The numbness in Eri’s hands is technically called Chemotherapy-Induced-Peripheral-Neuropathy (CIPN). Far from the central nervous system (CNS), the peripheral nervous system (PNS) is tasked with connecting our limbs to our organs and keeping communication flowing between our brain and extremities.
Chemotherapy, like a clueless idiot boyfriend, constantly gets in the way of all that beautiful communication. Unfortunately the PNS is not protected by bone (like the CNS), which leaves it much more exposed and susceptible to toxins. And chemotherapy is nothing if not toxic! Hence the neuropathy: pain, burning, tingling and numbness caused by damage to the nerves away from the brain and spinal cord.
There is no such thing as textbook cancer. Sometimes these symptoms are temporary and sometimes they become permanent. Hers have gotten progressively worse which inclined Dr. Mike, her medical oncologist, to explain the following. There is little research that shows an 8th chemotherapy treatment (4th specifically with Taxol) will make a significant change in the size of a tumor. However there is quite a lot of research that shows it will turn a temporary symptom into a lifelong permanent one. The decision was up to her.
Permanent peripheral neuropathy at age thirty-eight? Thanks, but no.
We still had to go to her appointment so she could officially refuse her last treatment. It didn’t seem like the appropriate setting to pop open a bottle of champagne like I had hoped (plus it was eight o’clock in the morning) so we just said goodbye to the incredible oncology nursing staff at the Praxair Cancer Center at Danbury Hospital and made our way to Waterbury for her next MRI.
[Here’s what I have to say about breast cancer MRIs: WHAT THE LIVING FUCK IS THAT ALL ABOUT?!! That is some audio torture-like bullshit! How can we have such advanced levels of technology that can see through our skin and bones, reading the densest tissue in our bodies but we can’t put noise dampeners on that coffin-like hell hole of a machine? And let’s not even get into the position she had to lay in – face down with her arms above her head, gown open, hooked up to a contrast dye IV with radio waves pulsing up from below. Talk about fear inducing psychological warfare. Forget about water boarding. You want someone to talk? Give them a daily MRI.
Forgive my rant. It’s crippling to not be able to protect someone you love from things that are awful and I just really needed to get that off my chest. I could go on for days about the dreadful reality that is a breast cancer MRI, but life is for the living and E’s not one to bitch and moan like the incessant child I am half the time. For her sake I shall move on…]
I held onto her pinky finger for what felt like forever and at long last the radiology nurses rolled her out. I removed her earplugs as they took out her IV and ultimately she got through it, because that’s what you do.
Two days later, blessed with a few hours away from her gorgeous wonderful perfectly awesome children, we got on a boat. My mom traded off the helm with Eri’s seventeen year old nephew and we set sail on Long Island Sound with her sister and brother-in-law. We popped the cork on that bottle of champagne (sparkling Clementine soda for the teenager) and toasted our rock star’s fortitude. You might think she probably looked exhausted or worn out, dragged down from the physical, mental and emotional intensity of her last few months.
But you’d be wrong. Ever thankful for being alive, she looked like this: