Chemo, the holidays, and kindness

I survived my first chemotherapy infusion.  I have a lot of feelings and observations about how it went.  Some aspects were perfectly fine and others were bad.

Best of all was that the physical effects weren’t terrible for me.  I expect that they will get worse as treatment goes on (I know the fatigue, in particular, tends to compound the more infusions you have), but for now everything is manageable.  While the drugs were dripping, I began to feel exhausted and this continued on for several days afterward.  The first day after my treatment (Saturday the 23rd) I felt well enough to run a few small errands with my mother, but I definitely paid the price for that over the next few days.

Throughout the holiday, I was mostly napping.  I got up to eat and I was, thanks to my four anti-nausea medications, able to enjoy all of the nice food, but the days mostly felt a bit wasted.  It’s difficult for me to feel like I’m wasting all of this time.  While I know that I have cancer and my body needs rest, this might be the last significant stretch of time I have off work for many years.  I have been hoping to make the best of it and enjoy it as much as possible.  For me, sleeping all day  isn’t fun and it makes me feel like I’m not being productive.  Hopefully I can manage to moderate the expectations I’ve set for myself and come to terms with what my body needs.

The most difficult aspects of recovering from my first chemotherapy treatment were personal and social.  The day itself was a bit tough because my father had insisted on going with me.  My father and I have a difficult relationship.  While he was (surprisingly) on his best behaviour, he just isn’t the type of person you want to be with you for something like chemotherapy.  He’s jumpy and manic and can’t settle down, and he expects you to entertain him.  I have had a lot of folks offer to come with me to chemo and my only request for everyone is that they bring something to entertain themselves in case I don’t feel like talking.  As I said above, I learned during my first infusion that the fatigue starts as the drugs are dripping, so this is even more necessary than I originally thought it would be.

It also didn’t help that he repeatedly asked me How does it feel? like I was a science project.

I was on the receiving end of a great deal of kindness over the holidays.  An old friend’s father, a testicular cancer survivor, dropped by to see me on Christmas Eve to visit.  One of my mother’s closest friends, a former coworker who is Taiwanese, came over on Christmas Day and brought, along with her family, a huge, home-cooked Chinese feast to share with my mother and I.  Mei’s husband, Jack, is also a cancer survivor, and had a great deal of advice and compassion to offer.

This all sounds great, but there were downsides as well.  While I was greatly moved by the kindness shown to me by my friends and family over the weekend, it was also difficult to process their treatment of me.  There was a lot of We should get going, you must be tired and you must be so exhausted after such an ordeal.  This is excluding all of the overly sympathetic looks hinting at my current fragility.  I can’t even begin to express how amazing it is that the people in my life are trying to be respectful of my condition and ensure that they’re not being burdensome, but I also am not going to fall apart or die at any second either.  This is definitely something that I will need to work out on my own.  I can’t expect everyone in my life to react exactly the way I want to my situation.

I think the crux of the problem is that I’m not accustomed to accepting greater gestures of kindness; though, to be honest I’m not sure anyone really is.  Day to day small things are typical for sure — my mother drives me somewhere for a small errand or my boyfriend helps me choose a lap desk.  More significant gestures of kindness are, I think, foreign to most of us.  How often does a friend cook us a beautiful Christmas dinner and bring it to our home so we don’t have to spend the holidays alone?  These things don’t happen every day and the people around you see you struggling, they tend to step up in ways that can make you feel a little uncomfortable.

It’s incredible isn’t it?  Generosity and kindness making me feel uncomfortable.  I don’t know whether I should be thrilled to receive it, or sad that it doesn’t happen regularly.  Or even worse, sad that it might stop when I get better.  As I said above, I think this is something I’m going to need to work through over the course of my treatment.

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Cancer and my friendships

Before I get started for today I should probably add a disclaimer stating that this post is about my friends that I know in person, most of whom I grew up with and have known for over twenty (20) years.  I should also point out that I have struggled to make new friends since I finished my Masters degree in 2008, mostly due to my being frequently unemployed and also having terribly low self-esteem.

Over the past few years my friends have mostly forgotten about me.  Years ago, I realized that I was always responsible for organizing everything.  I called everyone, I scheduled everything, I did all the work.  One day I decided that I would engage in a little experiment and stop working so hard, hoping that my friends would call and make plans with me instead.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work in my favour.

There are a lot of complicated reasons for why my friends drifted away from me.  Many  got married and had children and their lives became busier; some moved away; some just didn’t want to be friends with me anymore.  It probably didn’t help that I was single by choice and often unemployed.  This made me difficult to fit in at couple-focused social gatherings, often quite depressing, and sometimes a threat to insecure spouses and partners.  It was also, I think, hard for some of my friends who were interested in marriage in children to understand why I wasn’t particularly interested in those things and perhaps they felt like we didn’t have much in common.

This situation has changed drastically since my cancer diagnosis.

Recently, I’ve received a glut of messages and support from friends I had hardly heard from at all over the past five (5) to ten (10) years.  In many cases, the support and contact has been kind words and responses to my posts on social media.  This has been lovely.  It’s low-impact, I don’t have to talk to everyone personally, and I can be buoyed by the knowledge that there are a bunch of folks out there rooting for me and hoping that I will recover well.  This has helped me stay positive.

Even better are the work and school acquaintances who have come forward to me with their stories of surviving cancer.  The advice that they have offered me about living with cancer, such as managing the side effects of chemotherapy, has been incredibly helpful to me and I am terribly grateful that they reached out to share their wisdom.

I have also had some wonderful contact with friends I drifted from mutually due to distance.  After some heartening messages, it is my hope that I’ll be able to see some of those people when they next visit home.

While all of this is wonderful and I am grateful to all of the people who have reached out to me over the past two months, I do (reluctantly) have mixed feelings about some of it.  First, as someone who is accustomed to not being particularly high on people’s priority lists and to not having much social interaction, it can be a bit exhausting to respond to everyone.  This is especially true with some friends who have a tendency to be a bit overbearing and like me to operate on their pace and terms.  Being sick and run down doesn’t help with this either.

Second, and I don’t like admitting this, I do feel some resentment toward a few of my old friends.  It is frustrating to think that it took something so extreme to finally garner their attention, to move me up on their priority lists, and to be considered worthy of their time and attention.  The fact that I feel this way is troubling to me, but I think that after everything, it’s not entirely unnatural.  I hope that I will be able to get over this and, in time, repair some of those relationships.

Overall, I have been a bit overwhelmed by the support that everyone I know has offered me — in a good way.  Most of it has been tremendously helpful and all has been appreciated.  I start chemotherapy on Friday (December 22) and I will need all the strength I can get — both from within myself and from those who are rooting for me.