Journaling the last of chemotherapy and its immediate aftermath, then a couple of weeks devoted to gathering strength for what comes next. I started this post three days out from my last infusion, just before the side effects hammered me — right on schedule — and put it aside for a week to 10 days.
No need to go into the side effects here. They vary from person to person; they even varied from infusion to infusion during the time I was in chemo, from Dec. 13 to Feb. 28. I was spared some of the worst of them, but they included nausea and other GI flareups (shutdowns might be a better word for some of them), against a steady backdrop of fatigue, loss of appetite and shortness of breath. All of these, I am told, pretty much come with the territory.
Something else I was spared: I didn’t lose my hair, as the picture above records for posterity. The chemo did thin it out, but the effect, for now, is more like garden-variety male pattern baldness. I’ll take it.
Debi took the picture in our living room, by the way, just after a yoga session when I was starting to come out from under that last round of side effects. I’m holding an instruction video by Jane Adams, of Kalispell, Mont., that was recommended by our primary care provider.
And, yes, we’re doing yoga now. Regularly. Next step(s): Walking.
More on that below. But first, what I wrote right after my last infusion should be recorded.
Friday, March 3. The day I finished chemotherapy and “rang the bell” at Southern Illinois University’s infusion center (Tuesday, Feb. 28), I shared this post, with a picture they took at SIU, to my Facebook feed (click on links to see pix):
Status update: Feeling grateful. And now I know what I’m giving up for Lent:
Finished my last infusion at the Southern Illinois University med school this afternoon around 3, and this picture was taken immediately after I rang the bell, shown at left, to mark the end of this stage of treatment. (Next, if all goes well: Surgery. But that’s TMI at the moment, and I just want to celebrate.) To see other pix, click on the Simmons Cancer Institute link below. […]
It got 150 clicks and 81 comments. Thanks so much, everybody!
Debi, who attended the bell-ringing ceremony at SIU and also took pictures, wrote it up for her blog Seriously Seeking Answers: “He will still need to undergo some pretty serious surgery, in another month or so (continued prayers appreciated!), but for now, we are celebrating his arrival at the finish line for the chemotherapy portion of his treatment.” (Click on link for pix — they’re awesome!)
I wasn’t familiar with the ceremony, but Debi says it started at the University of Texas in the 1990s and spread nationwide. “These days it seems nearly every cancer facility has a bell that patients can ring to mark the end of treatment,” she said. Her writeup, by the way, features a fine photo spread and got 67 clicks and 28 comments on FB (thanks so much again)! […]
And that’s as far as I got with it before the side effects kicked in over the weekend.
Monday, March 13-Wednesday, March 15. What a difference 10 days can make! The plan has always been an intensive course of chemo, followed by surgery after I’ve had time to rest up and little and shake off some of the side effects. It seems to be playing out as anticipated, and I’m feeling better now. Apprehensive about what comes next, of course, but at least I seem to be off this rinse-and-repeat cycle of infusion-followed-by-side-effects-followed-by-a-few-good-days-followed-by-another-infusion. I’m starting to feel better now, and I’ll take it!
Here are a couple of straws in the wind.
Reading. Here’s the pattern for the last three months. When the side effects are kicking in, I’m not up to blogging very much. I still do a fair amount of reading, but typically I don’t get around to reflecting and writing about it before the next round of chemo and side effects.
I still do a lot of reading, though.
One book that’s high on my reading list now was recommended by Kaya Oakes, a contributing writer for the Jesuit magazine America who teaches creative nonfiction at the University of California Berkeley. It’s by a United Church of Christ pastor named Molly Baskette, and it’s titled How to Begin When Your World Is Ending. Baskette is a cancer survivor, so my interest is obvious.
Oakes is one of my favorite authors, too, so anything she recommends is going to be worth it. Author of The Nones Are Alright, about the generation of spiritual-but-not-religious people who check “None of Above” on public opinion surveys, she has spoken — and presented — at Baskette’s UCC church in Berkeley. Oakes’ review, headlined “God doesn’t make us sick or well. So what is faith’s role in the face of illness?,” got my attention. As did this conclusion:
For anyone diagnosed with an illness or the people who care about them, Baskette’s book is a reminder that God doesn’t make us sick, and God doesn’t make us well. God is with us in the suffering, the rage — and even in the redemption. God is at the chemo infusion and the follow-up scans. And God is with us at the funeral, on the dance floor, at the five-year survival party and in our bodies, no matter how sick or well they may be.
