Hey. It’s been a while. That’s the thing about a humour blog. It takes a really long time to find a clever, witty line to put after I have cancer and it’s one of the worst possible kinds. And boy, are my arms tired!
See what I mean?
But here I am just the same, even if I haven’t been able to find the funny lately. You see, a few weeks ago a friend of mine posted a question on my Facebook timeline asking how married life was treating me. The answer is just too complicated for a status update.
For those not in the know, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August, 2014. I had surgery to remove the tumor, as well as a third of my pancreas, part of my intestines and my gall bladder. This was followed up by preventative chemotherapy and in January 2015, my CT scan showed no sign of cancer. This past May, though, a follow-up scan showed that the pancreatic cancer was back and had metastasized in my liver.
The treatment would be a very strong chemotherapy and my oncologist suggested we start it in June, giving me a month to get myself as physically and mentally strong as possible because – and I quote – this kind of chemo would absolutely kick my ass.
Jepeto and I quickly decided to make the most of that month. We booked my dream vacation to Paris and made plans to get married. And it was fabulous. Jepeto’s aunt even surprised us by arranging a symbolic wedding at a lovely historic hilltop church near the family home in the French countryside. We had our official ceremony when we returned.
Unfortunately not long after the wedding, I started chemo and it did indeed kick my ass. So married life turned out to be quite a challenge and – surprisingly – it wasn’t even remotely Jepeto’s fault. How weird is that, right?
I started throwing up roughly 4 hours into the first chemo treatment, called Fulfirinox. I continued to throw up every couple of hours for the next 20 hours even after my nurse stopped the chemo and started pumping me full of anti-nausea medication. I spent two days in hospital where the entire oncology department came to the unanimous agreement that 1) they had never collectively seen anyone (ever, anywhere) react that badly to this type of chemo and 2) I would need a different chemo cocktail.
Thankfully, Jepeto has a government job and great health insurance coverage. Abraxane, the new cocktail of choice, is not approved for my type of cancer by the Quebec government – regardless of what oncologists worldwide believe, not to mention Health Canada – so Quebec hospitals are not allowed to give it to patients like me. However, private clinics are. But that requires approval by our insurance company since it would have to cover the cost of the clinic and the medication.
We had to wait for the approval and then the subsequent coordination of private clinic and hospital visits (because after the Abraxane, I would need to get another type of chemo called Gemzar at the hospital and all of this needs to happen on the same day). It took a couple of months. While we waited, I was given “bridging” treatments of Folfox once every two weeks.
Folfox has a huge list of side effects: diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, hard time breathing or swallowing when exposed to cold air or substances (food, drink, etc), loss of appetite, taste changes, weight loss, fatigue, hair loss, weakness and tingling in the hands and feet. Needless to say, I had all of them.
The most problematic was the weight loss. After my first dose, I dropped from 116 to 105 lbs. I was warned that if I dropped more weight, I couldn’t keep up the treatments. After each subsequent dose, I would drop to 97 lbs. Which left me with a week and a half to get myself back up to 105 lbs. It was a constant struggle, but somehow I managed to get close enough each time to continue.
On top of everything, the anti-nausea medicine I was prescribed had to be taken with steroids and – combined with my wonky half pancreas – as a result, I developed diabetes.
Finally three weeks ago, I was able to start the Abraxane/Gemzar schedule. The difference was instantly noticeable. I didn’t drop a single pound. I had more energy. I COULD EAT ICE CREAM!!!!! I gained weight. Everything was better. Everything is better. I’m even starting to visit Facebook again.
So as we approach our third month anniversary, I can say that married life has sucked because of cancer and chemotherapy. But I can also say that Jepeto is the perfect husband – now there are words I never thought I’d string together! – and I could not have gotten through all of this without him.
Jepeto took a leave of absence from work and spent the last three months taking care of me day and night. He’s learned to give me my daily insulin injections as well as the white blood cell booster I need on a regular basis. He took care of our kids, the house, finances, errands, cooking, cleaning… all while making sure that all my needs were met.
A friend once asked me what originally attracted me to Jepeto. I told him this story:
Jepeto and I met at work. In a building with over 1000 employees, there were plenty of couples working together. When we started dating, he told me in no uncertain terms that we would not be one of “those” couples, walking hand in hand around the office. They were ridiculous, he mocked. Living together and working together and then they had to walk around holding hands like they couldn’t live without each other. Pffft! Never having been much of a clingy type, I had no problem with that. And on Monday morning when we walked into the office, he held my hand.
Ten years later, he’s still holding it. When I couldn’t stop throwing up, he held my hand and told me it would be okay. When I had such painful stomach cramps that left me in the fetal position a crying, shaking mess, he held my hand and got me through it. When I cried in the middle of Dairy Queen after eating my first ice cream in months, he held my hand and hugged me. And when my hair fell out in clumps and I had to shave it off, he held my hand and told me I was beautiful.
Married life has been hard but as long as my husband holds my hand, I know I’ll be okay.