My friend, writer Allison Winn Scotch, has the paperback version of her novel The Department of Lost and Found coming out tomorrow. You should check it out! Don't take my word for it--read the excerpt below:
If there were any good news of the day, it was that I was actually feeling semi-decent. When I first met with Dr. Chin, when I sat in his dignified office with Persian rugs and leather chairs and mahogany walls, he had told me that this was how it would go. There were three stages of chemo recovery. The first week, you feel like your insides are on fire, like the chemicals rushing through you might kill you if the cancer doesn't. The second week, you sense that you might survive; it's not that you feel normal, but you feel the absence of the afflictions that plagued you the last week, so in that way, it's like you won the lottery. And the third week is the one where you can't believe that you ever felt like such a steaming mound of shit. Chemo? You're thinking. That's the best you can dish out? Because that, my darling cancer gods, I can take without blinking an eye. The sick part of this pattern, which I'm sure you've already figured out, is that just as you're on the cusp of returning to your everyday life, right as you press your nose up to healthfulness and start going about your business as you did before the disease mowed you down, you have to start it all over again.
Dr. Chin flipped through my chart on his desk, ignoring his assistant who kept paging him over the intercom, and explained that we'd be doing six or seven months of chemo, a round every three weeks, and based on my reaction to this treatment, we'd proceed from there. At some point along the way, either in the middle or at the end, they'd perform a mastectomy. They would take my breasts from me. He also spoke about what I could expect: fatigue, nausea, and the thing that I dreaded most--hair loss. "The aim of chemotherapy is to kill the fast-growing cancer cells," he explained. "But what also happens as a result is that healthy cells are killed as well. So, for example, your hair follicles are in effect shut down. Fortunately, the human body is resilient and smart enough to know how to grow them back when we're done." He said all of this in the kind of tone that he'd clearly perfected after years of treating depressing cases such as mine. He was firm yet still reassuring, regretful yet still commanding. I sat in his office and stared at his numerous diplomas and awards and medical society memberships, and I simply nodded my head, a small acknowledgment of the inevitable, of resigned acceptance. It's not as if I had a choice.
What I didn't tell Dr. Chin, when he asked how I felt, because surely he was referring to my physical maladies, not the emotional ones, was that I was gutted. That the fear that ran through me was nearly paralyzing. That the sheer terror of his words, "you have cancer," caused my breath to leave my body, and that nodding my head in resignation was all that I could do. Anything more simply would have been impossible, because, you see, I was frozen. I was 30. I was the future ruler of the free world. And yet...this. I was 30, and I had cancer. I was 30, and I had cancer. I replayed it over and over again in my mind because it didn't add up; it couldn't add up. This. Could. Not. Be. My. Life. And yet...it was. So I sat in his office, and I tasted the horror that comes from discovering you're not invincible, and maybe it was the cancer, but more likely, it was the spine-chilling terror of my diagnosis, but I literally wanted to curl up and die. Because the sum of Dr. Chin's words let me to believe that I might just do that anyway.
Before I got up to leave, he pressed a card into my hand. "At some point, you might want to go see her." I looked down and read Mrs. Adina Seidel. Master Wigmaker. Dr. Chin offered me a thin smile. "She's the best that there is. And many of my patients find the process cathartic." I met his eyes and wondered how a pile of fake hair could ever make someone feel more complete. But rather than reply, I took the card into my shaking fingers, thanked him for his time, and told him that I'd see him in a few days. As I left his office, I remember thinking that I couldn't feel my legs. That I was walking, yes, surely, I was shuffling down the linoleum-covered floor and through the dimly lit corridor, but how I was doing it, I don't know. I remembered back to high school biology, when my teacher, Mr. Katz, lectured us on the "fight or flight" syndrome: that when an animal is attacked or put in peril, any unnecessary part of his brain function shuts down, that his body responds in a purely visceral way, doing what it must to survive the threat. But my own body, when faced with such a threat, was seemingly retreating. That rather than gathering its army to face the hell to come, it was already abandoning me. Already shutting me down. My legs were just the beginning.
But now, as I wrapped up the last few days of my first chemo round, things were indeed looking up. At least as far as my vomit/nausea/exhaustion/dizzy problems went. Which I supposed was something.