‘Let’s plan a party,” my wife, Jody, said as we left the hospital following my sixth and final round of chemotherapy. “To celebrate – and to thank all the people who helped along the way.”
I nodded tentatively. I was still weary from a long day with an IV in my arm and the thousand or so milliliters of chemicals that were now conducting a protracted argument with the white cells in my bloodstream, but I was buoyed by thinking about the day-after-tomorrow.
“Then how about planning some trips away?” Jody continued. “Where would you like to go?”
I didn’t want to be the proverbial party pooper, but I felt compelled to remind Jody that I’m not out of the woods yet; that this is a chronic cancer and even though I’m thankfully now in remission, to ensure the best outcome I still have two full years of every-other-month immunotherapy treatments.
Besides which, where could we go? Are exotic destinations off limits while I’m still immuno-compromised? What about the cost of travel insurance – will it be prohibitive?
“We don’t have to go overseas,” Jody persisted, keeping up the festive mood. “Didn’t you always want to go to that boutique hotel near Safed? Or the one in Mitzpe Ramon, with the private pools and the unobstructed view over the crater?”
My eyes brightened as I felt myself starting to get into this planning thing.
“Maybe by next year you’ll be ready for a trip abroad. We could do one with the whole family, like we used to,” Jody continued. “Didn’t you want to go trekking in Slovenia?”
As I prepared for sleep that night, my head overflowed with adventures; visions of hiking up waterfalls, overlooking majestic peaks – a well-deserved reward for trudging through this grueling year with as much grace as I have mustered.
Over the course of the following weeks, I had the usual post-chemo blues; the standard aches and pains and brain fog, but as with the previous rounds, it started to abate as I passed week three.
Then, bam, midway through week four, it all came crashing down.
A deep fatigue descended around me, one unlike any I’d experienced during the chemo itself. Climbing the stairs to our third-floor apartment, I found myself out of breath, gasping for air. My bones burned like I’d plugged my L-5 lumbar vertebrae into an electrical outlet.
I WhatsApp’d my doctor immediately.
“Is this normal?” I typed, hoping my fingers wouldn’t tire out before I was done.
My doctor responded that she’s had other patients who, like me, got hit by stronger symptoms a month after chemo was done. It’s unusual, but will most probably resolve itself on its own, she said confidently.
But the subsequent days got worse, not better. Not bottom-of-the-barrel awful, but enough to make a mockery of all that planning.
We had gotten overly optimistic when I needed to be more go-with-the-flow.
“Chemo is cumulative,” one of my follicular lymphoma buddies on Facebook comforted me. “Your body has taken a beating. It needs time to heal.”
But I wasn’t doing a very good job of accepting the situation. My post-chemo eyes coveted all the cake, not just a piece of fleeting chocolate normalcy.
“Oof, I just want this to be over,” I complained to my therapist in our weekly session. “I’m ready to be better already.”
“Let’s review the last six months,” my therapist said. “Has it been so bad?”
“What are you getting at?” I snapped, my defenses cackling.
“I mean, did your cancer keep you from spending time with your family?”
“Did you blow off any social events? Not see friends? Have to skip a lecture or class?”
“Just a few.”
“Did you miss any deadlines at work?”
“Were you able to continue exercising?”
“Did you get to Tel Aviv to see your son in that Big Band concert over the summer?”
“The point is that, yes, cancer sucks. You don’t feel good a lot of the time – that’s natural. There are unexpected ups and downs – also par for the course – but listening to what you’ve just told me, I’d say that your experience has pretty much been a net positive. Not everyone with cancer can keep up such a busy schedule!”
Indeed, if I take the 10,000-foot perspective, my forest is looking healthy overall – even if some of the trees need extra care. It was more the excitement around planning, the presumption that I’d feel better immediately, that had been clouding my view.
“Maybe don’t think about what you’ll be doing a year in advance,” my therapist suggested. “Take it more day by day.”
Which is what Jody and I did when we were invited to a wedding. It was for the daughter of good friends and we really wanted to attend. We initially RSVP’d yes.
But the week before the celebration, I was still in my down phase. “I don’t think I have the energy,” I said and Jody called to inform our friends that we regretfully wouldn’t be able to make it.
The day of the wedding, though, I was feeling a little better. We monitored my health to make sure this was no morning fluke until finally, at 5 p.m. – the very last possible moment – we decided to go.
We arrived just in time for the huppah, to the delight of the bride and her parents.
Spontaneity, it seems, can sometimes be the best plan of all. The writer’s book,
Totaled: The Billion-Dollar Crash of the Startup that Took on Big Auto, Big Oil and the World, is available on Amazon and other online booksellers. brianblum.com
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