Treatment nine was followed by a lot of pain. I've blocked most of that day out. (Blocking things out is my Super Power.) I remember that I left my bed in the dark of night, retreating to the recliner in the living room, where I continued to suffer stabbing pains. My coping skills were depleted. I could only sit there in the dark and pray, with tears streaming.
I believe in redemptive suffering, and so I offered the pain to Jesus through Mary, trusting that she would present my anguish to her Son in a more useful way than I was able to--an exercise that St. Louis de Montfort, St. John Paul II, and many other saints practiced and recommended in their lifetimes. For as long as I could, I offered prayers for others, then finally I begged God for relief.
If chemo was going to be like this from now on, I was ready to call it quits. "Nine treatments might be enough," I thought. I had read that some studies showed that eight rounds of FOLFOX were shown to be as effective as the twelve I was supposed to receive. Some patients stopped at only six!
Thankfully, the day went infinitely better than the night had, and my resolve to finish the series of treatments returned.
Blood work at this time showed that my poor, over-worked liver needed a break. During the "recovery" week, I received three neupogen injections to boost my white blood cell count, but these had no benefit to my liver. That Thursday, my oncologist deemed my liver "too toxic" to proceed with treatment ten as scheduled for the following Monday. Instead, she proposed to split the treatment over two days. Fluorouracil alone would be given on Monday. Oxaliplatin would follow on Tuesday, but only if newer blood labs showed some liver recovery.
On Monday I arrived for FOLFOX minus oxaliplatin. That night, my doctor phoned to report that the liver enzymes were "not trending upward", which meant that my liver was holding on. I was instructed to show up at the clinic again the following morning for Part 2 of the infusion.
Tuesday came and I arrived to find the treatment room filled almost to capacity. My usual spot, which had a view of the "cocktail bar" was available (by this time I was avoiding the windows, because my eyes were so sensitive to light) and so there I sat. After an hour, all of the patients were plugged in to their chemo meds. Most were napping. Patrick and I immersed ourselves online--him doing work; me surfing with no real purpose.
Suddenly, Patrick said, "I think that lady needs help!" I turned to my left to see a woman about my age in obvious distress a couple of chairs down from mine. Her eyes were wild with panic; her body stiff. She didn't make a sound. Nurses snapped into action. The doctor was instantly at her side. All circled the recliner. The oncologist issued orders with calm authority and they were quietly, but urgently carried out.
Not wanting to stare at a person in such a vulnerable state, I scanned the room instead. Some patients held magazines in front of their faces, not to read, but to shield their eyes. Others stared at the alarming scene. Staff members not immediately involved stood frozen at attention, ready for direction. I bowed my head and prayed. Few times in my life have I felt so helpless.
In time the woman's stiff body relaxed. She continued with her treatment while the room breathed a collective sigh of relief.
More than ever, I wanted to run screaming away and never set foot in the treatment room again. That didn't happen though. I was so near to the final chemo appointment, and I needed the satisfaction that would come from knowing that I had done my part to stop the disease. There was no way I was going to quit. If my liver could stand another round, then I'd be back in two weeks for number eleven.