Cancer Chronicles: Side effects

If the cancer doesn’t get you, the treatments will.

Beer (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
 "Side effects are generally mild and may include death, impotence, perverse ideation, growing fangs and nocturnal visitations from the ghost of David Ben-Gurion."
“Warning: DO NOT ask the Old Man how he thinks Bibi’s doin’ unless you’re ready to greet the dawn, still listening.”
Side effects. If the cancer doesn’t get you, the treatments will.
True, perhaps, in some cases. But there has been enormous progress in treatment these last few decades, and I’ve been lucky. ChemoFests I and II, each six months long, produced nothing worse than total exhaustion, progressive deafness, loss of shortterm memory and a novel about Israel that no one wants to publish. As for ChemoFest III, the first two-day session took place during the hottest August on record, the second during that unprecedented hamsin (heat wave).
Hard to tell where individual side effects leave off and that side effect of human civilization, global climate change, begins.
With one highly personal exception.
Retaining fluids. Specifically, all the fluids they pump into you, plus all the fluids you’re supposed to drink to force them out.
Each day in chemo’s good for four pounds. Two days, eight pounds, I slosh. After the August session, I decided I couldn’t live like this, but refused to ingest any diuretics. So I opted to prime the pump, as it were, on my own.
That night, before turning in, I drank a liter of Obolon beer, an excellent Ukrainian brew that comes in several varieties. I chose the Velvet.
It worked.
And worked. And worked. And worked.
I lost seven pounds in 12 hours. Circa 3 a.m., I grew so sick of making the trek from bedroom to bathroom, and so sleep-deprived, that I thought unto myself: “Let’s liven this up. Pretend. Lay down some imaginary tracks and make like a trolley.”
“Clang clang. Clang clang. Clang clang. Coming through. Clang clang.”
My wife accepted wearily. The cat indicated that she considered this bizarre, even by human standards.
Who says home remedies don’t work? Tried it again in September. Home remedies don’t always work. Next time, maybe it’ll be the Obolon Blonde. Or perhaps some of that Serbian plum brandy that shows no mercy to your innards.
Clang, clang.
In last month’s chronicle, I indicated that I commute to Haifa from Karmiel for treatments. My wife works.
I no longer trust myself to drive (I also don’t have a car or an Israeli driver’s license). And what with being not so socially active anymore, I rather enjoy meeting people on Egged.
Early-morning bus in. Couldn’t remember the Hebrew for “Round trip with transfers, please.” Driver knew no English. Finally I blurted out, Geh und kim.
The driver nodded. Why didn’t you say so? Yiddish, like other home remedies, sometimes still avails.
The ride in can be pleasant. The ride back: never. Two buses, two hours, three during rush hour, a bursting bladder and a nurse who takes perverse delight in making sure I’m the last one out of the clinic and always get stuck in traffic (more on Nurses as Metaphor next time). Still, there are items of interest to be observed on Egged.
I try to sit up front. Egged has a rule.
People in the front seats may not talk on their cells, as this disturbs the driver.
Apparently, people talking to each other does not disturb the driver.
Nor people talking to themselves.
Nor the drivers talking on their cells.
Nor the passengers talking to the drivers.
I like to talk with the drivers. A surprising number speak English and have been to the United States. Recently, I was schmoozing with an Arab driver. The conversation was getting interesting when a man my age sat down beside me. He seemed the quintessential American geriatric hippie: a wild gray beard, a gray ponytail and dressed in two kinds of camouflage: NATO forest green and something I didn’t recognize. For a few minutes, he conversed with the driver in Arabic, then got off.
“Do you know that man?” I asked.
“He reminds me of a couple of Americans I’ve known who missed the last helicopter out of the Sixties.”
“He’s a Beduin.”
After two long days of commuting/ treatment, I’m ready to do nothing and do it very well. But the third day I have to go to the health fund for a shot and a new batch of pills. The first time, the pharmacy didn’t have the relevant serum.
“Can you go to Zevulun today?” “Sure. Where’s my ambulance?” They had the medicine sent up.
As for the monthly ration of tablets, capsules and gel-caps, I simply go up to the counter and mutter, “Od pa’am. Hakol.” They give me my three bags full. I answer, Oy. The pharmacist smiles.
Another bit of Yiddish, still well-understood.
Next: Nasty.