So I came home from my friend B's house tonight in a foul mood. I wasn't in a foul mood when I left my house, and nothing horrible happened while I was there that would explain it. I think it was just the reality of tonight: we were supposed to have dinner at our house, but she took me up on the offer I made Friday night that if she wasn't feeling up to it, we would bring dinner to her. As she shuffled to the door, doped up on various pain and anti-nausea meds, she looked tired and sick. Because she is tired and sick.
This new chemo kicks her ass constantly--not the couple of bad days after treatment and then back to normal that the earlier (and useless) rounds gave her. She's still sick from the last round when the new one comes around. And because she is in the first wave of people across the nation to receive this newly approved drug, no one knows what to tell her to expect. She feels like hell. Is it the cancer or the cancer treatment? No one knows. Is it going to be worth the suffering in the end? No one knows that either, of course.
It grows harder and harder to maintain any kind of hope as I see her feeling worse and worse, and growing weaker by the day. Sometimes it's the pain, so bad that she has to take pain meds on top of pain meds for the break-through pain from the cancer in her bones. The radiation beat that back some, but not for long. Sometimes it's the nausea. She tells me she wakes up with both and starts the rounds of meds that are her new and only hobby, aside from a lot of sleeping. Sometimes it's the confusion and memory loss in the days right after brain radiation that gets her down, and I read the repetitive texts my bright, sharp friend sends me, and I feel the tears damming up behind my sternum. If it were working at all, wouldn't she be feeling a tiny bit better? And yet she keeps at it, because she wants to live, and I wonder if it's worth it. I imagine she does, too. That's the problem with this. You don't know whether it was worth it except in hindsight. And by the time you realize it wasn't, you're not here to realize it at all.
While I had considered what it would be like in the aftermath of her death, for me and for everyone else who loves her, I hadn't realized how much a person loses throughout the entire process. Thus far, she's had to let go of her work, her avocation, her normal routines, driving, sex, food in large part (because nothing appeals, or she feels too sick to eat it), and probably a hundred other mundane things that a person should be able to take for granted that I'm not even aware of. How do you keep fighting for life when you have lost so much of what constituted it? You might be able to keep doing it if you knew this was only temporary, something you could suffer through and come out better on the other side. But what happens when it starts looking like you're losing the fight? That it's not going to be temporary? I think this may very well be the cruelest part of advanced cancer: that you lose your life long before you die.
I don't even know what to say anymore. I act normal. I even treat the whole cancer thing as normal, and pretend it's normal when our conversation caroms between hospice and the hope of another trip to guitar camp when this is all over. Because right now, that IS normal. That's what's going on. And I bring little pick-me-ups over in the hopes of raising a smile or two for her and her wife, who is exhausted from taking care of literally everything in their lives. There is so little I can do, and when I do it they thank me so profusely I'm embarrassed; if I could do more, I would. What I can do is so paltry it seems ridiculous.
There is this horrible waiting, with only 2 possible resolutions, the best of which seems increasingly unlikely. I just really don't know how to get right with the idea that this life requires us to leave so many bodies in our wake. It is the best argument for the nonexistence of a loving god that I can think of. No entity that was all about love would ever set up a system where we learn to love people that will just be taken away from us, and ripped out of their own lives-in-progress.