Continued from March 19
Written originally in 2007; it's actually been 7 years now since this day! Woohoo!
Seventeen years ago today, my best friend and I took our first steps on a road that would eventually lead us to get married and have our beautiful daughter. Four years ago today, I passed another milestone: I had my first chemotherapy treatment.
When Ainsley was only 6 months old, I found out that I had stage II Hodgkin's lymphoma. I had discovered lumps under my arms before she was even born, but after being misdiagnosed for months the cancer had spread to almost every lymph node group in my chest. This was the bad news; the good news is that Hodgkin's is one of the most curable cancers, even in more advanced stages.
I had no doubt in my mind that I was going to beat it. Like any cancer patient, though, I was afraid of the chemo. I knew only a few things going in: I knew I would have four different chemo drugs plus some other medicines to counter the chemo side effects on a four-hour-plus drip once every two weeks. I knew I would probably lose my hair, and that I would feel nauseated and fatigued. And I knew my husband would be by my side.
What I didn't know was how much fun a little Ativan can make the whole chemotherapy experience.
The first part of that day, I had to have a bone marrow biopsy. When I was scheduled for this procedure, I was asked whether or not I wanted to be sedated. Now, I'm someone who tried really hard to have a drugless childbirth and who hates feeling groggy and out of touch. But this was a no-brainer. Who really says, "No, thanks, I want you to drill a hole in my pelvis and extract tissue from my insides with a really big needle without the benefit of medication"? So as soon as I arrived that morning, they got me going with an IV full of calm and forgetfulness. That's the thing they tell you with Ativan--it allegedly makes you forget all the crazy stuff your doctor is doing to you so if you ever have to go through that again you don't run away screaming with your paper gown flapping in the breeze.
Whether or not this is true depends on the timing of the Ativan. I hadn't been on the drip for very long before the doctor came in with the corkscrew and some lab slides, so I remember more than I'd like about the biopsy. For most of the chemo, though, I just have to take Jason's word for it.
I remember curling up in a ball and feeling a little stick. Wow, I thought, this doesn't hurt bad at all. Then the doctor informed me he had just done the first shot to numb the area. Darn. I knew it couldn't possibly be that easy. There was itense pressure on my hip as the real needle went in. It was almost more than I could take without crying out. I closed my eyes, and in my head, I saw the doctor pulling and pulling a bright red magician's scarf from my hip, and the more he pulled on it the more I felt my very life-force being pulled from all the way down in my toes. Finally, in my drug-induced hallucination, I saw him wave the end of the scarf and proclaim, "I've got it!" It was over. But 4 years later, I can still feel that pull as the marrow was being sucked up into the syringe.
And then memory starts to fade. I remember that I had a very good (and very funny) nurse. I remember getting up to go to the bathroom, and even though I thought I was sitting down on the toilet, completely missing it and peeing all over the floor (and since they had just pushed the most toxic chemo drug in my cocktail, the nurses had to put on their haz-mat gear to clean up my deadly bodily fluids.) The rest Jason has filled in for me. According to him, I got fixated on the anti-nausea medicine and insisted that the nurse hadn't infused it and proceeded to ask her about every ten minutes. Fran, the nurse, just went along with me and made good-natured fun of my altered state with my husband. They had a lot of fun at my expense that day, apparently. I also know from today's news reports that 4 years ago today we also entered into combat in Iraq, and Jason is surprised every year when this is news to me. We were together when the first reports about the war started coming in that day, but that memory has also been erased by Ativan. And I must indeed have had my anti-nausea meds--though it makes my stomach feel a little icky even now that chemo is long over, Jason says I requested a burger and salad from Wendy's on the way home.
I don't need to remember the details to remember that I had never felt closer to my husband than I did on that day, our lucky-number-thirteenth "dating" anniversary. This man, who does not like blood and gore and big, scary needles, sat right there with me through the biopsy and through every drip. He remembered all the rules and all the things I was supposed to do those first couple of days to stay comfortable and help the drugs do their job. He cooked for me, he took care of Ainsley--he made it possible for me to get better. It's not something you ever see coming in a relationship; you take those vows and say the words "in sickness and in health", but you assume that you have the better part of a lifetime to spend with someone before you have to nurse them through a life-threatening illnes. You sure don't expect to spend your thirteenth anniversary with your high-school sweetheart in a chemotherapy suite.
When I look at Jason today, it's sometimes hard to recognize the teenage boy who first got up the nerve to blurt out his feelings for me 17 years ago. And I know I have grown up, too, and am no longer that naive, skinny little thing who could barely look him in the eye and stutter back a reply. Those two kids have become thirty-somethings balancing careers, parenthood, and marriage. The feelings we had for each other back then have grown up, too. On March 19, 1990, he told me he loved me in a cold high-school bandroom. On March 19, 2003, he showed me he loved me by taking my hand and helping me through the darkest place I have ever been. And that, my friends, is true love.
Happy anniversary, Jason.