Glimpses of Normal: the journey through the big C's - Cancer & Covid (part 1)
The last 10 months have been a journey of a lifetime. I am only just starting to wrap my head and heart around all that has transpired in 2020. I am writing this to all those who know me, care for me, and those who may be going through a journey of your own.
A few short days after I turned 30, I found a lump in my right armpit. I got diagnosed on the 10th of January with breast cancer. Getting diagnosed was overwhelming. I'd started a new job. My partner and I had moved to a new apartment. And there was a lot of uncertainty about life. Many biopsies, pet scans, CT scans, blood tests, genetic tests and second opinions later, my diagnosing oncologist concluded that it was Stage 2, hormone positive, and Her2 neu positive breast cancer. Translating to early stage breast cancer, but of the aggressive type. Given my age, and cancer type, I had in front of my a long road of treatment.
People ask me if I was scared then. I don't know if I was scared. I know that it was a period of intense gratitude. I was thankful it was breast cancer (and not something else), that it was stage 2 (and not metastatic) and that I was surrounded by loved ones (and not alone).
A dear friend became my partner in crime. She called her mom who had just concluded breast cancer treatment. Her mom sent us her wigs, eyelashes, eyebrows, creams, lotions, and a lot more. We went to wig appointments all over the Bay. Some freaked us out even more. On the fly, we went and cut my hair short, and discovered this incredible woman who took the wig we had and cut it for me, and colored it for me. My parents flew in from India a few short days before the first cycle of chemotherapy.
Over the next 5 months, I received 6 cycles of TCHP every 3 weeks. My first cycle was probably more entertaining than terrifying. My partner, parents, brother, a number of close friends all came to the infusion ward. We took over a little room in the infusion center and converted it into a party. We got told-off by the charge nurse for being too raucous. It was quite the opposite of what I had imagined infusions would be like.
The next week was unlike anything I could have imagined. They tell you chemo will be tough, but what they don't tell you is that it can strip from you if you. It removes a lot of what you hold as your core identity. A kind of fog descends over you - it zaps your energy, it takes your hair (all of it), it changes your tastes, your smell, your sight, and your touch. It is surreal.
The first cycle was a battle between what I knew as my normal and what the world was telling me was no longer mine. A mentor and dear friend who happened to be an expert in the cancer space suggested the search for patterns was fruitless. Chemo changed all my patterns, my baseline, and what was most familiar. One moment I was okay, the next running to the bathroom. One moment I felt ready to run a marathon, the next too tired to get out of bed. Patterns, baselines, rituals, sleep times, meal times, were all of a sudden meaningless.
My parents were the only reason I was able to eat anything. Dad would do the research, and mom would make the meals. I became a petulant child who was more than happy to go without food. Some meals yogurt was the only thing I could tolerate, and in others yogurt made me nauseous.
Through the first cycle, I was going into work, leading meetings, and coming home and crashing into the sofa exhausted. For the first few days, my spirits were high. I recall thinking "Oh, this isn't that bad. This I can get through."
They tell you your hair is going to fall out, roughly 2 weeks into the first cycle of TCHP. And it did. My entire family went into overdrive. Dad was scouting wig banks. Mom was helping to keep the hair I still had. My partner helping me figure out to-shave or not-to-shave. This was the weekend when Covid was flaring in the Bay. The wig-banks, the cancer-support centers, the local salons were the first to close. We drove to a party-wig store in Oakland to buy small things to help manage the wig we did have.
Middle of the day on that Monday the county announced the first lockdown. I was in a panic. I didn't have the supplies, my hair was falling out in clumps, we didn't have a clipper at home, and I was in meetings all day.
Around 3 pm, I was frantically calling local salons to see if any were still open. I excused myself from my 3.30pm, told my partner to come on a walk with me, we went to the local Super Cuts, and we had my hair shaved off with a number 2 clipper. For those who know me, yes, I know what a number 2 clipper is now!
We walked back. I put my video off, and super cuts closed for the next 5 months.
That's all I can manage right now. I appreciate you reading thus far. I'm going to keep writing over the next many months. If you would like to keep updated on this narrative, feel free to subscribe to the blog.