Throughout my childhood, I remember both parents (but mostly my mother) repeating the Emerson quote “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” I don’t remember if this was part of chastising us, educating us, or helping us bad-mouth bullies incomprehensibly, but the quote made an impression.
Being young, I immediately understood that a hobgoblin (and therefore a foolish consistency) was bad because it contained the word “goblin.” Clearly, it was ugly too because it was covered with hobs. These, when I was very young, resembled a cross between plantars warts and chicken pox. As I got older, they morphed into a horrible case of white pustuled acne. Even now when I know what a hobgoblin is (Puck is one of them, described in poetry as a friendly but troublesome creature, human-like, small, and hairy, and able to shape-shift) my own personal vision is still of a goblin (a grayish, pig-like creature with a curly tail, a bad attitude, opposable thumbs, and the ability to walk on his hind legs…imagine a pig with an orc for a distant relative) with a plethora of Ayers Rock type skin lesions. Still ugly, and still, clearly, “bad.”
Because we wouldn’t want my cancer to be a hobgoblin, I, or it, or whomever else is in charge of these things, has decided to keep me on my toes by having it be inconsistent. I know I last wrote about how nice it was to know how I’ll be feeling depending on the day (by the way, I’m back in the hospital, it is Day 3, and I’m feeling good but tired), which remains generally true. However, I seem to have discovered a new set of side-effects/cancer-chemo realities in the last few weeks and gotten to be better friends with some old ones.
On Day 9, exhausted from the crankiness of Day 8, I saw my oncologist for my weekly appointment, and shared with her that my mouth had been feeling weird.
“Um, just weird. Kind of like a sore throat, because it’s painful to swallow, but also just weird.”
“Open your mouth…yup, swollen tongue. I’m going to give you Magic Mouthwash, which should help.” (Google it.)
A little chemo 101 (feel free to skip this paragraph if you’ve already taken this class). Cancer cells are incredibly fast growing, so one of the things that chemo does is target fast-growing cells. This is why hair falls out and nails stop growing (which in certain cases is actually very convenient). However, there are other spots in your body that have fast growing cells, like the surface of your tongue and the inside of your mouth. Every time you chew, swallow, or generally use your mouth, you’re churning up those surface cells. So, if those cells aren’t replacing themselves as rapidly as they should, your tongue and mouth get inflicted with the Chinese torture of Death by a Thousand Cuts.
“You have mouth sores.”
Fantastic. It wasn’t that bad on Day 9, but by the time Day 10 rolled around I was quietly crying while trying to eat breakfast. Imagine the entire underside of your tongue with cuts on it. Now imagine moving your tongue. Now imagine trying to talk, eat, drink, or yawn without moving your tongue. Yeah. That was my problem too.
I swung by Jamba Juice to get lunch and looked it up on the way home to see if we could invest in it before I went on an all-smoothie diet for the next three months. Then I called my homeopathic/energy/alternative woman in a panic. Throughout the day, I learned that my mouth is happier with cold drinks. That I move my tongue less while drinking through straw. And that smaller bites are better than bigger bites.
By Day 11, I cleared the use of L-Glutamine with my doctor (an amino acid shown to help in the repair of gastro associated lymphoid tissue for people with Crohn’s — same problem, different end of the digestive tract). As of Day 17, things had begun to heal.
Advantage to the timing of mouth sores, I was much more exhausted after Round 3 than I had been in the past. Can’t eat if you’re sleeping. Which also made my three (three?! WTF) days of neutropenia easier to handle because I was too tired to feel guilty about not being at the office.
Day 15, I saw my personal trainer for the first time since he told me to go to the doctor, which was both fantastic and overwhelming:
“No, you’re not doing crunches, you are literally just pulling your stomach muscles together. Think Pilates. Keep your head on the ground. Now do 25. If you’re too tired, try to do at least 15.” I did 22. And then collapsed, exhausted.
“What weight did we used to use for pull-downs? Six? Okay, try 25 at three.” (This is a machine, people, not actual weights/pounds…I’m not THAT fucking weak…Michael’s setting is 10-11 depending on number of reps.)
“Why am I so much weaker…and how can you tell?”
“Chemo is eating your muscles in addition to your tumor. Plus you’ve lost 20 pounds you couldn’t afford to lose…where do you think those extra pounds came from? And your muscles just look different as you’re lifting.”
“Awesome. So I’m back to square one.”
“Chin up, life is a continuum.”
“Really? I’ll show you a fucking continuum.”
“I knew I could get 25 out of you.”
Day 20, having decided that my port surgery was healed enough, I went to yoga:
“Hi! I haven’t been to a class in three months, I used to be pretty good, but now I’m, ah, weaker and run out of breath a lot faster. Do you mind if I sit in the back and follow along as much as I can but if necessary do my own thing?”
“No problem at all…didn’t your hair used to be really long?”
“Yup. I decided to shave it because of the heat wave in July.”
I’m still sore.