The Fear of Recurrence
My 7th treatment was the beginning of a deep faith crisis. The Sunday before my treatment was Father’s day. I had gone to Stop and Shop to pick up some cake and salad for the Father’s day reception at church. As I approached the check-out isle, I saw the front cover of People Magazine; Olivia Newton-John’s breast cancer had resurfaced after 25 years of remission. I was thrown off. The floodgates of flashbacks started filling my mind: the aches, the pains, the mouth sores, the MRSA infection, the nausea, the beat-up state, pins and needles feeling on my scalp. Nobody should have to go through chemo and have to experience cancer coming back. No way! I quickly pulled myself together, paid for the cake and left.
I went through church service like all was well. When I got home that evening, I was quiet. I was home, but I was not there. The moment I checked into Dana Farber with my husband, tears started welling up my eyes. Usually, I’d come in fierce and ready and to take my chemo. For the second cycle of Taxol (6th treatment), I went all out! The make-up, a long flowy royal blue Ankara gown with orange patterns. My face was glowing. This time I did not care, my wig was a bit frumpy and it was not sitting well on my head.
The nurse/phlebotomist called me in for the initial blood work up. The moment she said ‘How are we doing today’, I broke down into uncontrollable tears. I told her what I saw on Sunday. She tried to calm me down and promised to say a prayer. After the blood work, we moved to the waiting room to see Dr. Chi chemotherapy. My husband had observed that I was not myself earlier and my countenance was getting worse. I finally told him what had been bugging me since Sunday and the tears came rolling again.
“This must be it!, there can’t be a re-occurrence, I can’t do this anymore…”
Bankole held me tight and did all he could to comfort me. Dr. Chi walks in and sees a whole different Toyin. I always came in ready to fight. Even in my weakest state during the MRSA infection, I held on tight. This time, there was no energy to fight. I was free falling like the disciples when the boat was about to sink.
“What happened to my high energy Toyin?” she asked.
I relayed my fears again and like a good doctor, she proposed a brighter picture.
“Cancer re-occurrence happens in very small population; besides, the regimen and advances keep changing. There was no Taxol 25 years ago”
Dr. Chi began the explain the possibility of me being in clinical trial once I was done with radiation therapy in addition to the hormone therapy. Let’s just say my meeting with Chi was 95% counselling and psychotherapy. I went for my 7th chemotherapy drained. I just wanted to be done. I went home and went straight to bed after dinner.
The next morning, I got ready for work as usual. The drive was uneventful. However, as I drove to work, I felt this reassuring, comforting presence, an inner peace that lifted the weight away. I kept hearing in my heart:
“Toyin, I have your back, you will be perfectly alright, you are secure…”
It was the most comforting feeling. A divine hug, squeeze and gentle rocking so comforting that nobody but the Holy Spirit could give me. It was so soothing. I felt encouraged, strengthened and lifted to go through the day. The bone pain was more bearable this time. I had included magnesium tablets in my morning regimen. The tingling sensation was more in my toes but nothing too pronounced. God answers prayers indeed. My fingers were still intact. I could hold objects properly with no fear of losing my grip. Neuropathy was a non-issue.
By my 7th cycle, the summer temperatures were starting to kick in. My skin was starting to sweat and become irritated under the PICC line dressing. The itch was real and pretty aggravating. There were instances when the dressing will open and expose the PICC line. Thanks to Sister Tinuola, another sister in Christ, a nurse by profession who came to my rescue on 3 occasions. She lived not too far away from me. Whenever the dressing looked like it was falling apart, I would call her to rescue me. Overall, the PICC line worked. The only caveat was the irritation from the dressing. My poor skin was starting to rebel and give up.
The countdown to the 8th treatment began a week after the 7th. Dara, my cousin and caregiver was more excited for me than I was. She was just happy to see the end of it all; the daily saline and heparin flushes of the PICC line, the constant daily wrapping with cling wrap whenever I needed to shower, the subsequent taping of the cling wrap so water does not sip to the PICC dressing. She was more responsible for these care activities than anyone else. She had moved in March 23rd. June was fast coming to an end. She was more excited for me than I or myself.
