7. Empty Days, Scary Nights

The second cycle just sucked. I went in thinking I could will myself through it. When I showed up at oncology on Friday, June 3, to start the next treatment, I said, "I'm ready to go. I can do this. F you, cancer." Seems that I forgot to include the chemo drugs in that sentiment. They clearly had another idea in mind. When Dana said that chemotherapy has a cumulative effect on your body, she wasn't kidding.

By this point, my zombie feeling had set in. I discovered that Xanax is highly addictive. My body was weakening. I was losing a pound a day. My mind was deteriorating. I kept plugging away at an academic paper. But I found myself reading and reworking the same section time and time again. And my emotions were out of control. I couldn't talk to many people because I would inevitably choke up with emotion. Kate would listen to me say many times a day how much I loved her, and wonder where the old Jim went. Not that I didn't appreciate her before, but now the mere sight of her now made me cry. I was fighting the chemo drugs, and they were winning.

Then I discovered something new: paranoia and panic attacks. With Kate and the kids still in school -- Stephen was home from college, but spent his days working at Starbucks -- I was alone in the house most of the time. Every night, I panicked about how I would get through the next day. When you think about it, people typically spend their days going back and forth to work, running errands, visiting friends, and the like. I could do none of that.

My days were a vast wasteland of emptiness. And it scared the hell out of me. What could I do to get through the day? Everyday, I had absolutely no idea. I tried watching television, but I couldn't handle any violence. ESPN analysts take themselves way too seiously. I had no tolerance for the shouting voices that represent television news. And from television to Twitter, I suddenly noticed daily accounts of sports figures, business leaders and celebrities dying from cancer. One in particular was Nick Charles, a sportscaster, who died from bladder cancer after not having the strength to go through more chemotherapy. That shook me to my bones.

My respite: the Home and Garden network. No kidding. If I survived the cancer, at least I would become a good home decorator. I watched video podcasts of Leo LePorte's TWIT network. Entertaining discussion of technology trends, coupled with practical knowledge on how to use my Apple devices. I watched a ton of baseball games. Mostly Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles. Pure escapism. Since I couldn't attend games, I followed my team by reading the daily blog of Mark Zuckerman, who covers the Nationals and has become a friend of mine. Somehow, I would make it through the day. And knowing that gave me some comfort heading into the next, empty day.

Nights could be worse, though. I had extreme insomnia. I struggled mightily to sleep. Most nights, I would get only an hour or two of sleep, and that was about it. My body was still tingling. My heart pounded away. My ears were constantly ringing. It seemed that my system just couldn't stop going full speed. What did I think about in the quiet darkness? Schenk's words. "Ugly tumor." "You know what we're talking about." And other Schenkisms. My heart woud beat harder and harder. And I woud sweat in fear. A lonely fear.

Kate tried to help by teaching me how to program my mind into a sleep state. Remember all the good things about the day, and feel good about them. Place people and events into rooms of a house, and close the door on each one, she said. I coupled this approach with watching the same movie every night, Eight Men Out. It's a John Sayles movie about how the Chicago White Sox threw the 1919 World Series for gambling money. After a time, I memorized the dialogue and it created a comfort zone for me. It drove Kate up a wall, though. Together, these tactics helped me get a couple more hours of sleep each night. What I didn't plan for: just as I was finally falling asleep at 4 in the morning, Stephen would be up getting ready for work, and the sound of his shoes hitting the hardwood floor downstairs woke me up. Geez, I can't catch a break.

Then it was back to oncology on Friday, June 10, yet another long treatment. Perhaps for the first time, I started to feel sorry for myself. How would I know if the chemo meds were working? What if they weren't? And why me? I tried to express how I felt to Dana, and I just broke down. She comforted me with a big hug. But I thought to myself, when will this end?

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