Kage Baker commented, during her last year of life, that she felt she had a good handle on the cancer – it was the side effects that were making her miserable. Some of the things that happened to her were unexpected and even rather interesting – things like the tattoos and piercings attendant upon lengthy chemo and radiation therapies – but what made her physically the unhappiest were drug reactions.
Most antibiotics made her nauseated. And believe me – once your immune system begins to suffer from the attentions of aggressive therapy, you discover all sorts of belligerent bacteria you did not previously know. Many opiates (all hydrocodone combinations) made her throw up; this is a problem when pain control assumes such enormous importance in your ability to function daily. Her sense of taste was a victim of her medication: I spent hours inventing smoothies that would simultaneously nourish and please, because nothing tasted normal.
“This egg cream tastes like violets,” she commented once, staring at a glass of chocolate syrup and soda water.
“Violets? Is that good or bad?”
“Good, I think. Interesting, anyway. If you figure out how you did it, do it again,” she advised.
There was a lot of stuff like that … I never did figure out how most of it happened; Kage was interacting with her sensorium in new and unusual ways, and all the special effects were internal.
Kage didn’t expect to get too weak to stand or walk. She didn’t expect metastasis. She didn’t expect brain cancer to arise from uterine cancer. (“What, the ancients were right and the damned uterus does wander around?” she complained.) She didn’t expect to die. These were all side effects, as far as she was concerned; she dealt with them as they arose, and bitched heartily when new and awful surprises presented themselves.
The one thing she expected and dreaded – hair loss – didn’t happen. The Brazilian that resulted from the radiation therapy just made her laugh, as long as she still had a good head of hair. Her hair was cut short to accommodate a craniotomy, but she didn’t go bald. She died too fast for that, and was gently vain about dying with her hair still extant.
I’m trying to be patient about the little shocks to which my flesh has recently become heiress – I have yet to have to cope with anything as bad as what hit Kage, and so I consider myself lucky. The side effects of killer antibiotics for bacterial infections hitherto unknown to Man are hitting me rather hard today, but I can manage. There is always sleep … and in a lifetime that has been short of sleep in general, I’ve built up quite a sleep debt; I can use that up for quite some time, I think, before I slip into outright sloth.
The Lasix I am taking makes me pee constantly, but it’s supposed to do that – the weirdness is that it makes my ankles itch … Prozac gives me heartburn. Flexeril makes me sleepy. Most of the heart meds (all 6 of them) apparently have no side effects, except the thoroughly nice one of not having my heart stop: so, no complaints there.
What I most resent is having to think about all this crap, all the time. It’s boring and horrible; and nothing should be that. So I’m gonna stop thinking about it. I have my meds set up so they are on automatic – I can’t manage to either get up or go to bed without being reminded of them. So, to hell with ’em all!
I’m gonna think about other things. It’s what Kage did. I have things to write, things to edit, and a new Stephen King just arrived … and even if my stomach hurts, I have all sorts of pudding and jello to assuage it. Time for cocada and chocolate tapioca!
Joy can be a side effect, too.