“There’s the gradual, long way up the mountain—and that’s the easier way.”
My oncologist is looking at me very sternly, which I know is difficult for him. He’s very nice, and this is the closest thing he’s ever given to a lecture.
“And then there’s the steep, fast climb—and that’s the harder way. You’ve been used to the hard way,” he says and he is right.
I have grown used to being blasted with chemotherapy drugs. Drugs that fill my mouth with ulcers so that some days I can’t speak. Drugs that scorch my skin so that some days I can’t walk. But that’s not what he’s trying to say. He knows I’m hooked on the hard way.
“I’d rather you kill me trying to cure me,” I tell him and there is a long silence afterward. We both know what he should say and I’m grateful that he doesn’t. They are not trying to cure me. I’m not going to get to the top of the mountain.
He has been trying to lower my drug dosage, space things out, and ease up a little on the regimen but he knows this is tough for me. I liked the idea that I was doing the harshest thing, that I was really getting somewhere. But now it’s time for me to accept something harder: I’m not sure I can do this much longer.
It’s like this: my treatment has been like swinging on three vines. Two chemotherapy drugs and one immunotherapy drug. I already had to stop one drug because I was losing all feeling in my hands and feet. Snip snip. And now I have to think about cutting out the other chemotherapy drug. I’ll be swinging on that one immunotherapy vine, hoping it holds me up. Please God, make it work.
“So if we stop chemotherapy now and my tumors grow….” I say uncertainly.
“Then we can restart chemotherapy. Worst case scenario, your tumors grow 20 percent by the next scan,” he says quickly.
“But if the immunotherapy drug doesn’t work then I am going to die anyway.” My voice sounds flat and matter-of-fact, even to me. “Right? I mean, the chemo drugs are already fading.”
He is trying to reassure me but I can’t quite hear the words. I am staring at my hands, puffed with chemo toxins and the color of rhubarb. I have come to the end of what I know how to do. I know how to suffer. I know how to make the best of things. But I don’t know how to do the most basic thing—I don’t know how to stop.
Read more in Kate’s upcoming book, Everything Happens for a Reason: and other lies I’ve loved, available February 2018.