Chapter 6: The Chemo Fallout
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It was a standard Monday night. The chemo was kicking my ass but the Marinol made me actually want to eat. My parents had to go back home and all that was just the TV and me. Vanna White kept me awake long enough to remember that my friend Brad’s parents, Don and Sue (lovely people), had purchased me a snack “goodie bag.” In it, a party-sized bag of the original Nacho Cheese Doritos. Well, this particular night I decided to revel and dive into the childhood favorite (with an assist from the previously mentioned miracle drug).
I nearly ate the entire bag in one three-hour-long sitting. The “fat boy” mentality doesn’t work if you’re taking chemotherapy. As I held my stomach in agony on my fully adjustable hospital bed, I said simply: “Bad fat boy.”
I’m swearing off Doritos forever.
When I wasn’t making myself sick on Doritos, I was battling more of the chemo fallout. Quite literally in fact, as when Day 10 approached, I was taking a shower and shampooing my hair. It was inevitable I suppose, but any chances of me looking half decent during this whole ordeal accumulated around the drain of the cold tile bathroom floor.
But it didn’t stop there. I dried off my head and pulled the towel back: hundreds of strands of hair adorned the bright white standard issue towel. I had seen a few here and there I suppose before this, but this was too much. So to finish off the drying, I softly patted my head as though I was cleaning expensive fine china. I looked into the mirror and slowly tugged on another strand. It slid right out of my scalp like a toothpick out of butter.
Holy Shit. I’m living every man’s nightmare!
And it wasn’t that easy to take. You psyche yourself up and expect to be fine with the loss, but then when the hair starts flying out, good God is it scary. I continued testing different areas of my head. All sections of the top came out with ease. The sides were a little tougher, however, so I didn’t bother much with picking at those sections.
That entire day I would pull more and more, in small amounts. I’m not sure why, maybe I thought that it would stop coming out, but that wasn’t to be. It almost became fun. I wanted to see how much I could pull out before it started becoming noticeable.
My Mom would freak out. “Jaim! Don’t do that!!” Her reaction would always make me laugh uncontrollably.
I told my nurse and she recommended we shave my head to a very short level so that it wouldn’t look “off.” I suppose it was the right thing to do.
Within the hour they brought an electric razor. It was weird, I had hoped to avoid this point (to not look like a chemo patient), but let’s be honest here: if I were to leave it, I’d have patches of bald spots on my head. I had seen some people attempt this before in my research: mostly women. I got it though: it’s not the vision of him or herself you want the world to see; it’s almost worse. so I watched as the clippers approached my eyes, then slide over my forehead. Bbbbbbbzzzzzzzzz
The buzzing sound was extremely loud. With each pass of the clippers, I pictured myself in the mirror. I tried to anticipate having no hair, an image I had never once witnessed. Boy did those clippers vibrate hard… this wasn’t at the level of careful attention of my hairdresser back home. She took great care in her work and cut every hair on the top of my head by hand.
As a kid, I had some crazy-thick hair. They would use these thinning scissors in an effort to somehow tame my stocky locks. My Dad would always openly envy how thick my hair was. I thought I would have it forever. And here it was, thick and on a white hospital bed in loose piles.
All in all, it lasted about ten minutes. True to her word, she kept my hair down to a fine, light bristle. I’m no whiz with measurements, but I’d venture a guess of about a centimeter in length. If you were close to me, you could see the peach fuzz, but get a good ten feet away or more… I was one hundred percent bald. I was a chemo patient through and through.
I ran to the mirror in the bathroom, looked over to the nurse and then back at my head. “Don’t quit your day job,” I offered with a smirk.
I stayed in front of the mirror for a good five minutes. I rubbed my hand back and forth over the remaining soft hair and boy was that addicting. I tried pulling out the now shorter strands, but there wasn’t enough to grab. Instead, I’d gaze at the remnants of my attack on the “frontline.”
“Whoa, that’s noticeable. I hope I didn’t fuck myself once it grows back.”
By the time I woke up the next morning, I had already acclimated to the new look. Hey, it’s not like I look in the mirror often anyway. However, there were many times coming out of the shower or going to the bathroom that I’d check to make sure my hair looked okay completely forgetting that I had had none.
