Chemotherapy #5: The Musical Slash Educational Film from 1954

I’m back in California as of yesterday around 8pm, but I’m still on East Coast time. As a result, I woke up stupid early this morning and made a playlist for today’s chemotherapy session. I wish I could embed it, but Spotify won’t let me. If you’d like to listen, click here:

CHEMOTHERAPY: THE MUSICAL

It’s a weird, chill, eclectic collection of tunes including Rihanna and Of Monsters and Men and Lymbyc System and tons of other stuff. I’m usually on a ton of drugs during chemotherapy, so…it kind of sounds like music you’d listen to while you’re on drugs.

I cannot believe this is my second-to-last chemotherapy. Someone told me very early on in my treatment that actually, the hardest day for a cancer patient is the final day of chemotherapy, and I’m finally starting to understand what he meant. I mean, this is what people talking about when they talk about “fighting” cancer – sitting in this chair and getting up to pee every fifteen seconds from the constant saline drip, talking to my mom, dickin’ around on the instanetz. But the fight ends, and although the bell will ring, cancer will lie down and the referee will declare me the victor, I’ll leave the ring alone, unprotected and vulnerable. At least I’ve got one more treatment before I have to really start considering that.

After I left New York last Thursday, I hopped on a train to Boston to visit Gordie for the weekend.

By the way, this has nothing to do with anything, but I love trains. Every time one comes by, I have to stop and stare for several minutes, mesmerized by the rhythmic thumping of the wheels over the track’s joints and the blur of ridged containers flying by at a speed that seems impossible for the train’s lumbering weight. It’s like watching an elephant win the 100-meter dash. It’s like a steam-age fractal, a repeating series of shapes and colors, a weird, quaint piece of moving art that harkens back to a time I never knew. I want to grab a hitch and bindle and leap up on one of the ladders and ride away on track ballast, wood and steel to the 1840s. But if I did, I’d be dead, because I think chemotherapy/mastectomies were pretty primitive back then. They probably would have covered me with leeches and called it a day.

Gordie and I had a fantastic time – walking along the esplanade, visiting an outdoor beer garden, meeting up with some of my grad school friends who are interviewing at agencies in Boston, strolling through the public gardens, watching movies, grilling burgers and just enjoying young adult life (something I was isolated from for so long that I cherish it now more than ever before).

Gordie plays in an adult soccer league, so I went with him on Saturday morning to see them compete. While they were warming up, I left to grab an iced coffee before the match started and found myself walking through the middle of one of those Susan G. Komen Walk for the Cure things. It was so weird – all these women in pink shirts and matching fanny-packs, with pithy signs about boobs and womanhood, and me, the very person they’re walking for, wandering through their midst while they march on unaware. It just goes to show that Plato was right: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle. And if their wig is realistic enough, you may never know what it is.

Back to chemo. I find that people often want to ask questions about my condition and my treatment, but they worry that it’ll somehow be offensive. I totally get that concern, but also, I absolutely love answering questions and it’s not offensive to me in the least. It makes me feel useful, like God was like, “Hmmm, I need someone to explain cancer to a smallish group of twentysometimes scattered across California and various mid-size cities on the east coast. I’m gonna use this petite brunette girl! She can tell everyone what it’s like! Michelle, your mission, should you chose to accept it (LOL I’m God just kidding you don’t get a choice), is to become Grand Cancer Ambassador.”

So let me answer a few of the Frequently Asked Questions I get about chemotherapy, in the form of a script for a 1950s educational film.

“CANCER AND YOU (AND ME, WAIT, WHO’S NARRATING THIS AGAIN?): WHAT YOU WANT TO KNOW BUT MIGHT BE AFRAID TO ASK”

ME: Hello, I’m Michelle, and you may recognize me from such blogs as I’m 25 and My Boobs are Trying to Kill Me, the Tumblr that I occasionally binge-update and a Livejournal from 2001. Today, we’re here to talk about chemotherapy!

TIMMY, our pupil: What’s chemotherapy?

ME: Well, Timmy, it’s the worst thing on Earth. It’s basically like the devil pissed into an old Mountain Dew bottle on a long car ride when one of those signs that says “NEXT REST STATION 55 MILES” popped up and he couldn’t hold it any longer, and then he forgot about the bottle for like two months while the car was parked in a very hot parking lot (this is Hell, after all), and then eventually he was like, hey I can sell this!, and he gave it to some doctors, and then they stab you with a needle and inject the months-old satanic urine in your bloodstream.

TIMMY: Is that true?

ME: Yes. That’s exactly how chemo drugs are made.

TIMMY: Why does your hair fall out?

