The Physical Challenges: It’s hard to express what a physical hit cancer has on the body. I think I resent the loss of energy more than anything, because I used to move pretty fast and now I’m reduced to prethinking many movements. It’s all in the leverage. Getting up out of bed is particularly bad, although the same applies to getting up off the couch or from a nestled-in sitting position. I just don’t have the muscles anymore. Really. They evaporated last fall, when I lost about 15 kilograms in a few weeks. That’s when my liver wasn’t working too well and I couldn’t hold down much food. I just kind of shrivelled into scrawniness. So far in 2008, I’ve managed to maintain my weight pretty consistently at about 57 kilograms.
But the lack of energy isn’t at all consistent. Some days are really bad. Not only am I weak of muscle and low of energy, I sometimes have the deep ache of bone pain. Bone pain is really miserable. You spend half the day gobbling morphine to try to squelch it. Bone pain is the original malady that makes you want to have a worst enemy to wish it on, but I don’t think I hate anyone enough to send them this.
But then the next day can be much better, with no significant pain and enough energy to go into town for a few hours of errand-running. In normal life, you can generally predict that you’ll feel the same way tomorrow as you do today. With cancer, you end up with no idea of how you’ll feel tomorrow or next week. Every morning has become like a lottery—a lottery with a whole range of cruddy prizes.
Then there’s my belly. From November through mid-March, it ballooned just like that of a starving child from those fundraising infomercials. And my bellybutton popped out, after nearly 45 years as an “innie”. (I wouldn’t mind so much, but I guess this is the end of my lint collecting days). We never determined what exactly caused the bloating—dairy or some other food, painkillers or other medication that slows the bowels, eating multiple meals all day long, or simply the side effects of a metabolic illness like cancer—but it settled down by mid-March. Just in time to make room for my gradually expanding and hardening liver.
The Football I’m sure it’s fallen out of usage, but I remember reading that at one time the U.S. Secret Service used “the football” as a name for the briefcase full of nuclear-war control codes that would accompany the president everywhere. I have something similar: a black Baggallini man’s purse, for want of a better term. It contains valuables and necessities, so I started thinking of it as “the football”, then eventually took to calling it that out loud, at least when discussing it with my wife.
So, what’s in the football? Well, the day that the name first occurred to me, I was clutching the bag particularly tightly, mostly because it was so full of drugs. I’d just picked up several prescriptions. I had loads of morphine on me, amongst other controlled chemicals. It was also the day of my first visit to the Vancouver Compassion Club, so I was holding a bag of medical marijuana (not that cruddy government weed from Flin Flon but proper smoke grown by skilled people selecting particular strains for specific medicinal benefits). Actually it was seven bags, each for a different type, for a total of 50-plus grams. I felt like I’d become a thief’s “great rip-off, followed by a big party” story just waiting to happen.
What else is in the football besides drugs? Well, there’s a lot of stuff that looks like drugs, a grand assortment of vitamins and supplements. They’re not in bulk, but carefully hand-packed by me into more baggies, destined for whatever part of the day they’re supposed to be consumed: before, after, between, or during meals. Royal jelly, coenzyme Q10, DMAE, l-deprenyl, salmon oil, Piracetem, Hydergine, melatonin, vinpocetine, all kinds of goodies. There’s even LactAid, in case I encounter an irresistible milkshake (or even a Wendy’s Frosty) during my travels and need to combat the dairy product’s acidity. I also have a couple of disposable facemasks for breathing purposes, should I encounter people with minor transmittable diseases like colds (which actually aren’t that minor if your immune system isn’t working up to snuff). There’s a bag of Tums to help with stomach acidity and gas. A pack of Kleenex. Note paper. Pens. The new iPod touch, with wireless e-mail access. Not to mention two or three bottles of those germ-killing hand-cleaning solutions in spray and gel form. I must have spent $125 on germ killers by now, one of the many not-so-negligible expenses that come with cancer.
Valuables and necessities? Check the whereabouts of the football, and always guard it from strangers. And maybe from some of your friends, too.