swallowing my prideApril 13, 2010
I’m miserable. So, if you’re looking for one of my uplifting tales of conquering cancer, probably check out a different post. I think this one will still be pretty funny though, so read on if you’re up for this sort of thing.
Like I said, I’m miserable. I’m having a really rotten combo of side effects from chemo and they’ve lasted for almost a week. While I am incredibly uncomfortable on the physical front (or in my case, behind) this is the kind of thing that really does a number on my head. I wonder if this is what I need to expect from here on out. Is this my “new normal”? Cause if it is, it sucks.
Here’s my short list of grievances. My throat has swollen to the point that it is painful to swallow. (That’s what she said!) Even getting my pills down is a chore. Literally, every swallow comes with effort and pain. And I have this freaky thoughts that maybe my throat might close all together and I won’t be able to breathe and I’ll die gasping for air on my couch in my B tier of jammies.
I was trying to do the mind over matter thing, so I asked my awesome hubby to make me tacos. “Tacos will cure me,” I thought. Not so. The interior of my mouth has several sores and its terribly swollen and sensitive to boot. My jaw hurts and I can’t really open my mouth very wide. (Something I am usually accustomed to.) I bit into my tasty taco, only to have the tortilla feel as if it was scraping the interior of my cheeks. I also made the fatal error of putting my usual pico de gaillo on my dinner. #epicFAIL. The jalepeno bits sought out my mouth sores and did a bang up job of searing the hell out of them. Jesus OUCH! Determined, I remade my tacos, sans fire juice, and tried again. Even if I chewed every tasty bit for five minutes, it still hurt going down. I finally just got too frustrated to eat anymore. Anyone who knows me, knows that this is an unfathomable idea to me before now. I LOVE to eat. And I was craving tacos in both a culinary and a nostalgia for Austin kinda way. But, I didn’t totally give up.
There is an evil, but slightly soothing milky liquid in a red bottle called “stomatitis cocktail” that most cancer patients are familiar with. I assure you, it does a grave injustice to respectable and tasty true cocktails. Basically, you swish this murky, slightly viscous liquid in your mouth for a bit to soothe mouth sores and spit it out. What happens next is that a wave of both burning and numbing wash over all the tissue in your yap. Kinda like an oral Ben Gay effect. It tastes nasty, so you also start drooling and having to spit out saliva every 5 seconds. At this point, I usually start to question whether I might just wanna deal with the pain of mouth sores rather than wrangle with this crap.
Knowing that solids were not my friend and that the red bottle sounded more gross than helpful, I decided to try tequila. It also has a numbing effect and doesn’t taste like ass. I mixed up a batch of my favorite summer elixir I call “Fred the Hot Tranny Mess.” The name is a story in and of itself. All you really need to know is that it is basically a cranberry margarita with a rose Champagne floater. While it hurt to even sip my dear Fred, it was a hell of a lot more comforting than Ben Gay for the Bazoo. Score one for me and the blue agave plant.
If this were my only challenge this week, I might have a better outlook. Alas, this is not the case. My hands have also started peeling like a leper’s. (OK, that’s overly dramatic. My fingers aren’t falling off or bleeding or anything, but they are really skin-bubbled, flakey and gross.) Luckily, many pals have sent me super fancy pants moisturizers that really help. I am particularly fond of the Keils line because it is intense, but not super greasy or smelly. The really gloppy stuff feels good but leaves a sheen on my computer keyboard that I can’t imagine is very good for the life of my machine. Plus, repeated lotioning makes me feel like an old lady. I just turned 40 and I’m still sorta sensitive.
On top of the hand and mouth woes, my butt has to weigh in. Captain Hemorrhoid has decided to make my butthole his main outpost. Every time I feel the bathroom call, I get a sense of foreboding. A literal “Oh crap!” Trying to “eliminate” anything through that passageway is a painful process. I’ve been trying to eat more fiber to ease the situation, but with solid food proving to be difficult, this is not easy. Yesterday I choked down a very tasty, but oat laden granola bar in tiny bites. Now I fear that it may feel like a nest of dried twigs on the exit ramp. Sadly, I was right. Every part of my nether regions is painful in a burning, scraping, swollen fashion. I am in so much butt pain, that I am literally seeing stars like I might pass out. Suddenly, the death in my ugly jammies on my couch seems glamorous in comparison to this Elvis inspired scenario.