ME: The thing that makes cancer so dangerous is that cancer cells aren’t very different from other cells in your body, they just grow more quickly. The trick to “curing” cancer is to find a drug that targets cancer cells while doing minimal damage to normal, healthy cells (damaging your regular cells would, of course, paradoxically give you MORE cancer and/or kill you). So far, most chemotherapy drugs just target cells that are growing fast, like cancer cells. Other cells grow fast, too, though – like hair. Which is why hair falls out. Nails can also become discolored, raised or fall off, your reproductive system shuts down, your immune system is highly suppressed and you can get sores in your mouth and throat – other places where cells grow quickly.

TIMMY: That sounds like it sucks a big one!

ME: It does, Timmy, it does.

TIMMY: But are you able to do normal stuff?

ME: Mostly, yeah, but that’s because my oncologist is awesome and I absolutely refuse to lie down and take it from some dumb drugs. I feel like I got run over by a steamroller carrying the e. coli virus for the first ten days, and for the second ten days I feel mostly normal, except that I get winded halfway up the stairs. I generally try to cram everything fun and cool into those last ten days between treatments, which leads to some very action-packed weeks punctuated by weeks where I literally go days without changing out of my pajamas. The same pajamas. Yeah, I’m disgusting, whatever, I know it, and I have cancer.

TIMMY: Gee golly whillikers, that sure is gross!

ME: Haters gonna hate, Tim.

TIMMY: Are you allowed to travel?

ME: Yeah. I just got back from a three-city tour of the East Coast. And I’m in the midst planning a cross-country road trip. More on that in an upcoming post.

TIMMY: Are you allowed to drink?

ME: This is a 1950s educational film, you’re in like the fourth grade.

TIMMY: Yeah, but you’re writing this script, so the drinking age can be anything you want.

ME: I don’t think I want it to be 9.

TIMMY: Anyway, just answer the question. Are you allowed to go out for a brewski?

ME: Totally. I’m not supposed to get, like, freshman year hammered, but I can totally have a beer or two at the bar. Or, during one of my Pajamas Weeks, you’re totally welcome to come over with wine. We’ll drink it in front of Law & Order: SVU while I try not to barf into a metal bowl. And that actually sounds strangely reminiscent of the aftermath of a night of being freshman year hammered.

FIN.

Feel free to ask more questions in the comments, if you have some. Nothing’s off limits and I’ll answer as honestly as I can.

11 thoughts on “Chemotherapy #5: The Musical Slash Educational Film from 1954

  1. Pari says:

    Michelle,

    I love reading your blog! I feel weirdly connected to you because I go to grad school at VCU and will be doing my internship at MCV next year, and I am really hoping to be involved in the oncology unit while I’m there. This is all to say that I read your post about being in Richmond and actually think that I felt what one typically feels when realizing that their favorite band played a concert in town and they missed it, or feelings similar to your best friend sighting your favorite celebrity, but having personally missed the sighting (is this creepy?). Anyway, as I’m becoming more insecure in writing this post, I’d like to actually get to my question: what would you most like for people to know about dealing with cancer? If someone could behave in the ideal way around you, what would that look like? I swear I’m usually not this awkward. Anyway, I am loving following you through your journey and am rooting for your victory (in a totally non-creepy way… Have I said that enough?).

    Hope to hear from you!

    • Hi Pari! Small world that you’re at VCU too! I have tons of friends at MCV including my old roommates!

      I think the thing I’d like everyone to know about being cancerous is that people with cancer are normal people. I know we look like aliens since we have no hair, no eyebrows, etc., but we don’t want to be treated any differently than we were treated before we were sick. I think people see someone who is recognizably a cancer patient and they worry that person is fragile or sad or on the verge of death – but most of the time, even though I’m sitting there looking all cancer-y, I’m not contemplating my mortality…I’m just thinking about eating a croissant or where I want to go for drinks next weekend. So I guess the takeaway is, dealing with cancer sucks, but I’m still the same fun-loving and outgoing person I was before and will always be, and I want people to treat me that way, not like a sick person. 🙂

  2. I love your sense of humor and incredible attitude. Fight on warrior! You inspire!

  3. Lisa S says:

    I agree! You are beautifully tough, while documenting this Chapter 25 in life! You will indeed be the victor in it too…Peace.

  4. xdanigirl says:

    “Gee golly whilikers” killed me!! I loved this post! It actually answered the questions that I had! After having someone with cancer in your family, a lot of questions get answered. But no one explained why hair falls out, so thanks (:

  5. Barbara says:

    I liked the line “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle.” I don’t think that’s actually true, but it’s a good attitude to adopt anyway; I like the spirit of it. I mean not every single person is “fighting a battle” every day. Life has ups and downs, good days, bad days, good years, bad years. Many battles in life are invisible to strangers. So when someone who is fighting an invisible battle (e.g., me) receives a small kindness, it’s such a nice surprise and it’s remembered. BTW, other than the cancer(!), your life as a 25-year-old sounds like so much fun. If only I could be 25 again!

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