It’s true. Today, I am drug free. But it’s not what you think. This isn’t one of those after school PSAs where I tell you how I kicked my drug habit and you CAN TOO! No, this is related to the string of drugs I’ve been taking for the last couple months to deal with the stuff going on inside of me.
So let’s start at the beginning.
First off, I have an okay pain tolerance. I rarely took Advil if I had a headache or if it was, ya know, that time of the month or other general pains. If I had a cold, I would resort to some sort of antihistamine only to save those around me from seeing the water works coming out my nose and eyes (pretty visual, right?). And that was for about two days, tops. Other than that, I was good.
Then in November I started getting some back pain. I thought I had done something to it after an aggressive round of late night raking before the snow came (I was wearing a head lamp to see where I was raking to give you an indication of how serious this job was to me).
The pain was just from that. That’s all! I can handle a little over exertion. I’d been through that plenty of times.
But then days turned to weeks. Weeks turned to a full month. And then I decided that something was up. This was not my normal. And until I could figure it out, the constant dull pain finally got to me and I started taking Advil during the day so I could more fully concentrate on work. I had also scheduled an appointment to see a doctor. I mean seriously, what gives?
Sidenote: I had also started having weird, painful reactions to alcohol at the same time, but this isn’t a story about that.
By the time I saw a doctor in mid-December, the pain was not just a dull ache, but a gnawing ball of tenderness under one shoulder that I just couldn’t remove with any amount of stretches or weird movements I tried.
My doctor suggested physical therapy. Also to be noted, this was after she thought I might have “a touch of scoliosis.” Really? Scoliosis? Like the thing they check for in kids? It sounded like a weird infliction from the 1950s. Who has scoliosis? I certainly couldn’t even recall hearing that term in a decade. I digress.
I decided to start with chiropractic care…because it was just a thing my family did. At this point, I was taking a lot more Advil and in great anticipation of some serious back adjustments.
Relief finally occurred three appointments in. That gnawing spot behind my left shoulder seemed to dissipate. My neck and shoulder? Well…those were starting to feel not so great. It was almost like the pain had decided to move north and settle into some new joints. But at the pace of three adjustments per week, I was back to only taking Advil right after the adjustment, and being able to deal with only a slight annoyance of pain the rest of the time.
Since it seemed like progress was being made, the number of adjustments per week decreased. But the progress was fleeting. In late February, when I was almost officially declared HEALED…by my chiropractor’s terms, not by mine…I took on a home project of applying floor paint to the back area of our basement.
Oh, Jamie. You silly, naive fool.
The pain in my neck became excruciating. Again, I blamed myself for taking on too much. The raking in November. The floor project in February. Why couldn’t I learn my lesson?
But I thought it was just a set back. I would resume taking Advil full time until the chiropractor could work his magic.
But the magic was gone. In fact, adjustments to my neck seemed to make it worse. I had also revealed to my chiropractor that I was taking Advil round the clock. This was normal, right?
I mean it wasn’t. A year ago I would have thought that was crazy. But it’s amazing how you convince yourself of a new normal over the course of just a couple months. Pain that lasted for months was normal. Taking Advil every eight hours was normal. I would get through this, but necks and backs are tricky and I convinced myself that I just needed more time to get better.
My chiropractor suggested that maybe some of the pain was due to withdrawal symptoms of Advil. He suggested trying to go without it for a day. Are you laughing because that seems like a ludicrous idea that you could have addiction withdrawal symptoms from Advil? Well, I was willing to hear him out. So I stopped it the next day. I gritted my teeth and let the pain in. I made it until 3pm and called my doctor’s office, begging for them to let me see her before the day was done. I was sobbing/yelling over the phone to the receptionist.
“She told me that if I ever wanted her to do some work on me she would. She has an orthopedic background!”
The receptionist was boggled, but sympathetic. I saw my doc that afternoon and again couldn’t contain the tears. Finally, after what seemed like begging for her mercy to make the pain stop (In reality, I didn’t have to beg… she really felt bad and tried to help me right then and there), she gave me another order for physical therapy and once again tried to help me understand why maybe that was better than attempting an abrasive treatment with a chiropractor.
