There’s something almost guilty about laughing so much. Then again there’s something almost psychotic about laughing one hour and crying the next.
Or maybe this is normal. As in, Chemo Normal.
Perhaps my guilt for laughing so much now is due to #37 on my growing list of, “Crap They Don’t Tell You About Chemo”: Heartburn.
Chemo Heartburn is worse than Pregnancy Heartburn. At least with pregnancy the searing pain has a noble cause and you know exactly when it will cease to be an issue.
Chemo Heartburn, I observe, is worse than the severe heartburn I get when I unwittingly overdose on acidic fruits, alcohol, chocolate and caffeine only to wake up in the middle of the night to circle the house in pain, desperate to be horizontal again.
Chemo Heartburn adds freaking insult to injury. The irony of having to feel so sick and be in so much pain in order to feel better—hell to survive– rises up with the acid and bile and lodges in your throat and sets fire to your chest. This is what I learned an hour ago, right after I confirmed my flight to go home in two days.
CC shuffled down the hall to the living room where I was reviewing a script about outcast teenagers complete with senseless blood and gore. (Spoiler alert: That one will never sell.) She sat down on the two steps facing me. Then she pushed herself back up and started circling the room. She stopped to catch her breath, clutch her chest and talk in clipped, whispering tones. Usually she speaks quite animatedly…the last few days a bit slower…but now she’s downright quiet. She’s struggling to breathe through the pain, desperate for relief. Exhausted, but unable to lay down lest the pain become even worse.
Her current heartburn prescriptions weren’t working. Her doctor was researching ulcer medications. But in the meantime, she paced– hunched over, hand to chest. And then? Then, way earlier in the game than either of us would have predicted, she sinks down, sits on the steps and she says it.
“I don’t think I can do this.”
And immediately the snarky voice in my head thinks, Like you have a choice?
And immediately the realization drills into me that she has no choice but to endure this hateful, chemical attack on her body and I fucking hate it for her. Hate it.
And then I feel something I’ve never experienced in a caregiving situation: fear.
I am scared.
Scared for the very long year ahead (it just got longer).
Scared to let CC be alone at night (let alone daytime).
Scared to be the healthy, responsible adult in the house (she’s always the confident, can-do one).
When she finally looks up and meets my eyes, I see the surrender. In the last two months she’s endured multiple scans, three surgeries and just the first of six rounds of chemo. With a year of chemo, radiation, infusions and God knows what else looming, my gorgeous, non-stop hard working, Fitness Barbie friend finally succumbs to her human frailty. It is at this moment that Action Mode overrides my fear. I make an executive decision. “I’m changing my flight,” I say, bracing for an argument. CC likes to be independent, plus her husband is due home from Italy in five days (they’re still kinda newlyweds) but only home for 2 before he leaves again to deliver the eulogy at his mother’s memorial service. (I know, right?)
“I’m not leaving Wednesday,” I announce all brave-like. Then I cower a wee bit, “I’m not comfortable with you being here alone at night even if you have people who can stop in during the day.”
To my relief, surprise and then sad realization of how bad she must feel to cave so quickly–CC doesn’t argue with me.
Instead, we sit and wait for the doctor to call back saying he’s prescribed a new medicine to take twice a day and another every four hours prior to meals (as if any Chemo Chick can know she’ll be able to eat four hours from any given point).
We talk about whether she’ll be able to drive to UCLA tomorrow night to teach her novel writing class. My gut tells me no, but I don’t want to add another thumb squashing to her mood tonight. So I tell her I’ll drive her and stay with her there in case she needs to bail early. She agrees with a shrug that says this is her new Normal. Chemo Normal.
And in an attempt to save a tiny particle of her former in-control self, I say what I’ve begun to say quite often: “Let’s see how you feel tomorrow.”