In yesterday’s post I mentioned how the poems of my family’s journey through cancer quickly became more than our story. Members of my critique groups made comments or asked questions that made me realize what was normal for us wasn’t at all for those who have never experienced cancer, chronic illness or care-giving. That was a tiny window opened to me. These are some of the windows opened to my friends.
A new normal. Something that was hard to explain was how cancer treatment didn’t disrupt our life. For those 2-3 years it became our life. There was stress for sure, but life wasn’t chaotic. It was orderly and unpredictable – like life usually is. The rhythm of our days was orchestrated by what and when meds had to be dispensed. The tapestry of our weeks was woven by clinic visits and hospital stays. Activities were directed by blood counts. It didn’t take long to fall into step with the Clinic Dance.
When we were hit by something unexpected we’d go to Plan B, and there was always a Plan B.
Baldness can be cute and stylish, other side effects not so much. Baldness is the outward sign someone is going through chemo. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an unattractive cancer patient. Baldness seems to enhance their natural beauty. Nausea and vomiting are also expected, though sitting on the bathroom floor of Sears as your child heaves into a shopping bag is not the image most people have. Fatigue for patients is standard; care-givers have their share of this side effect too.
Other side effects caught my friends by surprise. The sense of smell becomes a super power for many cancer patients. The most tantalizing aromas of food or the subtle scents of perfume can be their kryptonite causing stomachs to turn. And often they can smell things we other mere humans cannot.
Doing schoolwork was a challenge during certain phases of chemo or when Gabrielle was hooked to a drip. I watched the fog descend behind her eyes and she’d look at me like I’d just started speaking in a foreign language. Luckily her inquisitiveness remained and she continued to learn. Though I have no idea how!
And mood swings! A Bitter Little Pill called Prednisone was called ‘the grumpy pill’ in our house. Imagine PMS on steroids. My delightful little girl became a screaming banshee with bouts of crying fits mixed with rage. And the drug made her ravenous. I kept cooked and de-boned chickens in the refrigerator for her midnight raids.
Yes, I’m a cancer survivor but… Gabrielle is petite but this is a big ‘but’ for her. When people ask about my boys it’s ‘How are the boys doing?!’ with a lilt and expectation in their voices. Then the voice drops and a seriousness creeps in when they follow with, ‘And how’s your daughter?’ I understand the concern, but she’s been off therapy for almost 20 years. Gabrielle is proud to be a cancer survivor, but she’s also proud of what she’s accomplished since.
When I submitted the first batch of poems to my editor, a woman I’ve known for years, one of her first questions was, ‘How did I not know this about you?’ It’s because that window closed for us years ago. In the grand stretch of life cancer was A Brief Encounter.
This series ends tomorrow with The Creation of a Poetry Collection Part 3: It’s Not About Me. I hope you’ll come back and peek in A Writer’s Window.