Thursday, March 16, 2017

TBT16: The Next 18 Days (Friends/Family Edition)

During the eighteen days of “down time,” I also had time to catch up with family and friends, amidst the final days of working and baseline medical procedures.

When I got home from my port pre-op appointment on Friday, November 11th, I realized that, in addition to being home alone, I was also on my own for lunch. It was liberating. Someone else had been making and serving my meals since the surgery, and this would be the first time I would fend for myself. I ended up heating up a bunch of leftovers, which was a small victory.

Other signs of normalcy appeared during these eighteen days. On Sunday, we went for our wedding cake testing. It was a nice change of pace - something light and cheery instead of more devastating news(Although, designing a wedding cake still is not my definition of fun.) However, I wasn’t able to forget about my diagnosis for long, as I was struck with a pain attack from my incision nearing the end of the consultation, causing us to need to leave. Mal needed some things from Target, but I needed to get home to ice my incision. I tried making plans for her to drop me off and then go, but she didn’t have time. We argued back and forth about how she could do both, but ultimately, we couldn’t make it work.

It really upset me to the point of tears (not that Mallory was to blame.) I’m usually extremely independent and can solve problems, but now, I was practically useless and at the mercy of my diagnosis and all it entailed. I wasn’t allowed to lift things at all, couldn’t bend over very much, and now, it seemed I couldn't even solve a minor problem. It wasn’t the actual event; it was the culmination of my feelings of frustration paired with the realization this would be my life for the next few months. It was a reminder that life still wasn’t really back to normal. One minute, we’re planning our wedding; the next, I’m doubled over in pain.

Despite setbacks like these, for the most part, life was appearing to be normal. John came to visit on Saturday, November 19th. It was nice to see my friend, even if my port and incision stopped us from doing much. We spent the time together playing Call of Duty, watching Deadpool, and competing on a practice Praxis (teacher licensure) exam, a tradition we have had since college. I know, we are super cool. On Sunday morning, I was not in too much pain or discomfort, so we ventured out for breakfast and Wal-Mart. It was only the second time (the first time being to see Dr. Strange) that I had left the house since this all began for something other than work or a doctor’s appointment. It was a seemingly normal activity, but again, reminders that I was still a cancer patient were still present, as I had to use one of the motorized carts in Wal-Mart to help with mobility. Nonetheless, it was a nice change of scenery.

The rest of my family arrived the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. My parents had a new king mattress for us, and we had to get it upstairs. Under normal circumstances, I would be one of the powerhouses to get it up and over the railing, but I still wasn’t allowed to do strenuous exercise. As a teenager, I would do just about anything to get out of doing work, but now, I wanted nothing more than to help. It was yet another reminder of how things were changing in my life.

I was also beginning to feel tired throughout the day, especially in the evening. A side effect of cancer is general fatigue, even before chemo begins. This was the first “real” symptom of cancer I was feeling, beyond that first lump in my testicle. I regularly felt tired around dinnertime now, but on the first night my family was in town, I didn’t want to go to bed quite yet. My family has been an avid follower of Survivor, and they wanted to watch an episode. I made it about halfway through before I was too tired and had to go up to bed. Another surreal moment of “normalcy” that was skewed by cancer - watching TV as a family, only to be outlasted by my father (who normally falls asleep around 8 pm).

The next morning, I woke up and Thanksgiving was upon us. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because I love food and there is no pressure of gift giving involved. Although I wanted to get chemo started as soon as possible, I was glad I could have this meal first.

The feast was glorious, with turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, rolls, stuffing, and piles of other delectable food. I stuffed myself fuller than normal, with the nagging reminder that food would soon be losing appeal to me echoing in my head. It was a different sort of Thanksgiving. Normally, we are with my grandparents and extended family in Allentown, PA, or Pittsburgh. However, once my port was put in, I was not supposed to travel due to the risk of infection.

Despite this mandate, I did get to join in for some of the extended family fun. On Thanksgiving Eve, my aunt and I set up a Google Hangout with my grandparents. She handed them the phone, saying, “Want to see a picture of Justin?”

I sat still, pretending to be a picture. After a few seconds, I sprang to life and said, “Hi Grandma!” They were tickled by it, and I got to talk to each member of my extended family. Despite my inability to be physically there, I was happy I was still able to be present in some way with them.

Up to this point in my journey, things had been moving very quickly. However, these 18 days were somewhat back to normal. I went to work (although I had to teach from a chair and used a cane). Friends visited (although it was a more tame visit than normal). I spent Thanksgiving with my family (although we weren’t with our extended family in Pennsylvania). It was surreal - on the outside, things appeared to be mostly normal. On the inside, I knew life was about to change in a drastic way.

To sum it up, it was 18 days of false normalcy.

On Thursdays, I am chronicling my journey from discovery to the beginning of chemotherapy. To read through my story up until this point, please click here

This is the last post in the series. To continue reading my story, check out the Chemo Chronicle posts, which detail my chemotherapy experience.  

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