Life’s A Beach: My First Chemo

“I need to get away,” I pleaded to my oncologist, desperation in my voice. Two years deep into a relentless pandemic, after losing my mom to cancer and receiving my own diagnosis, my mental health was struggling. With chemo and so many unknowns ahead, it was crucial I take this vacation to get my mind right. Luckily, after careful consideration and the okay from my doctor, I was able to take one last trip before my life took a nosedive.

My spontaneous getaway was just the respite I needed. Along with a killer tan, I returned home feeling relaxed and recharged. Mentally ready to face my new reality. 

I never thought I’d be fighting breast cancer at 31, but here I am. A week ago, I was lying on a beach in Mexico, high on life and pina coladas. Now I’m sitting in the chemo chair, drugged up on anti-nausea meds and some vile liquid aptly called the “red devil.” 

Sitting here for the first time, my anxiety is through the roof. My mind is on overdrive (thanks, in part, to the steroids) running through every unanswerable question. How will I handle eight rounds of chemo? Will I go into early menopause, even though I’m taking ovarian suppression meds? What if my bald head is weirdly shaped? Will I still feel confident in my body after a double mastectomy and reconstruction? When can I return to my “normal” life? And worst of all, even if I put myself through this, will the cancer come back some day? 

The lovely, attentive nurse senses the mental battle I’m waging, mistakes it for a drug-induced headache. I accept the ice pack he offers, hoping it will give me something, anything else to think about besides cancer. Thankfully, it works. My head is slowly freezing, but my mind begins to clear. I close my eyes. I hear the soft crash of ocean waves against the sand. Warm sunlight kisses my cheeks, wraps itself around me, calming and soothing…

Next thing I know, BEEEEP! Infusions are done and I’m free to go as soon as the IV is removed. I’m elated. I bound out of the hospital, relieved. I’m sure the side effects will hit me like a tsunami when I get home, but I feel proud. In that chair I conquered my first chemo and I sat with my feelings. I felt the anxiety, the fear of the unknown, and like the ocean a few short weeks ago, I let it wash over me. 

I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m certain there will always be a beach; a place in my mind where I can retreat and find calm. Although there will be some new scars under my bikini, I choose to ride the wave. — Jennifer

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