It's Still Me

It's Still Me

A few weeks ago, I was walking past a window and caught a split-second glimpse of a woman in the glass; she was older and heavier than me. She looked happy, she was laughing with the person next to her.  In that blink of an eye, I liked her.
To my utter bewilderment and alarm, the next blink revealed that the woman in the reflection was, ummm…. me.  I was nearly unrecognizable to myself for the first time in my life.  I could have more easily identified myself when I lost my hair.  What happened?
Well, I got older and fatter is the short answer.  The reason why may seem obvious – I got older because of the passage of time.  I got fatter because I am eating too much – except I am not eating too much and time did not fly by THAT fast.  After consulting with anyone in the medical community who would listen, I got the following answer – “We don’t really know why.”  Great, but could I not hang on to the one, singularly truly great side effect of the last 12 months of suffering – being fabulously thin?!  Come on!
A variety of reasons were listed by some brilliant medical minds as vague, yet distinct possibilities:·      Early onset menopause – a scorching fact, not possibility, btw.·      Wildly unsettled hormones due to aforementioned toxic chemicals.·      Steroids, lots of them.·      After literally starving for a year, my body is now in ‘emergency storage mode.’o      Dear Body, Stop storing. Love, Ann·      My metabolism is that of an ‘80 year-old post-menopausal-home-bound convalescent.’
I am six months post-treatment now.  There are other rather unpleasant, but live-able side effects of the colossal amounts of chemo I was given.  Just for torture, another list:

  • Ever-increasing hearing loss, accompanied by an ever-present high-pitched “eeeeeeeeee” in my ears.
  • Clostridium Difficile, aka C-Diff.  Look it up – wait, never mind, you don’t really want to know.  Suffice it to say that all the good bacteria in your system is there to serve an entirely useful purpose, you would miss it if it were, say, wiped out by massive amounts of antibiotic/anti-rejection meds.
  • Meibomianitis – inflammation of the sebaceous glands in your eyelids.  What this means is that my eyes are constantly watery – like I am crying.  Except when I sleep. Then, they are so dry that they burn in my sockets and I can barely open them to drop Visine in them to keep them from shriveling up entirely.  Daily eye-scrubbing (yes, eye-scrubbing) keeps these glands from closing up entirely.  This malady is the result of the utter defeat of that essential good bacteria.
  • Crinkly, brittle fingernails
  • Pimp-Limp – a decidedly non-medical term for the hobbl-y, slow-but-sure integration of my new thigh-to-ankle endo-prosthetic with the rest of my body and brain.
  • The steady introduction of my foot to my brain.  It – my foot not my brain – kind of does it’s own thing.  My foot is clearly not connected to the rest of my leg as it was.  That my foot operates at all as a part of my body, is truly a remarkable state of affairs, and it mostly does as it is told.  However, if I don’t pay enough attention to it as I walk, it tends to take on the characteristics of a bloodhound seeking a trail that has gone cold.
  • Finally, the dreaded Chemo-Fog is present, but lifting.  Wait – what was I just saying?

At the very beginning of this strange journey, after I lost my hair, I would run into acquaintances and even friends who would register only a hazy recognition of me.  On several occasions, I had to relieve them of their obvious discomfort/embarrassment at not remembering my face.  In the process, despite my best efforts, I would cry, tell them who I am and then answer the inevitable, wide-eyed “What happened?” question.  It was still me then, too, however unrecognizable.
It took me a long time to realize that I am not my hair, my legs or my formerly-fabulous chemo figure.  It took 44 years and a traumatic year of cancer to come to this conclusion, but there it is.  As clear as the fleeting moment that I decided that I liked the fat, aging stranger in the reflection.  
I am still here, thank God, and I am still me.


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