In taking care of final business, I discover that I am also bleeding down there. Fan. Fucking. Tastic. Over the past week, I have employed the cooling powers of Tucks wipes. For the uninitiated, these are Witch Hazel soaked baby wipes for old people. Now seems like a time where I could use a little cooling power. YIPES! Guess what doesn’t have a cooling effect on open sores? Witch Hazel! The Good Witch is no longer! She cast a spell of fire on my ass and I’m none too pleased. In fact, I am reduced to futilely fanning my butt with my hand in hopes that the meager breeze I can create will extinguish my pain. If that ain’t a picture, let me really draw you a good one.
Any colon cancer patient is obligated to check out any bleeding in the butt department. It can be a sign of really bad things. Usually though, if its bright red in color and just sort of blotting the TP, you’re probably OK. Never the less, I now have to CSI my ass. I grab the hand mirror, assume a spread eagle stance and take a looksie. Something with the angle and my overhead lighting are making this problematic. Next I try a leg on toilet approach with a right hand mirror, left hand cheek spreader tactic. Again I can’t seem to shed any light on the subject. This really is the spot where “the sun don’t shine”. Further gymnastics and mirror positions also prove fruitless. Hmmm. I’m in a hell of a naked pickle here.
One old fashioned remedy that always seems to soothe my booty is a long soak in a hot bath with Epsom salts. This sounds both calming and an opportunity for new camera angles. Relaxing and regrouping in my bathtub, I decide to try the mirror trick while on my back and knees to chest. In this moment, I wonder why I wasn’t more popular in college. I also discover the heart of the problem. I have what I can only describe as … diaper rash. I guess all the moisture from the freakin Witch Hazel caused a ripe environment for rash and chafing along with some minimal bleeding. I can’t win.
As I lay there surveying the terrain, I start to envision some kind of freaky, early 70’s feminist retreat where they encourage this kind of exploration. Lots of 30 something gals in leotards and ethically inspired patchwork skirts voicing their “discoveries”. Strings of beads fill the doorway and somewhere incense is burning. I can now state from experience that this is a load of crap. There is absolutely nothing empowering about having to check out your hoohah in a mirror. The lady parts and the exit door are not exactly pretty up close. Not to mention the naked contortions involved that make you acutely aware of the size of your belly and your thighs. Nope. It’s a big basket of embarrassment and vulnerability that makes me grateful as hell that I’m married to an incredibly sensitive and tolerant guy. One that won’t be shocked or concerned when I tell the world about naked inspections of my anus. Yeah, he’s a keeper.
After toweling off and salvaging what was left of my meager self-esteem, I went in search of some type of ointment or cream to deal with my rash. I happened upon a tube of generic cortisone stuff and thought I hit the jackpot. However, a reading of the label warned “Do not use to treat diaper rash”. There’s not a lot of room on the tube for warnings, so I begin to wonder if someone at the ad agency for the cortisone goop is psychic. It might as well of read, “Chris: don’t even think about putting this on your ass.” Duly noted. Well fucking NOW what?!?
At this point, I declare cancer the winner. Just fuck it all. I’m going to put my sore ass to bed. I gingerly waddle to the couch and do some deep breathing. I know I’ll never fall asleep with an ache in my butt and a reeling brain. I employ one hippie theatre school guided imagery trick after another. No dice. My rear end is throbbing and I can’t help but start composing this blog post in my head. I know I should just suck it up and go type, but dammit I am determined to get some rest. I deserve a few hours of peace. Nothing is working, so I bring in the big guns. A new prescription for Ambien designed to battle my steroid induced insomnia on days one and two of chemo. To add insult to injury; it hurts to swallow the damn pill. OK Big Pharma, make with the nightie night.
I arranged myself in bed with my favorite ratio and positioning of pillows and waited. Finally, some relief arrives. My knee pillow structure has relieved the chafing situation and I’m starting to get that flitting eye movement that indicates sleep is on the way. Plus, I’m getting a slight, all over muscle relaxing that is downright wonderful. Ahhhh. Children and adults around the world are dreaming tonight. I wonder if I’m the only one whose nocturnal visions include unblemished butt cheeks and a hand mirror. Such sweet dreams.