Well, Google, of course.
It was Thursday when she'd phoned with the dreaded word "chemo". Our in-person appointment wasn't until Monday. That gave me three days in between to sit on the internet and work myself into sleepless nights of anxiety, depression, and gloom.
I'm a researcher. When I embark on anything, be it vegetable gardening, mosaics, romance writing, I dive into the internet, talk to people who have been there, read articles, join discussion forums, and in general, search for all the knowledge I can possibly gain on the subject. That's been amazingly fun and effective when it comes to fun hobbies. Not so much when it comes to cancer.
I'm not saying there's a lot of bad information out there. Much of what I learned off sites like BreastCancer.org or through the American Cancer Society was accurate and valuable. But it can also be terrifying if it's not tempered by the details of your own personal situation. And it gets worse when you wander into the on-line support groups and forums and start reading accounts from people who have been there. They can paint a pretty bleak picture, no matter how much you try to slant your Google searches to something that might give you hope. In fact, by the time Al and I walked into the doctor's office Monday, the following thoughts had already set up shop in my psyche:
- It's like I'm on death row waiting out my last days before chemo ends my life.
- I will come out of this permanently impaired.
- Things I love about my body--my hair, my skin, my nails--will be forever destroyed.
- Next year at this time, I'll be in the 300 lb club, facing double-knee surgery, I'll be an alcoholic or drug addict from the permanent, chronic pain.
- I'll have to give up all the hobbies that bring me joy.
Needless to say, I am done with the internet.
It's not that I regret giving myself self-inflicted pain. Knowing me, there was NO WAY I would go through something like this without scouring for information to get as informed and prepared as possible. Doing so helped me track down things that might be especially worrisome to me but not the next guy, and make sure I covered those things with my doctor while I had her time.
And while Sunday was one of the most anxious and depressed days of my life, by the time we walked out of the doctor's office Monday afternoon, I felt cleansed. Like I'd looked all the worst case scenarios in the eyes and stared them down until they backed off and crawled away.
Al asked her if we came with more questions than the average chemo patient, and though I forget her actual response, it was definitely in the "yes" category. But she said what's more troubling are the people who come in and don't ask anything at all. People are different. We all face challenges using the tools that have worked for us in the past. I'm sure many simply turn themselves over to God, stay in the present and pray for strength in the future. They don't need to know what might be coming, and will deal with it when it does. I admire those people, but there really is no wrong answer to how to face a challenge. For me, this was my way.
Sunday was bad, but today I am feeling relieved, confident and strong. BIG shout-out to the group at St. Josephs Cancer Center. They are an amazing group of people. After my appointment, the scheduling nurse walked me around the facility and showed me the room where people were receiving their chemo treatment. It looked like a nail salon, and the people there getting treatment were as calm, relaxed and unaffected as folks getting pedicures. That one tour alone wiped out more fears than you can imagine.
Like I said, I am officially done Google searching. I went there, had my fill, turned over every rock and now I'm done feeling clueless and afraid.
I've got a tentative date of 4/13/17 to have my first treatment. It was a date I chose as I looked forward on the calendar and figured what would work best for me. (Yes, I showed up at the doctor's office with a 2017 calendar and marked all the dates for everything. I am nothing if not my mother's daughter.) Between now and then I won't be stressing anymore. And that's a good feeling. I'm in a good place now, so my work will be focused on staying here. But it was definitely a bumpy ride.