New advances in cancer research are not only confined to the prevention, detection and treatment of cancer, but also include huge changes in the world of anti-nausea drugs. Next to the cancer-fighting capabilities, the next thing most people think about when they hear chemotherapy is the debilitating nausea. I know we sure did. As little as 10 years ago, that may have been true but 'big pharmaceutical' has made huge strides in that area. In 99% of the cases, nausea has become a non-event in chemo treatment. Sure there are many other side-effects to chemo to keep you occupied like extreme tiredness, nerve damage, hair loss etc but the nausea, in 99% of the cases, is non-existent.
You may recall how the 1% rule applies to Linda. Man, did she get sick after that first round. The slide from "I don't feel a thing" to "I'm getting sorta crampy" to "Get me the barf bowl" only took about 2 hours. It was full-on. It was so intense that Linda ended up back in the infusion room the next morning to get re-hydrated via IV...and again the next day. Even though Linda was on Kytril, Decadron and Phenergen, three very good anti-nausea meds, the doctors had grossly underestimated the Linda 1% factor. This is the same woman who gets sick reading in a car, sitting sideways on a bus, watching me play a video game and nearly vomits on the 'Barnstormer' kiddie ride at Disneyworld.
After 3 days, Linda started to recover from the chemo as it left her the body. The nausea subsided and Linda was coming around again. I can't really explain what she went through, only she could, but in the big picture, it was worth it. For those 3 days I busied myself doing all the laundry (I was pre-instructed on how not to mix whites & colors), cleaning the house (Honey, the dishes go this way in the dish washer, not that way), corralling the kids, and checking in on Linda every 5 mins. I know I couldn't 'fix' her pain, but I sure as hell could make it easier for her. It's pretty much a blur, kinda like when you bring a newborn home from the hospital for the first time. On the plus side, 'the unknown' was behind us now. The doctors took out the 'big guns' for the next round. Emend, Aloxi, and Ativan and they would prove to be a huge difference, but before we could get to Round 2 we had to face the inevitable: Hair Loss.
Chemotherapy doesn't actually kill the hair follicle (which is why the hair loss is only temporary), it just messes with the hair cells when they are dividing at the root under the skin. Those new hair cells are extremely fragile, so in 2 weeks, when the hair grows up past the skin, it simply snaps off.
Many women choose to shave their heads as an act of empowerment over the cancer. Earlier that year we had watched Robin Roberts of 'Good Morning America', recently diagnosed with breast cancer, shave her head on TV. Little did we know we would be faced with the same situation only months later. For Linda and I, it was a practical matter. There was hair everywhere. On the pillow, in the shower, on the couch. You could literally pull out a chunk of hair just by clutching it. I've known Linda for 16 years and in that time, she has never liked her hair. Too thick, too thin, too curly, too straight, too light, too dark, too gray, too short, too long. As fate would have it, in the months leading up to this, she was finally happy with her hair. Go figure!
Even though it was a practical matter, it was still quite emotional. Linda's friends had suggested she have a hair-cutting party with wine & cheese. It was too personal a thing for her to do that. This was our battle. The four of us, as a family, armed with the Wahl buzz cut kit I has bought earlier that day at Target, began to shave off her hair. The kids took their turn as we worked our way down from a #3 to a #1/2. After 15 minutes we were done. It is the not the physical act of shaving your wife's head that is emotional, it is the realization that you can no longer deny the fact that your wife has cancer. Every morning, we would be reminded of our fight. After a while I think we got used to it, if that is possible. Linda's friends threw her a hat and scarf party. Everything from "pretty hats" to "skull and cross-bone do-rags". Not only did it allow her to cover her head, but it gave her more reasons to buy more purses to accessorize with (someday I should write about Linda's purse 'issues').
This is kind of an aside, but Linda's bald head turned me on. No, not in a gay-Telly-Savalas kinda way. You really can't get much closer mentally, spiritually and physically than shaving your wife's head in the shower.
In public, like it or not, a bald head on a women is like a neon-light saying "I have cancer". You get the strangest reactions from people. Honestly, most people are too busy with whatever they are doing to even notice. Some people will be extra nice and a bit sympathetic. Some people just stare like there is a neon-light on your head saying "I have cancer". One evening we took the kids to Gattiland, an all you can eat pizza place with arcade. As we were eating, a couple sat down next to us and began to eat. He looked over at Linda, whispered something to his wife, she looked over, then they got up and changed seats. Are you fucking kidding me? Hey jackass, you can't catch cancer! For one moment, I wished cancer was contagious because I would have had Linda get up and give that bastard a bear-hug.
In support of Linda's follicly challenged head, some of her girlfriends joined the Sinead O'Connor tribute for a day. Many people wonder what they would look like bald. My genetics predisposed me to some cro-magnon-like appendage on the back of my skull that I like to refer to as the "bottle-opener". Turns out Linda has a very nice melon. Smooth and round. A childhood accident has carved an "L" scar on the back of her head which was hidden for 30+ years. It will soon be covered again with wavy brown hair but for now it serves as a nice monogram.