other day that they're a lot like weather fronts. One will blow in, stick around for a few days, and leave. Another will linger. A third will barely register. I'm trying to pay attention to them so I'll have some idea what to expect during the next three-week cycle, and the four after that.

The problem, of course, is that I can't predict anything this time around, so every day is a surprise.

Imagine, if you will, a world in which meteorologists didn't exist. You'd have no Weather Channel, no forecasts in the newspaper or on the radio or on TV, no Farmer's Almanac (and no Punxsutawney Phil) to guide you. You'd wake up in the morning and there might be two feet of snow on the ground, or it might be 60 degrees outside, or there might be a windstorm (all of these things happened here in New York last week). You wouldn't be able to plan in advance when to replace your roof, or wash your car, or head up to Vermont for a weekend of skiing. You wouldn't be able to organize a barbecue or a picnic or a camping trip ahead of time (OK, if you were hard-core, you'd probably plan the camping trip no matter what).

You wouldn't know when to finally put your winter clothes away and break out the shorts. You wouldn't know when to pull the storm windows out and put the screens in. You wouldn't even know whether to grab an umbrella as you walked out the door.

Maybe you are one of those carefree creatures who likes that kind of uncertainty. Maybe you thrive on not knowing what each day will bring. Maybe you are a genuine free spirit, perfectly attuned to the mysteries of the universe.

Maybe you and I have absolutely nothing in common.

Because I, on the other hand, crave order in my life. I like to know what to expect, and when to expect it. I like to make plans and hate to break them because something came up at the last minute. (This does not mean that I am a total control freak. I like to do things spur-of-the-moment. I can be spontaneous. I can play things by ear. Just not everything, all the time.)

So it's hard for me to live in a perpetual state of limbo, waiting to see how I feel each day—each hour, sometimes—before figuring out what I can do, where I can go, whom I can see. I hate having to append "depending on how I feel" to pretty much every sentence I utter or write. I hate the fact that my calendar—the old-fashioned, paper kind—is full of scribbled-out appointments and events. It drives me crazy that I can't buy tickets to the theater—or to a movie—with any degree of certainty that I'll be able to make it to—or through—the show.

Today, Zach and I were supposed to drive up to Phoenicia to meet with a contractor, check in on the house, and maybe sit by the fire and relax for a couple of hours. Just a day trip—nothing too ambitious. But I haven't been up there in almost two months, and I was looking forward to a little dose of serenity. And a pretty drive with great car tunes on the iPod. And a look at the space where our kitchen used to be (it's been ripped out to the studs). And maybe even a stop at Woodbury Commons to pick out new towels for our new purple bathroom. All very pedestrian, but incredibly appealing to me.

And then I woke up this morning with a cold. I was coughing earlier in the week, and yesterday I started sneezing. Today I'm congested, and my nose is running. Nothing life-threatening—nothing that would even have kept me home from work a year ago—but enough that I knew I had to call my doctor's office and check in. So I did.

Which is why I'm sitting here, on the couch, in my pajamas instead of showered and dressed and halfway to the Catskills, having one of those great car talks with Zach while one of his custom playlists keeps us company.

Rest, drink lots of fluids, and don't go too far—those are my orders. And Phoenicia is too far. So Zach is heading up alone, due back in time for dinner. And I will be communing with my couch (again), sitting by the TV instead of the fire.

In the grand scheme of things, it's not a big deal. The house isn't going anywhere, and we can make the trip together another day. The only question, as always, is when.


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