A Slow Climb

With my marrow beaten and worn from four rounds of chemo, my counts have been slow to rebound, and I am stuck here until at least late tomorrow or more likely Wednesday. All normal for this course of chemo, the effect of which is cumulative, but absolutely no fun. I am, as Jacqui says, exceptionally bored and grumpy, and I have taken to throwing banana peels, trash, and shooting spit balls at the dopey resident who woke me up at 2:30am on Friday night to give me a full exam. When he offered me a digital exam for free I knew that I was in the wrong hands, and immediately called security.

I have shared with all of you my most personal emotions about what I have been through, but have only described in bits and pieces the physical nature of being on chemo–the puke-o-meter, the exhaustion following treatment, the loss of my mane. So if you don’t mind the gory details, at least some of them, read on. Otherwise, you may want to skip ahead to the photo below of Otis as a puppy just after his first bath (boy did he smell. He was stuck in the pound for three weeks and barely got out for a walk. So if you are thinking about getting a dog, go rescue one at the pound).

Appetite and Weight
After the first treatment I dropped almost 15 pounds due to a combination of the vomiting and neutropenic diet. I have put back on almost 10 of those 15, but my weight varies by a few pounds after each treatment and neutropenic cycle. I generally have a normal appetite the first day of chemo, but the second two days I feel mildly nauseous, and don’t eat much. During the week following chemo I am on a neutropenic diet, and eat Whole Foods waffles and a banana for breakfast, Wolfgang Puck’s veggie soup and a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch, and grilled chicken, baked potato, and steamed broccoli for dinner. Sometimes I mix it up and go crazy with minestrone soup for lunch or dinner. That’s living on the edge for me, otherwise I eat the same thing all week. Following the lifting of the neutropenic diet, I always go right to my neighborhood sushi bar for some raw fish, and then eat from a feed-bag pretty much for a week straight to replenish the lost stocks. And then it starts all over again…

It’s not just my head hair that’s gone. My body hair has thinned in most places and is completely gone in some others. When I look in the mirror, I look like a 12-year-old. Even my back hair is mostly gone (the one thing Jacqui is thankful for in all of this). Two strange things: on the outside of my legs and my knee caps, my hair is gone, but on the inside of my legs, from thigh to ankle, it remains thick; and, between cycles my hair comes back on my face, just around my mouth, at first white, and then thick and dark. I am told that once this is done my hair, already thick, will come back with a vengeance. I think I’ll look like the wolfman for a while.

Smell, Taste, and Touch
For the first three or four days after chemo, my senses of smell and taste are dulled. Nothing tastes normal, and nothing smells right. And I smell funny too. The chemo gives me a strange ripeness that drives Otis away. For most of the remainder of the chemo period, my sense of smell becomes very intense, and smells that normally don’t bother me are a little overwhelming. I can even smell fear, shoplifting, and my neighbor’s upset stomach. Finally, right after chemo my skin is sensitive to the touch, something between a tickle and a pinch. That goes away pretty quickly though.

During the neutropenic period when my counts bottom out, there are two things that feel weird–the exhaustion and heart pounding. The exhaustion comes from the chemo recovery and the fact that I have few red blood cells and barely any hemoglobin (the protein that delivers oxygen to tissue throughout the body). The heart pounding is the worst part. That is due to the fact that my heart has to work much harder, because of the low hemoglobin, to supply oxygen throughout my body. Sounds fun, huh?!

Chemo Brain
I’ve described in past entries the dulling effect of this whole thing on my mind. The first few days out of chemo are the worst, and then it gets bad again during the blood count crash. My hemoglobin starved brain is fuzzy during these periods, and sometimes I have trouble with my memory, especially with recalling names and simple facts (I knew my brain was a mess when I asked for a-write-in-ballot last Tuesday and tried to vote for Richard Nixon). Chemo brain is a strange sensation, one that goes away after a few days, but for a guy who allegedly relies on his noggin to make a living, it is not a good feeling.

So there you have it. Other than the fact that after each cycle my finger and toenails ache and I am severely constipated (thank you, Colace!), that’s pretty much the extent of it so far. I’ve been spared the balance problems, mouth sores, skin rashes, and eye problems, so I feel pretty lucky.

And now for two cute photo of Otis to make you forget this blog…

Here is Otis after his first bath. Look how small he is. And so cute.

And here are Otis and his mama. Goodnight!

2 thoughts on “A Slow Climb”

  1. Mike,Andrea’s friend from SW school here. Wow, amazing blog. Tough to read about some of your experiences, but truly inspiring. Thanks for the candor, vulnerability and humor. Consider me a part of your Chicago constituency. Go man!


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