Editor’s note: Elizabeth Churchill began writing her blog in 2006 after a grapefruit-sized tumor wedged between her lungs was diagnosed as a malignant highly aggressive stage IV lymphoma. Before her cancer diagnosis, she was the author of a horticultural column, an avid weightlifter, and a homeowner with a beautiful garden north-east of New Orleans. Once she started treatment, she couldn’t work, her relationship with her fiancé ended, and she became so in debt she had to sell her home to pay the bills. Unemployed and with no health insurance, Churchill started writing to keep family and friends informed and herself sane. Here, we excerpt a few of her entries.
All my nose hairs have fallen out. No one warns you about this, about the frustrating challenges of living with bald nostrils. Those hairs serve a purpose, you know, besides just something to hang decorations on. I might write a book about it.
They also didn’t warn me that some of my freckles would fall off. Not the ordinary freckles, but the raised ones which are actually called seborrheic keratoses, hideous things that two of my young Iranian residents referred to as a “brown rash.” They weren’t cancer, or even pre-cancer, but I guess they must have been rapidly growing cells, because the chemotherapy caused them to drop right off. I have to run around vacuuming behind myself everywhere I go, because I leave a trail of fallen freckles.
Here is an unexpected novelty: I met with a new resident at oncology clinic yesterday, and he treated me like an actual human being. He asked me what I was knitting, and told me that his sister loves to knit. He told me I don’t look 53, but considerately refrained from mentioning whether I look 23 or 93. (Thank the gods Prednisone cleared up my zits or I would look 13.)
He told me the single most important thing I can do now to improve my prognosis is to stay as active as possible. We talked a bit about weight lifting while taking catabolic drugs. He asked me how much I bench pressed before I got sick; it turns out it was only 20 pounds less than he benches, and he weighs 70 pounds more than I did then. Plus, he’s only 16. Then he wrote me a prescription for Ambien, and the whole visit took the exact same length of time as a normal visit that’s devoid of human interaction. Not one second longer.
In an effort to stay active, I’ve added running up and down the stairs 30 times a day to my cardioactivity regimen.
My next chemo session is Wednesday December 13th. This means I’ll be recovered for Christmas. I’ve never been a big fan of Christmas, but there was a time last summer, after my chest x-rays came back, when my doctor told me it looked like I had advanced lung cancer. I went around for three weeks believing that I wouldn’t live to see Christmas. And yet, barring the proverbial bus attack, now it looks like I probably will! And next year, I tell myself, maybe I’ll be well enough to attend a sing-along Messiah. I sing baritone, loudly and only a little bit off-key. I also know all the parts by heart, which is a good thing because I can’t read a single note of music. For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible!
Today I weigh 105 pounds, one pound heavier than when I started chemotherapy in October. So I’m not totally wasting away. Go me!