It wasn’t long after starting treatment that I was required to wear a facemask when leaving the room. In fact, every single visitor had to wear them when entering my room. As all of them surrounded me in their yellow facemasks, it felt like the end of E.T. the Extraterrestrial and I was E.T. Or it was the alternate ending autopsy scene and I was the bald troll-like alien at the center of attention in a medical facility.
Because I was Catholic, one of those visitors was a priest who would frequently come check up on me. He had been in and out from day two, and since then I’d told him I would be okay without regular visits, but nevertheless, he would still make it a point to come by from time to time and see how I was doing.
A few years before my time in the hospital the lid had blown off of the Catholic molestation cover-ups and to that effect…
I couldn’t help but feel weird around the Priest. Now, don’t get me wrong, he was an amazing man and a good Father, never acting inappropriately, but it was just something in the back of my mind as it had been the first time I was alone with a Priest anywhere except for confession, but at least there was a wall separating us then…
Okay, so that coupled with my waning faith in the Church system made it a weird exchange every time he visited. But this in no way had stopped me from enjoying his visits. I mean it, every visit I was lucky enough to receive was a connection with a human being, and for that I was grateful.
And to make a quick aside here, the positive energy– the vibe; the goodwill from everyone who had kept me in their prayers and thought of me, wished me well– All of it, I could feel it. There’s something to the power of the collective subconscious; something we have yet learned in which to properly tap.
I could feel myself getting better. Call it a Placebo effect, call it B.S., whatever you believe, and in whomever in which you believe, I felt it. I just wish we all could feel such an energy.
The one type of energy I was lacking in though was the gift of humor. While I was able to maintain positivity thus far, I wasn’t laughing as much as I once had. They say laughter is the best medicine, but I wasn’t getting the right dosage.
In an effort to remedy that, I had received an unexpected visit from my friends Shawn and Jonas. They had decided to drive down together and surprise me. It was a fantastic visit. We chatted it up and laughed extensively. We talked of our recent high school years and had such a great time.
They told me the amazing tale of their trip down. They left super early in the morning and were extremely tired. They were driving Shawn’s white Fiero (The same car Bueller’s sister drove in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) down a strip of road near Patten and looked to an open field to the right. A moose was running towards the road with all of its speed. The car and moose were heading towards the same point, but neither were slowing down. Whatever was going on with the moose in his mind was irrelevant because he was aiming to kill.
Shawn had to speed up so they wouldn’t cross paths in the worst of ways.
After the reeling tale of near death, I decided to lighten the mood and pulled out the Family Guy Season 1 & 2 DVD boxset I had received as a gift. We popped in the first disc and before you knew it, we were busting a gut (I’m sure I wasn’t far from literally busting it based on my rock bottom blood counts).
I had watched this before, but it never really made me laugh. I guess a few years ago, I didn’t get it. No idea why for as soon as the three of us watched I was hooked.
I was instantly transformed into a devoted fan from the very first episode where Peter recalls the birthday party planner visit. “We have multiple types of flavors: vanilla, chocolate, and people.” Then at the end of that same episode when he’s about to go to jail and the Kool-Aid Man bursts through the walls then slowly backs away… Seriously, those first few episodes were hilarious and just what I needed at that moment in time.
Soon after they left I asked my Stepdad to go out and purchase the third season box set so that I could continue my laughing fits and feel some true, unadulterated joy.
Even though I physically looked like a pool cue.
This is an ongoing story of my personal battle with Cancer. My hope is that it helps others who are currently experiencing their own battles (whether it be for themselves or a loved one) or to help with early detection.
The way I’m doing it is terrifying for a writer. I’m writing a publically available first-draft outline for an eventual book, chapter by chapter in weekly form. The only reason I’m doing it this way is to get the story out as soon as possible for someone out there who needs a survivor to visit them during their own treatment. If you’re reading this and need someone to talk to, tweet at me and I’ll give you a call. No questions asked. This story is for you and I’ll help any way that I can.
Stay tuned, as I will be posting a new chapter every Monday until the story is complete.
And remember if you experience any Anemic symptoms– get checked for Leukemia as well.
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