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Code Breakers

Me….the day of Chemo 3

Facebook On This Day popped up a memory from two years ago today that I would like to forget. I had just had chemo 3, and as typical for my chemo cocktail, by day 5 post treatment, I didn’t feel great, but chemo 3 was different. By then, Taxotere, carboplatin, perjeta, and Herceptin had begun building up in my system. My counts were lowered. I caught a cold. Perjeta can have side effects on digestive systems and skin, and boy, did it on mine. Three days post treatment, the digestive effects were in full swing, and the medicine was barely keeping them manageable. Five days post treatment, I woke up with my right thigh covered in red, angry, painful pustules. I slapped bandages on them and went to work, making sure my other medicines were in my bag. Six days post chemo 3, I woke up with a scratchy voice, still painful skin on my right thigh with more pustules, and a new embarrassing side effect, an extremely painful one, too, related to the digestive issues. I went to work anyway. I slapped on my make up, my wig, my fake smile, a soft pair of gray pants, a grey sweater, a scarf, and no one knew anything was wrong…except my assistant principal who’s known me for nearly fifteen years. She side eyed me all day. Then…day 7 happened. In my sleep, I’d scratched my thigh. I’d opened some of the pustules. They were angrier, redder, more painful. My stomach couldn’t take anything but water. The other digestive side effect, the embarrassing one, was worse. I sat down on the bathroom floor and sobbed. Against A’s wishes, I got up off the floor, I put bandages on, I pulled on a pair of soft jeans, a navy blue sweater, a scarf, minimal make up, my wig, and my brown boots, and I went to work. I made it until second period. I had to walk my class to an assembly. I made it down my hall to the main hall, and I just couldn’t walk any farther. It just hurt too much. No matter what I did, friction hit the painful places. Skin to skin. Jean fabric to skin. Bandages to skin. My skin, all of it, just hurt. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be the person I wanted to be -the cancer patient who breezed through chemo without missing work or sliding on their obligations. I couldn’t do it. I leaned on the wall and burst into tears. My AP who had been side eyeing me for days and my head principal saw me. Both came to me immediately, concern etched on their faces. They surrounded me, and I told them I was ok, just tired -my usual answer to “How are you?” I really don’t believe anyone asks that question for any reason but polite speech. Fortunately, neither believed me, and even as my face burned red and my skin ached, they got me to tell the entire tale. They sent me home and made me promise to call my doctor. And, I did. I called Dr. O. I sent her pictures, at her request. She put me on very strong antibiotics, some skin cream, and made me an appointment with a colon specialist for the next day. I missed work that Friday to sleep, to let the antibiotics work, to let my body try and heal, and to see the colon doctor. By that next Monday, I finally, finally, felt better. I went back to school. The antibiotics worked their magic, the colon doctor worked some magic, and I still felt typically terrible, tired with a bad taste in my mouth, but at least my skin didn’t hurt as badly.

I needed people to look out for me. I needed people at work who truly, deeply cared for me, who cared enough to look beyond my mask and to see I was not ok. Sending me home that day, making me promise to call Dr. O, probably saved me from a hospital visit. I didn’t realize the skin problem was as bad as it was. I did though when I picked my antibiotics up and the pharmacist explained them to me. I didn’t realize how close I was to a systemic infection, but I knew how devastating one was to a person with a compromised immune system like mine was at the time.

I needed people who cared enough to look beyond my mask, to break my code, and they did…they do. They are some of the few who care enough to try. For that, I am grateful.

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