The pregnancy I never had

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MARLENE GADZIRAYI – THREE weeks ago on the 10th of February I had my final cancer chemotherapy session.

A month before that I completed 40 days of radiation on the 10th of January. 40 was a symbolic number, it somewhat translated to 40 days in a desert. It did feel like I was in a desert, the side effects from radiation literally made me go mad.

For the past six months, cancer has been my pregnancy. I did everything that pregnant women do, and more. I felt weak and exhausted. I was emotional and threw tantrums (short fuse in short).

No menstruation. Headaches. Nausea…I was vomiting all the time as food became an enemy to my body. Sometimes I would vomit at the sight of food, yet I would be hungry. After that I’d refuse to eat to avoid the pain that came with vomiting. I craved green peaches, green apples and unripe mangoes. I equally had food aversions.

My days were as unpredictable as the weather. One day I’d have diarrhoea all day, the next time it would be constipation.

There are food items that I had to stop taking, eg, sadza and meat. I also became lactose intolerant and I couldn’t stand my favourite cereals.

My sugar intake went to an all-time low, not intentionally, but my body had its own mind. I craved salty foods and spicy Indian food.

Extra hot is what I ordered and I didn’t even sweat when I was eating that food which is what I’d normally do if I made the mistake of ordering spicy food. My doctor advised me to avoid certain foods but I was stubborn.

I stopped taking ice cream after spending the night in the bathroom with diarrhoea. I stopped eating mazhanje and fast foods after an upset stomach. I realised that I could cheat my doctor over the phone, but my body would betray me. It took time for me to accept that my immune system was compromised due to treatment and therefore I was susceptible to illnesses that I would ordinarily fight off.

So many times when people asked how I was or if I was feeling better from the treatment I didn’t know how to answer, so I’d just be rhetorical and say “I’m ok.” But I wasn’t ok and yet still I could not explain myself convincingly.

Radiation was targeted at my pelvis area to deal directly with the cancer cells. As I explained in a previous post I felt nothing during the 10-15 minutes under the machine. But then as days progressed I would wake up with sores and blisters that were excruciating.

We then had to deal with them to keep the area dry, radiation treatment needs the skin to be dry. So my mom would apply GV twice a day…GV that purple ointment that stings and whose purple colour doesn’t wash off easily. To deal with the pain I needed strong painkillers. I was given morphine overnight, and I woke up with hives (munyaviri).

To deal with the hives I was given chlorpheniramine, which would cause diarrhoea. To deal with the diarrhoea I had to take medication called Loperamide, but this would sometimes cause constipation. To deal with the constipation I had to take laxatives… In short, the ripple effect of the side effects was mentally exhausting and drained me physically.

At times I would have nonstop headaches or an unsettled stomach and all those uncomfortable situations needed some medication or another, which would seemingly trigger pain somewhere else. I had to be sick all the time and I’d forget what exactly we were treating. Other times I was too weak to respond to messages or to answer phone calls.

It was difficult to tell everyone the little cycles of illnesses that I was going through. Unlike a situation where throat lozenges immediately soothe the discomfort of a sore throat, radiation and chemotherapy made me feel terrible.

People asked if I was getting better or if the cancer was going away, I didn’t know. I’d say I think so or I’m getting better, but I’d say so while curled up in bed. I had no energy to explain that I was dealing with treatment side effects which made me look and feel worse.

When radiation was completed in January, I was given a four week break to be prepared for the last chemotherapy. Although I was not 100 percent ok, I was eating better and started regaining a bit of weight, but at a slower rate than I wanted.

On the 10th of February I was so excited about the last chemo session. I dressed up in a floral dress – I used floral and colourful dresses to cheer me up because I felt the treatment rooms were depressing.

Having watched YouTube videos of cancer patients ringing a bell to signify and celebrate their last chemo sessions, I was equally looking forward to doing the same and have so many photos taken and maybe add a live video to it all.

But after only two photos, one at home and one at the beginning of the chemo session, I fell into a deep sleep during the treatment. The drugs hit me so hard I didn’t even feel the needles being removed from my arms. I was in a daze when it was all over and I was literally carried to the car.

When we got home all I wanted to do was sleep. And that’s what I did for a whole week. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t drive and I felt dizzy all the time. I slipped into a mild depression and hated cancer more than ever. I felt myself losing weight again and for a person who loves taking pictures, I couldn’t stand my photos.

Slowly I regained some confidence after sitting with my doctor for counselling. I can never downplay the role of friends, family and colleagues in the spiritual aspect of this journey.

For a long time I failed to pray, not because I was angry at God, but I was just blank. Mass was not having any effect on me, I went in empty and came out empty. But each time someone said that they were praying for me I failed to fully express my gratitude but I’d silently ask God to hear those prayers that were being said on my behalf.

Now that chemotherapy and radiation treatments are done, we wait for six weeks to go for scans to check if the cancer tumours are gone. It’s been three weeks now, we have three more to go.

In the meantime there are doctor visits to check on my blood levels, iron levels and other reviews to make sure that side effects are being handled well. And fingers crossed -— I hope to be in the clear. We’re almost there.
Cancer

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