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Saturday, August 4, 2007

Maintenance Chemo

This is about adjusting to Maintenance Chemo.

Aug 4 2007

When you are in chemo treatment you look forward to the day you can stop. It becomes a mark you set on the horizon, a point you focus on to pace yourself in an exhausting trial. Then one day it comes, "graduation day" and what you had focused on and hoped for is suddenly upon you. Lost in the moment is the fear that comes from walking away from chemo. Because to be a cancer survivor you will have to quit chemo and make it own your own. Your body will have to do something it could not do in the past; fight and win against cancer.

You are hoping the chemo beat back the cancer to the point where your body’s own immune system can keep it in check or better yet took it away completely. That is what makes metastatic cancer so intimidating, the cancer has already survived some very strong chemo, and was still able to spread. And when it is able to break free and spread from its original location the cancer has demonstrated it is an aggressive and strong opponent. And now it is free roaming throughout your body and you wait to see if and where it will show next. It makes me think of that old video game Asteroids. You know where you try to shoot the asteroids and every time you hit them the break up into smaller pieces that move faster and faster and are harder and harder to hit. The big ones are intimidating but it is the little ones that get you.

But has I have said before, our trust has been in the drugs, we know all too well the limits of medicine. With metastatic cancer you know that ending chemo is a test, a test to see if life is in your future. When you end chemo you enter that test and in that test lies the brutality of cancer. No matter what stage your cancer was in you face this; it just intensifies as your disease progresses because you are that much closer to finality of cancer. As Dr Atkins told Andrea when we left his care, her anxiety was normal, 'It was the stretching of the umbilical cord." I thought that was a good visual of treatment, and umbilical cord that sustains you, but has to be cut for you to live.

This past week Andrea had her third CT scan since we cut the cord and went on "maintenance chemo." The days have been consumed with trying to identify every ache and pain and soreness as something other than cancer. But I will tell you cancer and life's regular aches and pains have very few differences in the beginning. Not to mention the effects on Andrea's body from taking 30 months of chemo drugs. Who knows what price we have paid in the long run from these chemicals dripped into her body every week. When you start chemo you accept the long term affects of the drugs, because at the time they are nothing compared the short term affects of cancer. But as you end chemo and try to transition back to "normal life" you face the affects of the drugs and the price paid for life.

This period of maintenance chemo, is really the transition from life with cancer, to life without cancer. Like a birthing process change comes with pain, and uncertainty. All God has promised is before us and in a way the test of faith is more difficult now then during treatment itself. Maybe not more difficult but just difficult in a different way. I think it just seems harder because you feel close to the finish line, to the end of this nightmare and you don't want to lose so close to the end, like dying in the final days of a war. In the beginning of the war there is an expectation that you won't make it, as your mind tries to prepare itself, then as the end seems in sight the hope for life grows and expectation changes from dying to living. Life seems within our grasp and every hour of every day brings us closer to life and farther away from cancer. We stack the days behind us like a buffer from cancer. Each one offering that much more protection.

Someday I hope to find it hard to remember the anxiety, the highs and the lows of day to day life of cancer and this transition period as we try to break free from the pull of cancer. Like a rocket trying to accelerate itself from earth’s gravitational pull into the effortlessness of space I want to break away from all this. With every day we gain more speed and altitude. And we are closer and closer to a promise being fulfilled. Suddenly I find my thoughts on things of the future. I find myself looking towards events of the future and I want to be there with Andrea. I have found there is a measure of fear in hoping. But I want to hope, I want to think about the future. Cancer has taken that from us. For four years now we have been unable to think about life with grand kids, or the house we always dreamed of. A house sitting on a small hill with old trees around it, an herb/vegetable garden and cutting garden just so we can have fresh flowers on the kitchen table. A big wraparound porch to sit on at the end of the day and watch the sunset and read.

Subjects of the future were taboo, forbidden. Maybe next week or six months from now was okay, not years out. It was just too far away and those thoughts would bring more sadness then joy. I wish I could pick Andrea up in my arms and run to just get away from it all as fast as we can. I want to run my fingers through her long hair. I want to turn in our "C" card. I don't want to be a member of this club anymore.

I hope to someday read this blog and find it hard to remember the feelings behind these words. Hard to relate to the person who typed them early Saturday morning, unable to sleep, alone in a quite house, hoping the silence would not last. Relieved by the sound of Andrea opening the door to the office where I was typing. I want to forget the endless hours of waiting in a doctor's office reading magazines about things I cared little about just trying to distract my mind from life. I want to forget a life built around appointments, vacations planned and daily life orchestrated around chemo and it side effects. I want to forget the countless brown prescription bottles and having to travel with a suitcase just for pills. Trying to plan when and in what combination to take the pills to avoid a day of nausea and throwing up. I want to forget the pity in people eyes when they look at Andrea.

What I want to remember are the words spoken to my spirit in the silence, the hope that filled me and drowned out the doctor's words of "Incurable." I want to remember the utter despair of the most difficult days only so I can remember that the strength and hope I felt was not my own. I want to remember the hope of a hopeless day, the comfort on a lonely night, the peace in the shelter of His wings, and the faithfulness of a loving God.

I want to remember who I was, and who I am now and know that life is better; that I am better for having suffered. That on the darkest of dark nights, on the worst of the worst days, when I felt as if I was in a pit a mile deep, there was always a point of light. A friend, a memory, a word, an e-mail, a card, a letter, a hug, or a scripture, or that rare smile on Andrea’s face that let me know we were going to be okay.

Maintenance chemo is the beginning of the reality of our dreams; it is the next door we must walk through. I have found it comes with its own unique challenges most of which I did not expect or even think existed. But ones I know God will answer; and I will be better having faced them. That is the promise of our God, the promise I have held onto everyday for the past four years.

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