I’ve fallen way behind on my original goal of writing a blog post for every round of chemo, but it’s been a pretty busy past month and a half. Some of it has been an exhausted busy — the 5th and 6th rounds of chemo were tougher than the rest both mentally and physically. But a lot of it has been a good busy, making moves for some big life changes and catching up on work that I fell behind on during the earlier days of chemo when it was hard to muster enough energy to care.
There’s also a part of me that is tired of talking about cancer. After the news of a good scan in early July, it was like a switched flipped and I could finally focus on other things. I didn’t realize how anxious and depressed I was until after getting those results, how trapped I felt in the unknown. I couldn’t plan for anything because I didn’t have an end date for treatment if I didn’t know whether or not it was working. Once I knew that it was, I suddenly felt like I could focus on other things again. I finally felt re-engaged in work, not longer plagued with thoughts like what does this matter anyway? I started thinking about things other than cancer on my bike rides and tentatively making fall plans.
But when I got the results of my scan, I was only halfway done with chemo. The next two treatments were the worst yet. I started to feel the effects sooner, while I was still in the infusion room or on the way home. The effects began to linger longer too, especially fatigue, queasiness, and appetite issues/taste changes. In the beginning, I would feel pretty normal by about 4-5 days after each treatment. By my 6th treatment, it was taking over a week for the side effects to subside.
While riding, I now feel pretty tired most of the time. The farther out I get from each treatment, the better I start to feel, but most days my legs still ache like I did a really hard ride the day before. Some days I feel pretty decent and then I put in more effort, but I end up paying for it the next day with sore legs and additional fatigue. If I ride in the evening one day, I can’t seem to drag myself out to ride again early the next morning. Every time I’ve planned to, I’ve ended up bailing because my body just said no and it doesn’t feel right to push it that much right now. Recovery takes a lot longer than I’m used to. I can’t even imagine riding my bike all day and I miss feeling strong enough to do so.
However, I did discover that the day after treatment is actually a good time to get a bigger ride in. One of the pre-meds that I’ve given with each infusion is a steroid, because it helps improve the efficacy of the chemo. This results in my legs feeling stronger than the rest of the time, even if I am totally queasy and nauseous. Evan and I have a standing tandem date the Saturday after each treatment. The tandem is perfect, because I don’t need to worry about trying to control or focus on anything while I am nauseous, yet I have the legs to pedal 30-40 mountainous miles (with Evan picking up some of my slack, I’m sure).
My 7th treatment was scheduled for later in the day than usual, and the weather that day was gorgeous, so I decided to do something I’d had in the back of my mind since starting chemo. I rode the 27 miles through Rothrock State Forest to my appointment. I discovered that riding to chemo is even better than riding before chemo. There was something about showing up sweaty and changing out of my chamois in the clinic bathroom that made me feel like a badass, a perfect antidote to the nauseating scent of saline and sterile infusion room environment that I hate. I made mention of my ride to my oncologist during my pre-treatment check in appointment, and he was totally floored. Word got around and by the time I went into the infusion room, all the nurses knew too. Their awe was a good reminder that while I may feel super weak compared to what I’m used to, I’m still doing a lot better and maintaining a much higher level of activity than most people, even most people not going through chemo. I also have to admit that I am feeling better than I thought I’d be at this point in treatment, and I’m confident that I will be able to bounce back and be as fit and healthy as ever before, if not more so.
I didn’t realize until I was meeting with him that it was my last appointment with my oncologist until December. I figured there would be some sort of follow-up and scan sooner after finishing treatment, but he said that there’s no point in doing a scan immediately since my midway one showed no evidence of lymphoma, and I’m supposed to get another one 3 months after finishing treatment anyway. And since I’m not having any major issues aside from the typical side effects that should resolve relatively quickly, there’s no need to see him again for a while. This all is exciting but it also seems foreign at this point. Since mid-March, when I first decided to go to the doctor about the lump in my armpit, I’ve had continuous doctor’s appointments and tests. It feels strange and slightly disconcerting to be released to live my life, but also very freeing and exciting.
My 8th and final treatment is scheduled for this upcoming Friday, and then I’ll need to continue to take precautions to avoid illness and infection for another 3-4 weeks until my white blood cell count returns to normal levels. I have a lot more to say about this whole experience, and those posts will come as I continue to process everything, but for now I just can’t believe I made it here. It’s all a bit surreal.