July 1st marked the EPIC go live for the hospital. I pretty much worked till the day of my last treatment cycle to distract myself from any depressive thought. I need to keep busy and productive. I know when to rest my body but I cannot afford to stay idle. An idle mind, is Satan’s soccer field. I was at work on July 2nd and the 3rd. It felt so good to see the end of the first phase. The end of that horizon. I was getting tired. My body was struggling to fight the side effects.
As ‘bearable’ as the Taxol was, its side effects on my bones and chest walls made me very exhausted. For days I just wanted to be done. I was glad it was coming to an end. The plan was to have Bankole and the children come join me for the last treatment. They ‘ubered’ themselves to DCFI while I had driven to work. The game plan was to walk across to get my last chemotherapy, so Bankole can drive me home. My boss offered to walk with me to DCFI. She made sure I checked in while I waited for the phlebotomist.
Dr. Chi would not be available to see me. Her nurse practitioner was there to see how I was doing. My family was there, including Dara my cousin-caregiver. Everyone was happy to see it all come to an end. It was the longest 4 hours ever. My son came with the chess board so he could play with his dad. I turned to Netflix on my mobile device and watched Kung-Fu Panda 3. The treatment was over and it was time to take out the PICC line. Nurse Tricia had me take a deep breath and she pulled the PICC line out. My darling husband was ready with his phone to capture the moment. It was done! Chemotherapy was over. Thank you Jesus! I still had to come back for the Neulesta injection two days later but I was happy to be done. This last chemo called for a mini family celebration. We tried our Thai joint of over 14 years and it was closed for the 4th of July celebration. We opted for a Japanese seafood buffet in Natick and we celebrated over food. I mustered enough strength to stand on the buffet line and grab my food.; chicken teriyaki, fried rice, glazed salmon, a bit of miso soup, some salad and vanilla ice cream for desert.
When we got home, I gave each member of my family a tight hug. This was my way of saying thank you for standing with me. My children really handled it with such grace. God was very faithful and good to me. I am certain they had scary moments but on the surface, they lived like normal children. They continued to study and do their homework. They continued to be naughty and forget to lay their beds like before. Tami might have been hit a bit hard. She cried whenever she saw me in severe pain. Once I encouraged her, she would pull herself together and continue to be the happy go lucky Tami.
Bolu was just ‘Bolu’. Sometimes, it felt as though he was oblivious to what was going on. He had this air of ‘I refused to be bothered by this’, yet he was sensitive when the need arose. On one occasion, he caught his father almost sobbing in his office. Bankole had been involved in an accident. The other victim was a man who just lost his wife to cancer. The cancer came back after 10 years and had metastasize to her brain. In that moment of fear, Bolu assures his father in a very affirmative voice: “Nothing is going to happen to mum.” On another occasion after my first treatment, we were all watching America’s Got Talent . For some strange reason, a good number of the contestants had lost loved ones to cancer. We all went to bed like nothing happened but the next morning, Bolu held my hands and he said a declarative prayer:
“Yesterday, we heard about people who lost their loved ones to cancer. Mummy, that is not your portion. I am not going to lose you to cancer”
I said a resounding Amen. I was encouraged. I was just grateful to God for using my son at that moment. This was a classic case of my son being taught by the Lord. I could not take credit for that.
Dara was supposed to come and ‘hustle’ in preparation for graduate school. Here she was feeding me, caring for me, being a big aunt to my children, ensuring life was not halted in the Adewumi household. Only God can reward her. We had not seen each other in over 20 years, but God made her available.
Bankole got the tightest and longest hug. Oh, my darling husband. He experienced the pains and side effects up close and personal. He saw the highs, he experienced the lows, he saw the hair fall off, we even fought in between. Through it all, he was gracious. He did everything not to miss any treatment. He became an IV nurse, he kept up with my meds. He had a reminder on his cell phone for the saline and heparin flush. He was for better and for worse, through sickness and in health.