Chemo Starts Tomorrow, and I'm Looking Forward to It

So chemo starts tomorrow, and I’m doing fine — I guess.

Well I was, ’til I looked it up.

As I stared at the computer screen, scrolling down the page, memories of horrors past came rushing back.

Side effects: nausea, diarrhea, headaches, cramps (ironically, one of the reasons I was getting this treatment), fluid retention, high chances of infection, bruising and bleeding, cardiac failure or heart damage, liver damage, kids who get it could stop growing and miss puberty. The lot.

I’m a medical student. I know I’ll be on a low dose. I’ve read the studies and know that compared to most other chemos, this drug is well tolerated. It has lower rates of side effects while having better outcomes too.

But even though I know all this, my brain is still screaming, “Why the hell am I doing this?”

I’m not getting this for cancer. Not this time around. This is supposed to treat the major side effects I have from my previous chemotherapies and two bone marrow transplants. It’s for something called graft-versus-host disease. It’s been shown to help patients with skin manifestations of it, and in one or two cases, it’s even treated the muscles and their coverings underneath it. Something that’s affected me profoundly the past few years.

But in the face of it, I find myself frozen in fear. Unable, unwilling to go on; afraid of what may come. Afraid that it may not work.

The generic pick-me-ups, the well wishes and assurances of people saying, “You’ll be fine,” “You’re a fighter,” “You’ll kick this thing’s ass!” don’t work in these circumstances.

Cancer, chemo and everything that comes with it doesn’t feel like a fight to me — it feels like a beating.

But the voice that gets me out of this is my own voice from the past.

When I was diagnosed with leukemia and told I had a 10 percent or 20 percent chance of survival, I was devastated.

But after a while, once I hit rock bottom and was looking for something – anything – that could get me out of this, I took a step back and looked at what had happened to me objectively, as if it had happened to someone else. And I thought, “What should I do and how should I think in order to get myself out of this mess?”

Though it sucked, I had cancer. No matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t go back and change that. So why worry and get sad and angry about the leukemia when all it was doing was making this whole thing worse?

Stressing about things you can’t control does nothing but make things suck more. Why spend my time and energy on all that? It didn’t make sense to me.

Instead, why not put that energy towards getting myself out of the mess, reaching my goals and becoming a better version of me?

When I was getting chemo the first time around, there wasn’t much I could do. Well, I could do everything in my power to stay healthy, and exercise and eat well. And believe me I did. But what I did to keep myself happy was crucial.

The fear I had still lingered on despite knowing it was destructive, as it is now I guess. Sometimes we can’t help how we feel.

But why do wet look at chemo only as something that’ll bring pain and misery, when it’s also a medicine? An opportunity — the very thing that could get me out of this.

They wouldn’t be giving this to me if they didn’t think it could help, right?

So as I look at this pill that could make my next few months hell, I find myself reminding myself of the positives it could bring. A future free of this hell I’m in, one free of pain, one that could be coming soon.

And at that point, I don’t need courage to take it.

I guess what I wanna say, what I wanna scream out to the world when I share my story is: Life is filled with opportunities. There will always be a second way of looking at things – there will always be hope, or at the very least, happiness. Sometimes you have to step back to see it. Sometimes you need to see things from another perspective. You can do it yourself, as I did, but it’s probably better (it definitely saves pain and effort) to talk to someone else about it.

And once we do see a different perspective – if we can remind ourselves of what that is whenever we’re in strife, it can give us a better chance of getting through it, of achieving our goals, of being the happiest, healthiest and most successful version of ourselves.

Believe me, if I can do it, you can too.

I’m always here if you need help getting there.

Nikhil is an AML survivor, two-time bone marrow transplant recipient, medical student, founder of a social enterprise and author of his blog, Musings of a Med Student Patient. 

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