It seemed too good to believe: shortly after the pertuzumab started pumping through my system on Monday, I could feel the tumor shrinking.
Really? you say. I’d be dubious, too.
Maybe it wasn’t shrinking yet, but it started feeling tingly? less achy? like an angel wing brushing over my jaw?
However I describe it (yes, I’m doing a fantastic job, I know; I’m a writer, did I tell you that?), I can feel the medication doing its thing. But sometimes, it’s just a good day, a low pain day, so I don’t dare hope… but this goes on for several days. The pain lessens with each passing hour.
Tuesday night, I wake up at 11:30 p.m., shivering so hard I can barely get out of bed. I run to the hall closet, my hands shaking violently, and I pull out the heating pad. I fumble around in the dark and get it plugged in. Situating myself so that my kidneys are right over top–that gets the heat circulating, right?–I curl up in a ball and shake. I feel even worse because it’s only been an hour since I took my sleeping pill.
I finally go to sleep again, shivering and shaking. I hope this is normal. I hope it gets better as time goes on.
Fuck, this sucks.
When I wake up in the morning, my teeth hurt from grinding them together while I was shivering. I can’t get out of bed. I lay there while Mom brings me a smoothie for breakfast and Kevin brings my coffee. The painkillers help.
Why am I so COLD?
One thing I’m not dealing with–not that I have to right now because, I mean, I have plenty to deal with–is what this treatment means for our family plans.
I thought we were done having kids after the twins. The entire pregnancy, I was mentally frolicking in a field, maternity skirt billowing around me, going, “Free! Free as the wind!” I was mentally selling the stretchy pants, the giant skirts, the anti-nausea teas and candies that didn’t work.
A month after the babies were born, Kevin came inside from talking to one of the neighbors, a Greek woman who had, apparently, inquired after our future reproductive designs. “She wanted to know when we’re going to try for a boy. I was telling her, ‘Yeah, I dunno, I guess we’ll talk about that later.”
Him: *not looking at me* “You know, maybe when the twins are a year, we’ll kind of start a discussion.”
But I thought about it, and I was ok with it. Even though it was possible we could have twins again (it runs in both sides of my family!) and even though it was possible it could be two girls (my life is already going to be a Jane Austen novel, but I could do worse than raising two more kickass, badass girls in this crazy world), I was willing to do it.
The side effect paper I’m not supposed to be reading says that there’s a 50% chance women who are under the age of 40 will go through menopause. And the immunotherapy I’m going to be on for the rest of my life can lead to birth defects.
I’m sitting on the couch, pretending I’m not thinking about this when Kevin comes in. I whisper, “I’m sorry.”
“What?” he says, sitting down.
“I’m sorry I’m not going to be able to give you the son you want.”
He enfolds me in a hug, and my eyes well up with tears. “That’s the least of my worries right now.”
I should probably get my tubes tied, but that’s a problem for another time.
Sleeping some more.
I barely drag myself up and out of bed to go to the appointment with Dr. B, a radiologist oncologist who’s got the results of my brain and spine MRI. Kevin drives me, and we find the back entrance to the Cancer Centre, rather than going into the hospital in the front and walking halfway across the building.
I feel so floaty, disembodied. I sit precariously in the waiting room chair, feeling like I’m going to fall over any moment. At least I’m not shivering anymore. There’s no pain right now, only the sensation that I forgot my body back in bed and my soul is sitting naked on the chair.
They call us back. Kevin is concerned about whether I have a temperature because of how awful I’ve been feeling, so the nurse checks. All is well, which I kind of figured, but ugh. I’ve had enough of this day.
Dr. B comes in. He’s a tall Middle Eastern man with a bald head and a pleasant face. He introduces himself and sits down. “I read about you. Everything that’s happened. Two six-month-old babies! Oh, it’s unfortunate.”
I laugh because, well, what the hell else am I going to do? “Yep. Unfortunate, all right.” The understatement of the millennium.
“I looked at your MRI, and I don’t have any concerns. Nothing on your brain.”
“And the lesions along your spine don’t look concerning.”
Thank God again.
“Do you have any pain? Radiation is mostly for pain management.”
I tell him about my jaw, although it’s mostly stopped hurting since chemo started Monday. He takes a tongue depressor, pokes around, feels my throat. This is the fourth time a doctor has done this, and he says the same thing they always do. “I’m not going to recommend radiation. We’ll save it for later.”
I guess that’s good, right?
“The chemo should take care of everything. In case it doesn’t, then we’ll always have that option.”
I’m too tired and floaty to feel any sort of anxiety, although a week ago, I’d be popping an Ativan at the thought that chemo might not work.
“Dr. Freedman and I work closely together. If you have any concerns, I’ll get you in quickly.”
“Ok,” I say, “Thank you.”
On the way out, I lean against Kevin. “Am I in bed yet?” I ask. All I want to do is curl up in a ball and sleep. This is a lot like when I was pregnant with the twins and merely sitting up took so much effort.
At home, Dad and Mom give me huge hugs with the news. “I was so worried all day,” says Dad.
“I wasn’t.” I yawn. “I was sleeping.”
I guess that was one good side effect. When my body is expending all its energy honing the chemotherapy into cancer slaughter, I don’t have anything left for panic attacks.