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​The Rhythm of the Science

To overcome an obstacle or an enemy/ To glide away from the razor or a knife/ To dominate the impossible in your life – Paul Simon, from the song The Rhythm of the Saints

THE BEAT of chemotherapy is not so much four-four as fortnightly. There are different toxic chemical strokes for different cancer folks but my oesophageal ardenocarcinoma (cancer of the gullet) required eight cycles of chemotherapy, four pre-surgery (which went off without too many hitches between September and November) and four post-surgery, all spaced two weeks apart.
Post-surgery chemo should have resumed on 24 January but only began on 24 March, because I had so many complications after surgery in December, I lost almost 50lbs and was too frail to withstand even a single 24-hour infusion of poisonous chemicals.
Widespread, massive internal swelling post-surgery prevented me from eating anything by mouth for six weeks from mid-January; and I had thrown up most of what I had eaten the month before, making my weight plummet from 175lbs in December to under 129lbs in February. I told one doctor I was in fear for my life; he said he would be, too. Second opinion doctors advised me not to be keen on another surgery because I would be extremely unlikely to survive it.
And I really didn’t need more post-surgery complications; the ones I already had were debilitating enough. For a fortnight after leaving hospital, I was still so weak, I could barely walk. I fainted once because I stood up too quickly. For almost two months, my blood pressure dropped to low 80s over low 60s, a side effect of being fed only whey-based protein liquid meals via stomach tube. One doctor even gave me a jokey prescription for two to three salt prunes daily. ( Salt raises blood pressure.)
The rhythm of my chemo was drastically upset; nevertheless, I finished cycle number seven on Wednesday.
One more to go on 2/3 May and I’m done.
Hopefully for both good and better.
And what a devilish rhythm it has been: it comes in cycles, chemo, like the waves of attacks video gamers call swarms; which have the same overwhelming effect.
You get beh-beh with chemo.
And, now that I’m nearly finished them, with luck, I’ve finally understood why chemo cycles are spaced fortnightly: two weeks is the minimum time your body needs to recover from the last one. (Next Friday, I’ll run through the main side effects and try to rank them for your entertainment.)
It’s a helluva thing, chemo, as Mr Biswas would have said. The physical side of it, the rhythm of the science, is difficult enough to handle for most people to be satisfied with just coping with them.
I want to understand, and overcome, the mental side of it, even though I suspect it can only be done subconsciously.
As recently as 15 years ago, before some of the highly effective preventative tablets you can drop and forget, everyone receiving chemo would be violently nauseous from the moment the malevolent chemicals entered their bloodstream until days after. People would endure it, but only because the other option is death. Chemo used to be Hell; now it’s more like Limbo for many, discounting the side effects which, admittedly, is like saying, “Apart from that, Mrs King, how did you enjoy Memphis?”
Luck may be the single most important element in all our lives. I was lucky enough not to be mashed up by chemo. Indeed, I didn’t so much survive chemo as thrive in it: I actually put weight on during my pre-surgery cycles; which was a good thing, given that I went on to lose so much of it.
Within the unmitigated bad luck of having cancer, I’ve been lucky to have been largely unaffected by the worst chemo side effects (although, what I gained on those swings, I’ve lost on the post-surgery complications roundabout). People I know have suffered so much, they’ve stopped chemo and are trying far less painful – and, regrettably, proportionately less effective – treatments.
I’m all right.
And, although I’m writing this before actually starting the seventh chemo I’ve already announced I’ve finished, I suspect these last two rounds will go as well as or better than their six predecessors.
You could say I’ve finally found my rhythm.
Not that I want to drag on this dance.

BC Pires is dancing as if no choreographer is looking to hire him

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