Monday, December 16, 2013

My New Year's Rockin' Chemo Eve

           I have a date this New Year’s Eve.
           With a dude named Chemo.
           (Funny how that sounds like a real name—perhaps the shady guy who hangs around the registers at ShopRite, hitting on the baggers, but doesn’t actually seem to be employed there.)
           Anyway, this is the official start of my 16-week regimen. Because I plan to work during my treatment, Tuesdays were apparently the way to go. I’d get my infusion that day, theoretically be fine for a couple of days, then crash Friday afternoon, suffer the worst of any effects over the weekend, then climb out of the hole at the start of the new work week. Actually, it sounds not unlike my college years. In any case, I’m sure it will be simply delightful—or, as the oncologist so delicately put it, “You’re going to want to forget all about these next few months.” He also warned me that Christmas would probably be miserable if I started before then. So New Year’s Eve it was. Although, that meant I’d be out of it for my birthday. But if it meant I got many more birthdays, so be it.

           The receptionist in the doctor’s office noticed the start date as she set up my appointment. “Wait. That’s New Year’s Eve. Do you want me to see if you can start the following Tuesday?” I stared at her. Clearly she was one of those people who made plans on New Year’s Eve. Having two children under the age of 5, I was not. If I showered and brushed my teeth that day, it would be more of a miracle than if Dick Clark showed up to host another “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” special.
            “No,” I said. “That’s fine. Really.” If allowed, I might keep putting it off. “No, I’m sorry. I can’t start that day. It’s the Epiphany. I'm sorry, what? Actually, January is out for me. It’s National Polka Month and I’ll be on the road a lot with my band. I’m the lead accordion player, you know.”
I will not be partaking in Times Square festivities this year.
But then again, I never do. So take THAT, cancer. BAM!
My double mastectomy was a big deal, physically and emotionally. But chemo—this was a whole other enchilada. While I could conceal relatively well the scars from surgery, it wouldn’t be so easy to hide chemo’s effects. I could wear a wig to keep my cue ball head under wraps, but in reality, you can still tell when someone’s undergoing treatment. It’s there, on that person’s face.
Waiting to be called in to see the oncologist, I saw a couple of women who I could only surmise had advanced cancers. Their legs were painfully thin, their faces gaunt. But still they smiled and wished the oncology nurses and fellow patients a merry Christmas and happy New Year. They had obviously grown very familiar with each other. I felt like the new kid on the block.
Whenever I walk into that waiting room, I do get some curious stares. Face devoid of makeup, I still look kind of young. And the reality is, I am too young to be there, at least by the law of medical averages. The average age of breast cancer diagnosis was 64, and I beat that by almost three decades.
During this recent appointment, the oncologist told me to be prepared for what women find the most challenging: hair loss. I would officially snag the title of “Baldest LaBruna” from my daughter, Nora. That would happen at about three weeks out from the first treatment, so I needed to start thinking soon about wigs or head coverings. From what it sounds like, many insurance companies make you pay up front for the pricey wigs, then reimburse you. It's adding insult to injury, shelling out the dough as you attempt to pretend everything is completely normal, like you’d normally be sporting a hairstyle borrowed from “The Facts of Life.” (I know there are better wigs out there, but the Jo Polniaczek line is probably more in my price range.)
I’ll have my ovaries removed not too long after chemo ends, which will prompt menopause and all its hair-thinning glory. So now I’m wondering whether my hair will grow back at all. Will I be relegated to looking like a baby ostrich for the rest of my life? I guess if it’s a long life, looking like a washed-up ‘80s sitcom star or a strange bird wouldn’t be such a raw deal.
Perspective, people, perspective.


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