Immediately after reading that, I ordered How to Begin When Your World Is Ending.
Toward the end of chemo, Debi and I were asked to join a faith-based cancer support group. It’s non-sectarian, affiliated with the Cancer Companions program, and we’re several weeks into a participants’ workbook titled Seeing God in Your Cancer Journey. It strikes me as grounded in a literal-minded approach to the bible that’s different from my own, but I’m grateful to be included in the group.
I admire the deep personal faith of the other folks in the group, and they’ve been accepting of my struggles with doubt and spiritual dryness. Where does my mix-and-match blend of mainline Protestant theology and Catholic spirituality fit into the overall scheme of things? One of our readings, a retelling of Jesus’ miracle of exorcising a boy possessed by a demon, especially resonated with me. It comes right after the transfiguration, and it’s a pivotal moment in Mark’s gospel, raising issues of faith, doubt, healing and prayer. I believe, Lord Help thou my unbelief. How can the faith of others strengthen my own faith?
Yoga. These last few days of winter, Debi and I have been doing a 17-minute set of “Beginning, Gentle & Senior Yoga” chair exercises by Jane Adams recommended by our PCP. (Remember when we called them GPs, general practitioners or family doctors?) She recommended it for Debi, but I’ve been joining in lately, and somewhat to my surprise, it seems to be helping me bounce back from the chemo.
So I want to keep doing it. It may just be the start of something good.
Without getting down a rabbit hole speculating about what effect specific poses might have on specific symptoms, I first noticed I wasn’t as bothered by the neuropathy, a tingling sensation in my feet that often signals nerve damage, so often associated with chemo.
So I did a consult with Doctor Google.
“There’s no one type of yoga or yoga pose that’s best for people with cancer,” says science writer Hope Cristol for WebMD’s article on the subject. “But research suggests that less strenuous types can help with some side effects of treatment.” And, sure enough, neuropathy was high on the list of side effects that might be eased by yoga, according to one “small, preliminary study.” I read on. Yoga can help, says Cristol, with fatigue, depression, anxiety and distress — all of which come with the territory — and it might “[h]elp with recovery from cancer surgery.” That’s about as glowing a review as you’re going to get from WebMD.
A thought to file away for later, and ask the PT folks about when the time comes?
In the meantime, I found the Sloan Kettering Canter Center’s guide for patients, caregivers and health care professionals. It comes to pretty much the same conclusion, and adds, “The American Society of Clinical Oncology and Society of Integrative Oncology (ASCO and SIO) recommend yoga for anxiety, stress reduction, depression, mood disturbance, and improved quality of life in cancer patients.” Its tip sheet for professionals cites 66 references. Definitely worth another look.
Links and Citations
Jane Adams Yoga: Beginning, Gentle & Senior Yoga Videos, Kalispell, Montana https://janeadamsyoga.com/Home/tabid/7470/Default.aspx.
Hope Cristol, “Yoga for People With Cancer,” WebMD, June 14, 2022 https://www.webmd.com/cancer/yoga-cancer.
Kaya Oakes, “God doesn’t make us sick or well. So what is faith’s role in the face of illness?,” review of How to Begin When Your World is Ending by Molly Phinney Baskette, America, Feb. 10, 2023 https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2023/02/10/review-oakes-baskette-how-begin-244691.
__________. “We love to overcomplicate prayer. It’s simpler than we realize,” America, Feb. 28, 2023 https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2023/02/28/prayer-lent-writing-reflection-catholic-244815.
Wikipedia articles on exorcising a boy possess by a demon, peripheral neuropathy, personal God, William G. Pollard, spiritual dryness and transfiguration of Jesus.
[Completed, revised and uplinked March 15]
2 thoughts on “Giving up chemo and starting yoga exercises for Lent — an interim progress report as the side effects wear off”
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