Sundays in our house are not relaxing. Sure, we all get to sleep in later than during the school week, but once we are up we are running; homework, tutors, birthday parties, football matches (“soccer” for my American readers) and counting the amount of times I have to hear “can I just finish this last game?” when I say it’s time to turn off the X-box. Every Sunday morning, I come downstairs in workout clothes, which is supposed to guarantee that I go for a run, or at least do a 4 minute Tabata session at some point during the day. Around 50% of my Sundays are spent wearing those workout clothes all the way till bedtime without having done more than a few token lunges across the kitchen while taking the milk from the breakfast table back to the fridge. Sometimes it’s the thought that counts.
My first procrastination ritual is the making of the coffee and this morning was no exception. I scooped a generous heap of velvety grinds into my French coffee press, but I was tired and several kids were asking me questions at the same time and I knocked the open coffee bag over, sending an earth colored sand storm across my white kitchen counter. While the calming fragrance helped lessen my irritation at having been so clumsy, at least I got to clean up a mess that I myself made, for a change. No need to grill my kids who would inevitably blame poor Nahtmee.
I willed the coffee in the press to steep faster. Steep. STEEP, dammit. And while I waited, I wiped the spilled granules into the sink. As the dark brown pile mixed with some water near the drain I was confronted with what I’m always reminded of when I see a pile of wet coffee grounds. I was sucked back in time to January 2009 in my New Jersey kitchen, a few days before I started the chemo that I never should have needed for the breast cancer that I never should have had.
It is January 2009, just after my thirty-fifth birthday. There I stand taking stock of the arsenal of complimentary prescriptions that I’ll need to see me safely through eight rounds of chemo over sixteen weeks. Because I can’t help myself and because I’d never needed more than the occasional antibiotic, I’m reading the informational insert in each pack of meds. This turns out to be an unwise move, because the inserts read like one of those drug commercials where at the end the voice over lists a startling array of possible side effects to look out for before encouraging the consumer to ask their doctor if **insert drug name here** is right for them.
The possible side effects of the steroids, sleeping pills and white blood count boosting serum I now have are many but not out of the realm of what I might have expected. Then I start reading the booklet printed in 3 pt. font in the box labelled “Emend”, an anti-nausea medication which was revolutionizing the way patients tolerated chemo as it supposedly eliminated nausea altogether. The yellow pills in the blister pack were the largest I’d ever seen and I did appreciate the irony of the fact that just looking at them made me queasy.
So I’m reading about how these pills might give me a headache, stomach ache, rashes of all sorts, cause me to vomit a coffee ground like substance, make me very—WAIT, WHAT?? Vomit coffee grounds?? Like I’m in the exorcist?? And if this is an anti-NAUSEA medication shouldn’t there actually be no vomiting to begin with??
No way am I taking these pills once I start chemo, and I call the nurse who’d prescribed them to tell her as much. She tries to explain that most people won’t experience any of the side effects listed on a drug insert, let alone the really weird ones and how taking the Emend is in my best interest. But I’m hysterical with fear and not open to hearing rational arguments so I hang up and stare at my pile of drugs and ponder how it is that I’m even in this situation to begin with.
My attention shifted back to the present and I poured myself that first blessed cup of the day. It was a brief moment, but one of many that I’ve had in the 9 years since I finished my intensive treatment regimen. It’s in such moments that I realize I’ve moved so far away from that surreal time in my life that I now have the luxury of focusing entirely on the wonderfully mundane elements of my buzzing household. Between chiseling hardened snot off a cupboard door and having toxic chemicals shot through my bloodstream every other week, there is no competition; snot wins every time.
P.S. Once I started chemo it didn’t take long for me to cave and take the Emend. It helped tremendously (I just noticed the word “emend” is embedded in “tremendously”) and I never vomited anything throughout the whole 8 rounds of chemo, coffee grounds or otherwise. Which is more than I can say for all of my pregnancies.