She also told me that I really should keep taking something until the pain subsided. She offered me pain pills, but I knew the Advil would suffice. But her words are what helped me feel less guilty about at least taking an anti-inflammatory until I figured this out.
That appointment was mid-March. So at this point I’d been on drugs 24/7 (minus that one day in her office) for almost a month.
I won’t go through the series of everything else that happened up until where I am today, but I just wanted to give you an idea of where this all started. Where the constant pain started. Where the constant drugs started. It stayed in my neck and back and continued to creep into other parts of my body. Now I was taking drugs for my lungs and my cough, too.
So by my calculations, up until two days ago, I have been on some form of a drug for four and a half months. Straight. The drugs themselves have changed over the course of the four and a half months, but there was never a day or a night where I wasn’t on something to help with the pain…or more recently, to help with the other slew of side effects from chemo.
Which is why I felt like today’s post deserved all caps. I’m not the screamy type, but you guys..It. Has. Happened.
I’M NOT ON ANY FUCKING DRUGS RIGHT NOW!!!!
THIS IS REALLY REALLY SUPER DUPER RIDICULOUSLY AMAZING AND ALL CAPS IS VERY NECESSARY FOR THIS!
Whew. Okay. Alright. I’m good now. Got it out of my system.
Side note: So technically, I’ve been off drugs for two days now, but I didn’t get around to writing this post yesterday, so I’ll just recap from then.
So anyway, the thing my oncologist said would happen…actually happened. He said that the chemo would actually make me feel better. But I didn’t think he meant BETTER better. I took that as I would technically get rid of one pain and awfulness and I would trade it for the awfulness of chemo. And that’s certainly how it felt from day 1 of chemo up until day 7 (last Thursday). My cough had improved, the pain in my neck had dissipated…but I was dealing with awful side effects of chemo and taking new drugs to deal with that.
And then on Friday, things started changing. I actually started to feel…dare I say it…normal? And not pre-chemo normal. Normal like pre-back-pain-and-infection-in-my-lungs normal.
Normal like…I wanted to go for a walk and my lungs would be like, “Sure! Why not? We’re totally normal and up for that!”
Normal like…I actually uttered the words, “I’m hungry. Let’s go eat.” which is a thing my body hadn’t felt in a really long time both because of the drugs and because you just don’t feel hungry when you’re sick.
Normal like…the muscle in my legs (well, what little muscle is left), thought back to a couple days ago where I could barely walk to the kitchen without feeling wobbly and weak and had me wondering, “Was that a weird dream/nightmare I had?” How could that have happened when today my legs feel strong and totally normal?
And finally, normal like…what literal pain in my neck? That sucker is OUTTA HERE.
It was, to say the least, weird. But awesome.
On Saturday I woke up and it wasn’t hard. It was just…I got up. And I even started putting clothes away and organizing a bit. Things I would do super begrudgingly because it was such an effort before. But today? No effort at all.
And the rest of the day? Well, it was nothing short of amazing. It was just effortless. And it gave me such a deep appreciation of how my life was before all of this started. And also a deep appreciation that I had a WHOLE WEEK ahead of me before I had to be forced into feeling like crap again.
And today is the same. I woke up early, but it was fine. I got coffee. I made my son breakfast. I looked around at our disorganized kitchen and felt motivated to do something about it today because I know it won’t be hard.
And to be honest, as much as I REALLY hate the chemo and the side effects…I’m in a state of awe, right now. It took one treatment. Just one. That’s it. The pain and suffering I had started feeling seven months ago that snowballed and became this massive ugly thing in various parts of my body… it’s practically gone in just ONE treatment.
What. The. Shit.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s still a little there. But the pain is equivalent to the headache I might have experienced back in the day that is so not worth taking drugs for. And the cough isn’t completely gone, but it’s a fraction of what it used to be.
And I’m a realist. I know that chemo has accumulative effects. It’s not like I’m going to be real shitty one week and super awesome the next week for the next six months. It will get harder. Maybe I will have to take more drugs in the future. Maybe I’ll hit some bumps in the road. I just don’t know.
But today is today. And today I feel like me. The real me. And I will do my best to embrace the state I’m in for the harder days ahead. I will do my best to keep this feeling close so that when it does get tough, I can remember this day and hopefully use that to fuel me until I get through the next fog of ickiness.