My right foot went through two days of itching. The last time I felt itchy feet was 2009 – before the heavy metals of chemotherapy knocked out my nerves. I think this is the story that Rick Holm wanted me to write – the experience of recovery from cancer and the treatments that beat it. Rick Holm, MD didn’t beat his cancer – but he wanted me to write on the topic. Frankly, it’s a hard topic – largely because of the people I’ve met who can’t write on the topic of recovery.
The cancer wasn’t so hard as the treatments to beat it. Basically, to knock the cancer out, you need to walk a fine line – chemicals and radiation that will kill a cancerous tumor are still rough on the healthy cells. Even on the healthy mind – there’s a term “chemo-fog” for describing your mental processes as you go through treatment. Along with that came nerves knocked out of commission – chemo-induced neuropathy. By the end of the chemo infusions, my legs were numb past the knees. I could still pet a cat or dog – but I had to do it visually. I couldn’t respond to the moves that said “now scratch here, human.” Fortunately dogs are tolerant – even poor quality petting is appreciated by canines. Cats, not so much.
The docs explained that the neuropathy was worst at the extremities – hands and feet. At the time I was teaching, and realized soon that it took conscious effort not to drool – we notice neuropathy more in the toes and fingers, but it also affects the lips and facial muscles. Sufficient to say, chemo-induced neuropathy does heal – it just heals slowly. For years, the message of healing nerves has been jolts of pain – waking up to the experience of a non-existent chipmunk biting my toes. This past week, the nerves returned with a two-day sensation of itchy feet.
Today, I redid a repair on the tractor – when I first replaced the starter switch on the Kubota, it was a cold day, and with numb hands I didn’t get things done right in a long day’s project. A couple of wires had broken eight years later, and I had to hotwire things to get out of the woods. This time, with more recovery from the neuropathy, it was a half-hour job. Still one spot I had to do twice because of the numbness, but with the ability to feel the wires, instead of having to see them, the task went quickly and well.
Life is good. Tennyson covered the chemo experience when he wrote “Though much is taken, much abides”. The phrase covers recovery as well as aging.