No one would describe me as a fashion trend setter or even much of a trend follower. I am especially resistant to the idea of spending more than $50 on handbags or shoes, so I’m almost not even considered a full-fledged woman. I have a history of waiting until my sister discards one designer handbag and replaces it with another (which happens more often than is healthy and probably requires an intervention), at which point I become the beneficiary of her gently used, last-month’s bag. I’ve scored Michael Kors and Kate Spade totes this way, but I don’t really care what name adorns the leather so long as it holds all my work and personal odds and ends in a semi-organized manner (read: total disaster) with enough extra space for some snacks.
It’s a good thing I’ve developed this acceptance for whatever bag lands in my lap, because this week I became the first fashion trendsetter in my neighborhood and social circle to be required to wear the tres chic chemo pump purse, which hopefully has the added benefit of shrinking my tumors or at least stopping further progression of my cancer. This addition to my wardrobe follows on the heels of a CT scan last week that showed my tumors continued growing on the previous chemotherapy regimen I began in November.
For those who appreciate the finer medical details, the prior regimen consisted of three to four infusions per month of gemcitabine and cisplatin, all administered at the hospital over a 4 to 5 hour period. My new regimen requires a 2 to 3 hour infusion every other week of a drug called irinotecan (along with the usual steroids and anti-nausea meds) followed by a continuous drip of something called 5-FU over a 46-hour period. The two-day drip is where the purse comes into play—and also where the FU part of its name makes a lot more sense. After the irinotecan empties into me (and for some unknown reason causes me to lose partial control of my tongue, leaving me slurring my words like a drunken co-ed), I am sent home hooked up to an IV bag filled with 5-FU that I carry around in my new purse along with a battery-powered pump that keeps the drip going.
In other words, my new bag and I are literally inseparable for two straight days and, unfortunately, nights. About once every minute, the pump makes a sound reminiscent of an automatic soap dispenser or a receipt printing. Since it must lay next to me in bed–a level of intimacy I’ve never shared with my other, quieter purses–I essentially sleep in 59 second intervals for two nights in a row, despite a bevy of sleep aids. In my intentional waking hours, I puzzle out how to change clothes with an IV line attached on one end to the medi-port surgically implanted in my chest and my chemo purse on the other. More button down shirts are apparently in order–another fashion trend I will champion even if I’m a little too old for the hipster-in-flannel look.
The real fashion statement here is that I’m battling cancer, and pretty soon, according to my oncologist, the new chemo drugs will cause all my hair to fall out to really underscore that point. I managed to get by on the last regimen without any noticeable hair thinning at all, but I’m told no one gets that lucky on the slurred-speech inducing irinotecan. I think there’s a solid chance that the runways in New York and Milan will soon feature skinny, bald, slurring chicks wearing flannel with butch-looking bags. In fact, they may already.
A younger, more self-conscious version of myself would have been horrified at the thought of walking around with a noisy chemo purse, an IV line snaking out from its side up along my torso and tucked into my shirt collar, and doubly horrified by being bald while doing it. But one of the truly great things about cancer–as difficult as it is to wrap your head around the concept that there could be anything great about this deadly douchebag of a disease–is that it has largely freed me from worrying about things that truly don’t matter. I’ve shed my anxieties and concerns about legions of ultimately unimportant things, and I have begun enforcing a zero-tolerance policy for other people’s preoccupations with insignificant bullshit. If I can walk around with a smile on my face and a chemo purse on my shoulder, you should be able to put on your big boy/big girl pants and stop throwing apoplectic tantrums over things that don’t directly threaten your or your family’s existence or well-being, don’t you think?
It is unclear what the future holds for me, if this new chemo will work better than the last one, or if and when I’ll be able to get into a promising clinical trial. If I do, will it work? I remain positive that I will beat this somehow, but I have no idea what the road will look like, how it will feel or how long it will take. No one does–not even the best doctors in the field. This is really just life –- anyone’s life — distilled into a very intense and more transparent experience than most people have at my age. I know what I’m battling and that it’s potentially lethal (or even likely to be lethal if you believe in statistics, which I do not). But we are all mortal beings who know we will die at some point, just not when or how.
What is clear is that I’m still here and feeling pretty good despite what my doctors describe as a “significant cancer burden,” which I try not to take personally. I still have my sense of humor and dignity (mostly) intact, a world class group of friends and family cheering me on, and now, a brand new bag… with plans to spray paint it rose gold and bedazzle the hell out of it.
Peace, love and f&*k cancer!