How I feel after chemotherapy

I feel …

Much better than I did after my last chemo cycle.

I feel tired, but not bad.

I feel really glad that using a smaller needle for the lumbar punctures spared me the headache.

I feel thrilled to have a port and have that PICC line out. There’s nothing like having medical tubes dangling out of your arm to make you feel extremely cancery. Plus, with the port buried under my skin, water immersion (showering, surfing even…) is back on the table.

I feel appreciative for all the help I’m getting from friends and family.

But I feel frustrated — really frustrated — that I need it.

Sometime I feel resistant to accepting help. Why can’t I just take care of myself like I always have? Why can’t I wrestle this beast to the ground with the sheer force of my will?

I feel this buzzing anxiety, like there’s something I should be doing but I’m not quite sure what it is.

I feel excited to get my temporary disabled parking placard in the mail (is it weird that when the case manager gave me the paperwork for it, even though I had just been diagnosed with cancer, I still felt like I had been given a million bucks? If you don’t understand what I mean, try parking in West LA pretty much anytime, ever).

I feel curious wondering how I’ll react if someone seeing me use it carelessly assumes I’m milking the system and gives me a hard time (after all, I don’t feel great but it’s not like I look that sick). Perhaps I’ll stare at the person intently, dramatically tear off my wig, and hiss, “I have cancer!

(Just kidding, I wouldn’t do that).

I feel so glad that I have excellent health insurance, a kick-ass oncology team, and a curable form of cancer.

I feel 97% sure I will beat this thing with my first course of chemo and will never have a recurrence.

The remaining 3% of me feels apprehensive imagining what it will be like being done with chemo, with nothing to do but wait to see if the tumor comes back.

I feel like I’m probably getting ahead of myself with that last thought.

I feel a little embarrassed, but also a little badass, that I went to the barbershop over the weekend with my boyfriend and splurged on a straight razor shave while he got a haircut (I just couldn’t take that patchy velcro head stubble anymore). Women: you are missing out. They use hot towels and warmed shaving cream. It’s awesome. However, my remaining head stubble is now in the form of male-pattern baldness.

I feel frustrated that I can’t think like I used to, speak like I used to, or write like I used to. Before, when everything flowed (which happened more predictably the more I wrote), it seemed I could do anything with words — communicate any idea, persuade any point, evoke any feeling. Now writing feels like squeezing blood from a stone. I miss you, lovely words. Why are you abandoning me when I need you the most, when there’s so much to say?

I feel worried that this chemo brain will be permanent. If I don’t have my brain, who am I?

I feel tired of clogging the toilet because I have such f’ing bad diarrhea.

I feel bad for my boyfriend, because he’s suffering as much as I am and I don’t know what to do to help him feel better.

I feel … not much. Blank. Dull. Like there are difficult emotions churning beneath the surface that I can’t connect with, because my body knows I’m not ready to.

I feel okay with that. There’s only so much a person can process at a time.

Elana Miller is a psychiatrist who blogs at Zen Psychiatry.

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