Oh, the indignity! (An update from Steve Safran)

I smell awful. There’s a sickly, syrupy-sweet smell I give off during these intense weeks of chemo that, perhaps, might be nice coming from a pancake kitchen. But coming off my skin, and combined with its other scents, the smell is terrible. My bodily emanations are mini-violations of the Geneva Convention. Three sets of sheets aren’t enough changes a week to keep up with my ability to insult the very loom that created them.

Or maybe I don’t smell awful at all, and it’s just that my nose has been so wrecked by chemo that I can’t tell the difference anymore. Who brought that wonderful, fresh spring bouquet in here? Get it out!

Smell, taste, sensitivity to sound and light– it’s all different now. I’m two cycles deep in the course of treatment for testicular cancer, diagnosed in May. The hope is that three cycles will cure me, but four cycles is a real possibility. A cycle is three weeks: Week One is chemo Monday through Friday. Weeks Two and Three are chemo just on Monday. So if you can follow that, please call me and tell me which days I have chemo. I’m a writer, not an air-traffic controller.

Last week was the worst. I was scheduled for just two hours. Instead, I got the deluxe package stay at the Newton Wellesley Hospital, spending four of the five weekdays there. The room was spacious and parking was ample, but the pancakes brought my Yelp review down by a full star.

Staying in the hospital means visitors. The downside to having hospital visitors is that you are poorly dressed for the occasion. You aren’t “business casual” so much as “hospital humiliated.” Much has been made of the indignity of the “Johnny” that cruelly ties in the back, except that it doesn’t. People, come on— Velcro! However, you don’t have to worry about doing your hair as it has abandoned you, and since your only method of cleaning your body now comes in the form of a giant baby wipe, you don’t need any time in the shower.

Everything about chemo turns your intestines into the Keystone pipeline project. It’s part of Big Pharma’s plan to sell laxatives, stool softeners, and other meds to let loose the dogs of war. And you will smell like said dogs once these things let everything loose. So there you are, visitors in the room, dressed like an extra from “The Walking Dead,” and suddenly the Senekot, well, works. I won’t go on, except to say I cranked the TV on my way to the bathroom.

About the smell, little could be done.

Just me and my hospital pals, heading to the nurse’s station…

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13 responses

  1. It’s good to be able to make fun of it Steve. As a cancer survivor all I can tell you is to live one day at a time. You will eventually get to the end. My doctors said that a good attitude actually seems to increase the treatment effectiveness and survivability. Keep up the good work. 😀

    • It’s almost “one second at a time” some days, isn’t it? There are days (like today) where the sick factor makes me think “I’m never going to feel better.” The whole baseline to the answer of “How do you feel” moves, and suddenly “fine” means “not sitting on the bathroom floor.” I’m very happy for you and hope to join your ranks soon as a cancer survivor.

      • We will be eagerly awaiting your arrival in the survivor lounge Steve – free bar. Ha! Arranging my treatment I met with a new radio-oncologist (changed hospitals) before treatment and he had my huge file with him. He said:”I see you smoke but don’t drink.” I had to correct him: “Actually smoke and drink. Why?” -thinking maybe alcohol might be dangerous during treatment. “Oh”, he replied, “I was going to suggest you smoke less and drink more.” I wasn’t long jumping on that: “No problem , I can still drink more.”

  2. Thank you Steve for sharing the real details of chemo. “Having Chemo” have been these words that have been kept secret for so long. Even when my own mother went through it she protected us from really knowing what it was like. All she shared was “I can’t get off the couch” or “I have a funny taste in my mouth”. When you care about someone you want to know everything they are feeling and experiencing. Thank you for sharing. It just must suck. Xo

    • It does suck, and there’s no keeping it to myself. I fully understand why people would want to, however. The embarrassments are the only thing that are regular some days. I can understand why Mom wanted to shield you from them, if only for her own dignity’s sake.

  3. Pingback: My (Mostly) Final Word on Cancer… By Steve Safran | Blooms and Bubbles

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