I’m No Longer Tethered

Before cancer I really had no idea what chemotherapy was. I mean, I knew there were different chemotherapy drugs, but were they pills? Injections? Infusions? It turns out that they are all these things and more, plus there are various ways to get those drugs into your body.

I was so naive when my doctors started telling me about all of the ‘in’s’ and ‘out’s’ of the treatment process. I remember thinking that it didn’t all sound too bad. I would get some shots, take lots of pills, get an IV line called a Central Venous Line put in my chest that feeds into my heart (obviously the most frightening part) and a chemo bag. That last one didn’t even register as significant. Chemo bag? That doesn’t sound very threatening.

Well, it is threatening, and it is the worst, most frustrating and annoying part of this whole process. When my treatment began each time I came up here, my nurses and APNs would fill my ugly black rectangular bag with 4 different liquid chemo meds controlled by two battery powered pumps. One pump controls adriamycin, also known as the red devil, and the other pump controls a mixture of cysplatin, cytoxin, and etiposide. Then I have two pill forms and two IV push chemos…but, back to the bag.

Once the drugs are in the bag, the nurse attaches the corresponding IV from each bag into the correct lead going into my heart. My body, my HEART, is literally tethered to that bag. (There have been several occasions I’ve forgotten about the bag and walked off, only to be reminded by the not so subtle yank to my CVL.). I have to take it everywhere. To the bathroom, the store, I have to figure out how to get my clothes on and around/between the lines and bag. It’s in bed with me, and it tries to lull me to sleep with its constant ‘swish-swish’,’swish-swish’. For five whole days! I loath that bag…and I NEVER have to use it again!!

Yesterday was my last bag day! The feeling is so freeing. No more being tethered. No more rearranging to make sure it is in an optimal position. No more quiet ‘swish-swish’ in my ear that always seems to keep me awake. See ya later, alligator! Sorry to say, but you won’t be missed!

“And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43

Listen Closely

Another round of chemotherapy has come and gone since I last blogged.  That means that the beginning of a head of hair has come and gone, as well.  Actually, I’m working on what will hopefully be the last head of hair to fall out.  If everything goes as planned I’m thinking that I will have a good head start in actually keeping my hair around mid-March.  I should only lose it one more time…because I only have ONE more round of the big chemo!  It has been a full year since I was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, and I’m nearly done with this part! Hallelujah!  (I should start my 3 years of maintenance chemo in OKC around mid-March)

Mom and I drive to Little Rock on Monday.  I have several days of testing, then chemo hookup on Thursday.  The LAST chemo hookup!  Looking back over the year, this day seemed so unreachable, yet here I am.  This year was full of heartache, full of pain, full of doubt, full of disbelief, full of denial and full of sadness.  At the same time, though, it was also full of glory, full of accomplishment, full of friendships, full of relief, full of survivorship and full of love.  I’ve come to realize that God did not have only a plan for my year, but a plan for many friends and loved ones, through me.

As a cancer patient, when I hear someone say “God will never give you more than you can handle!”, my mind silently screams something along the lines of, “Really?  I wonder how many people told that to the people that have DIED from cancer.”  I know that’s not nice of me, and I know that people who say this are only trying to be nice and stay positive, but people need to stop saying it.  It’s really a terrible thing to say.  When I have a breakdown because my pain is unbearable, does that mean that I’m not strong enough or over reacting?  I mean, if God wants me to feel like I’ve been run over by a truck day in and day out, surely I can handle it, right?  Or if God is not giving us more than we can handle, what does it mean when my friend’s myeloma keeps mutating so that their high risk disease is untreatable?  Because, on my own, I’ll be really honest.  I can’t handle it.  Nor do I want to.

As I look back on this last year, the toughest year of my entire life, I’ve come to realize that God gives me more than I can handle ALL OF THE TIME.  I’m no different than anyone else.  He gives us all more than we can handle.  Maybe that’s with cancer and the fear of dying, maybe that’s with the loss of loved ones, the loss of employment, disaster, etc.  It would be so easy to give in when these things happen.  Sometimes the devastating is truly more than we can handle.  Or, at least, handle alone.

I’ve received so many messages, notes, cards, and phone calls from friends and family telling me how much my struggle has impacted them.  They’ve felt compelled to do something for my family and myself or for someone else.  Without these friends and family, I would have never been able to handle this year.   Sometimes it was a kind word in the mail that came on a particularly difficult day.  Or it was a monetary gift that helped me pay a medical bill.  Or it was a prepared dinner when I couldn’t think straight enough to remember how hot the oven needed to be to bake chicken.  Maybe God spoke to that friend or family member and reminded them that they could fulfill a need.  I know that I have received those subtle messages in the past.  Sometimes I’ve heeded them, and I’m embarrassed to say that sometimes I have not.

This ‘reflection’ of the past year has changed how I will respond to that ‘gut feeling.’  I do think that when we receive them, we are hearing God.  He’s using us to help someone ‘handle’ a difficult time.  And in doing so, He is also teaching us many things.  How to be compassionate, how to know His Word over all of the other junk that filters through our minds, how to help in the healing of those around us.  I’ve learned many lessons this year, but I think this has been one of the most valuable.  I plan on listening a lot more carefully from here on out.

‘Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.’  Philippians 4:9