Anniversary Purge

Recycling chemo papers

Today is recycling day. I toss into the bin a large cache, more than the usual fundraising appeals and advertising circulars. Chemotherapy and You lands on top of the pile, along with notes from consultations with surgeons and my oncologist, diaries tracking food intake, medications, and neuropathy ratings on a scale of 1-5, Look Good, Feel Better brochures, Radiation and You. It’s a good day for a purge—the one-year anniversary of my last round of chemo for a rare and aggressive form of uterine cancer.

I’d let go of a lot of things already: the sense of having an uninterrupted life; the veil separating me from mortality; my “lady parts,” as my friend Deb calls the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and cervix removed by the surgeon. Then my hair. Sometimes, though less than you might think, my energy, appetite, and spirits.

It was a long winter. But then it was the first day of spring, as it is today.

A year ago, at the end of my last chemotherapy session, the staff presented me with a Certificate of Achievement,  Certificate of Achievementwith accolades about my courage and perseverance. Such praise felt unwarranted, as it wasn’t so much a matter of bravery as complying with the recommended treatment in order to regain my health. But I did leave feeling grateful. And so relieved to be done.

Today I hesitate to add my certificate to the recycling bin. It’s strange moving away from active treatment. Along with the sense of relief comes the fear of moving beyond chemo’s protective bubble. Anxiety about cancer recurring simultaneously recedes and grows as time passes. Will throwing out my Certificate of Achievement jinx me? But I toss it anyway, along with magical thinking. I’m happy to be done with cancer’s clutter.

My cancer treatment included some Chinese medicine, and my practitioner, Michael, prescribed for Days 5 through 10 of each chemo cycle anything that would help my body cleanse itself of dead cells. “Cleansing can also be figurative as well; anything that you do during this part that helps you get rid of things is useful—cleaning out closets and the garage, completing projects, and resolving personal and business issues and relationships.” My garage is still a mess. But today’s purge feels very cleansing.

I’m hanging onto my wig, though. Maybe it’s like Fat Clothes, the oversized garments in the back of the closet you can’t get rid of after you lose weight just in case it comes back. You never know.


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Awaiting Hurricane Chemo

Hurricane looming


Last year at this time, as Hurricane Sandy was barreling down on the East Coast, I was preparing for my own storm–chemotherapy for a rare and aggressive form of uterine cancer (I’m fine now, unlike a lot of people whose lives were devastated by Sandy.) Here’s what I wrote a year ago, complete with topical references to the news and the upcoming presidential election:


I know my own storm is looming, and the warnings are dire—fatigue, nausea, hair loss, risk of infection and permanent neuropathy. But I don’t yet feel it in my gut. I’ve been hiking and working, grocery shopping, trying new recipes with complex ingredients, phone banking, seeing comedy. Surely the warnings don’t apply to me in my bubble of near-normal on such a beautiful day. How can the storm hit when the skies are so blue? People must be exaggerating; I’ll be able to ride it out more or less intact. I don’t want to evacuate my current life. The Mayor of Atlantic City is most welcome to tell me it’s safe to stay put.

But instead here comes Chris Christie shouting at me to stop being an idiot: “Don’t be stupid, take it seriously, quit working, eat organic, give up refined sugar and flour!” (Actually, I’d be really surprised if Chris Christie chided me about my diet.) Why can’t he let me linger with my illusions?

It’s not like I’m completely unprepared. I’ve been half-heartedly stockpiling guided imagery CDs, cancer-fighting recipes, baldness disguises. But I feel like Mitt Romney with his canned goods as I collect my little bottles of hand sanitizer in a hapless gesture against the onslaught.

Will I be flattened? Will the storm pass through me with only minor damage and disruptions? Like East Coasters preparing their kids for blackouts by saying how fun it will be–“Just like camping!”— I’m telling myself that sitting in Kaiser’s 5th floor infusion center for hours will be just like giving blood, such a good chance to catch up on my reading! But even camping and no-school days and New Yorkers get old fast. Besides, what if the damage is extensive? Will it take me months, even years, to dig out? Will I be one of the fatalities, if not in the literal sense, with a life so changed it will feel like I’ve lost everything? Will my inner and outer resources hold, especially once the initial crisis has turned into one long tiresome trudge? What if I can’t rebuild?

The storm is coming, but I don’t want to think about it just yet. Standing here now, before it hits, I can’t believe I’ll lose the sun, the warmth, this lovely day, even for a moment.