I have been noticing yet another dynamic of the cancer/chemo experience. I bruise and bleed MUCH more easily. My skin, especially my arms and hands it seems, are pretty much paper thin these days. In the two years of treatment, the skin in those areas has become more and more that way. I look at them- arms and hands- these days and they look 20 years older than they did then.
If I scratch my hand or arm the least little bit because of itching, what looks like a cross between a blood spot and a bruise crops up within a few hours. It then takes perhaps twice as long or longer to heal than it once did. And if, as it heals and starts to flake off, if I’m not careful and peal of the pieces of flaking skin too soon, it bleeds and then takes even longer to heal.
Now, just a quick aside. Before you start wanting to give me home remedies for counteracting that, thank you for your concern but I have tried them! In the end, it simply goes with the territory. My wife’s sister and her husband were here recently and she was sitting next to me holding my hand. I chuckled and said, “I have ‘old man’ hands’!”
As you know, I have tried to be transparent in this process- something that is hard for a private person like me. But I decided early on that “brutally honest” was simply necessary if this blog was going to have the impact it seems to be having. And with that in mind, perhaps the ONE thing I would want you to best understand about chemo is that it is NOT for sissies. When we first started it, we did so in tandem with radiation treatments. And for a while, I remember thinking, “Gosh- this simply isn’t that bad.”
But over time, those treatments, and their impact on your body, start to accumulate. If you could just get the chemo, have it take a few days to move through your body and then put you back to “normal”, it wouldn’t be so bad. But it doesn’t work that way. It builds up…or at least the effects of it build up. And the longer you are on it, the greater toll it takes on your body.
I know people who have simply refused to have any chemo treatments. They’ve seen the impact it has on others and they decide it’s not worth it. I get that. Everybody has to make that decision for themselves because, in the end, it’s about A. can it cure me? and B. quality of life. For me personally, the doctors have no illusion that these treatments are going to cure me. They only continue them because they have run out of other options and I haven’t said, “I’m done.”
But when it comes that “I’m done” declaration, everyone has been clear- it’s my decision. The doctors AND my wife have said all along that I get to make that call and they will respect whatever that call is. And I have also been clear that I greatly appreciate that support. But I have also been clear with my wife that, as far as I am concerned, if there comes a time when I am ready to say, “I’m done”, that is a decision she and I will share. It’s OUR decision. Why? A. she deserves that inclusion and B. it greatly impacts her as well.
So, what is the moral of today’s story? When you see an older adult, a middle-aged adult, a younger adult or- Heaven forbid- a child who is undergoing chemotherapy, you are seeing the tip of an iceberg. The average iceberg that is afloat has about 7/8th of its mass UNDER the water- “invisible”. Much the same could be said about chemo patients. You probably see them on their better or best days. Their families and their medical professionals see them on their worst days, too. They see them passed out in the chemo chair, not able to string together two coherent sentences because of the effects of the drugs. They see them staggering down the hall of the cancer center, pushing an IV “Christmas Tree” as they head to the bathroom- trying to hurry and make it back and get hooked back up to the blood pressure machine before the next timed check. They see them trying to psych themselves up simply to make up or down a flight of stairs. They see them struggling with what to eat and them impact it has on them. That “little old lady” who is undergoing chemo is WAY stronger that you might think she is. In fact, she might be strong than…you. Just another perspective!
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