I’ve been reminded this past week of my orthopedic surgeon’s parting advice, three decades and three knee procedures ago: The Enemy of Good is More. Which, back when I was recovering from ACL reconstruction, meant, simply enough: don’t try to be a physical therapy hero. If I was told to do three sets of ten leg lifts, it didn’t mean do six sets of 30 for extra credit. Doesn’t work that way. More is usually too much.
It was a hard lesson for a once-serious athlete to accept. And yet, a useful life lesson.
She says, as if she keeps this sage tidbit in the forefront of her brain at all times. Sure, I like to think I’m older and wiser these days, having lived long enough to take these pearls of wisdom to heart without having to be reminded. And yet, here I am, on the backside of a week that probably wouldn’t have been stellar under any circumstances, but was definitely made worse by my own bull-headedness. The enemy of good? Too much. That’s what I did.
Let’s see, where did it all begin? Chemo #3 last Wednesday, nothing odd to report. Okay, there was the birth of that little chest cold, but if Nurse Kathy didn’t notice, it probably doesn’t matter, right? Come Thursday, I was still in that steroid-induced protective zone. All good. Nice morning at the MFA, admiring Cezanne and Gauguin, taking in a lecture on early French photography. I got my day-after shot to pump up the white blood cell count that afternoon, and when asked how I tolerated it last time, thumbs up all around. Friday, woke up feeling grand. The sky was blue, and my walking shoes were at the ready. Drove to Fresh Pond, confident that two times around the reservoir at a jaunty clip would be SO much more an accomplishment than one measily lap. It felt like weeks had passed since I’d gotten any decent amount of exercise. Plus it was a lovely day. Plus the brisk air felt good on my face and in my ever-thinning hair. Plus the resident Eastern screech owl was in her hole, and all was well with the world. Time to seize the day!
It wasn’t until I headed back to my car, zig-zagging up the path through the tall pine trees towards Huron Avenue, that the weariness set in. Honestly, the hillside connector from the reservoir to the street could not be more than forty vertical feet, but with every uphill step, I felt more feeble. Listen to your body, my brain might have said right about then. But there was still a grocery shop to do, then a friend to meet for a late lunch. Need milk, gotta eat, maybe I can squeeze in a little nap somewhere along the way.
I did lie down for about a half hour later on, then checked the MBTA schedule to figure out when one of the buses that obligingly rambles right by my house would be coming along. My objective: a women’s college hockey game across the river. ECAC quarterfinals, my alma mater vs. my sweetie’s. We’ve got a history of meeting up on Fridays at the hockey rink whenever the women are playing; he walks over from the B-school when he’s done with his day, and I get to enjoy these amazing gals on skates while I wait for our weekend to officially begin.
Aside: I cannot explain my affinity for college women’s hockey, beyond my basic appreciation for how good they are at what they do, how skilled and mindful their execution is, and how wistfully brief their college hockey lives are. While there are always the rare exceptions that get to compete in the Olympics and beyond after they graduate, for most, the games I watch are the end of a long road. And if they’re like my older son and his ski racing career, they’ve not only been at this for a very, very long time, they don’t always see the end coming until it’s practically upon them. Life beyond hockey is unknowable. Senior Night is something that happens to their elder teammates, not them. Until one night, it’s their mothers and fathers wielding cellphone cameras and videocams from the stands, and they’re the ones being handed bouquets of roses at their last regular season game on home ice. To be so very good at something, to have worked so hard and made time between classes and exams to commit to this sport for four intense years, then have that all go away…every year, I find it amazing and touching and a little bit heartbreaking. I also find it unfathomable, that their games are so pitifully attended. Which is partly why I go.
So, the bus comes, I get a seat, I close my eyes, and am suddenly aware of how very tired I am. I make it to hockey, catch up with my honey, cheer my gals on to a 3-0 victory, walk back over the bridge to dinner at our favorite bar, where our favorite barkeep is on duty and knows my favorite drink. “Hmm, do your docs say anything about alcohol?” my beloved asks, then answers the question for me. Whatever. It’s the weekend. I’ll be in bed by 9. Probably a good thing, to knock myself a little bit silly and get a decent night’s sleep.
Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday: I am a congested, cranky, weary excuse for a human being. My joints ache. My head aches. My chest wheezes, my nose runs. I am exhausted, just creeping up and down the stairs. I can’t concentrate enough to read, I can’t get comfortable, I can’t sleep. My mouth has that extra hot burnt cheese pizza sensation, which renders lots of flavors unrecognizable, metallic. My ankles are swollen. My fingers and feet are tingly. I am, in short, a mess.
Okay. Much of this would have been visited upon me, even if I hadn’t gone two laps, even if I hadn’t sat in a chilly arena, even if I hadn’t had that sparkling crimson cocktail (champagne, Cointreau and pomegranate juice, in case you’re wondering.) It’s hard to believe that getting more sleep earlier on would have improved anything, since I spent so much time checking the clock in the middle of the night, only to discover that just 15 minutes had passed since my last look. I was told up front that the effects of chemo are cumulative, that one might breeze through the first and couple and find the last a bit tougher going. I selectively forgot that, and took my first and second round byes from the ill effects as a testament to my personal constitution. Turns out, it was all going according to a predictable plan.
So, here I am, feeling much better, thank you. The return of winter weather has been an obstacle to doing laps these days (a great athletic equalizer—the snowy windy rainout!), which is probably a good thing. My list of favorite things this week includes generic sneeze-y drippy cough-y so you can sleep meds, and a variety of Puffs tissues that not only has built-in lotion, but also smells like the old Vick’s vap-o-rub of my youth. Genius, whoever thought that one up.
So, one lousy week down, two to go before the last of the chemos. I can’t wait. And I vow to be more mindful of how I’m actually feeling, next round.