Why Halfway Through Chemotherapy Isn’t the Milestone You Think – Living with Lymphoma Week 18

Sleep seemed like the best remedy for the discomfort of chemo session #6.

Sleep seemed like the best remedy for the discomfort of chemo session #6.

Let me preface this by saying that I appreciate all the kind well-wishes, prayers, and thoughts that everyone has offered.  Lately, many of them have been centered on the fact that I’ve finished six of my twelve scheduled chemotherapy appointments treating my Stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

But halfway is NOT the milestone you think it is.

Halfway is defined thus: to half the distance; to midpoint

Are we at that point in my treatment?  Yes.  Does that mean what we think it does?  Absolutely not.

If you’ve read my brain tumor book, you will remember how frustrated I got when people would tell me how “lucky” I was that my brain tumor hadn’t been cancer.  While specifically true (obviously having brain cancer would have sucked), that statement immediately invalidated the fourteen hours of surgery, year of recovery time, loss of hearing in one ear, and significant paralysis on the left side of my face that I have been left with.  If that’s lucky, I’ll be avoiding four-leaf clovers from now on, thanks…

I’ve even gotten some of that with my current situation.  “You got the cancer to have if you’re going to get cancer” — seriously people?  I’ve somehow drawn pocket aces again in the luck of the draw by having my lymphatic system, my liver, and my bones all riddled with cancer?  I mean, maybe I really should have gotten treated in Las Vegas so I could hit the tables on the way home from chemo.

The “halfway” concept is really similar.  Why?  It’s simple. We are conditioned to think of halfway as a point on a line.  When we hit mile 50 of a 100 mile drive?  We’re halfway.  When we hit Wednesday in the average work week?  We’re halfway.  No kidding, you say– so what?  Why is finishing 6 out of 12 not halfway?

Because the two halves are completely unequal – halfway is not the landmark we’re used to in this case.

Even Nurse Bogey is exhausted after helping me recover from #6.

Even Nurse Bogey is exhausted after helping me recover from #6.

Chemotherapy gets worse each time.

Every chemotherapy session I go to is more uncomfortable.  My recovery times continue to increase.  My white blood cell counts get lower, constantly increasing my odds of getting sick.  It’s like a marathon that starts on a flat surface at 75deg F – and then both the incline and the temperature increase by one degree every mile.  By the time you hit the 13.1 mile mark, you would NOT be looking forward to the rest of the race – right?  (runners, back me up on this one!)

Three weeks ago my 5th chemo session was unpleasant.  Last week my 6th chemo session sucked.  It was uncomfortable for the entire four hours.  I finally had to just put back the recliner that they treat me in and go to sleep to ward off the discomfort.  If that trend continues?  Well, let’s just say I’m not looking forward to sessions 7-12.

Why am I telling you all this?

Is it because I’m horribly offended by people making what they assume to be very friendly and positive comments to me?  No.  Or maybe because I want everyone who offers encouraging words to people to feel like crap and question their own motives?  As tempting of a social experiment as that might be some time… No, not at all.  Obviously, when my family, friends, and fellow patients/survivors offer their congratulations on being halfway finished, I take those thoughts with their intended connotations.  Those people are happy for me and wishing me the best.  And as I mentioned earlier, I appreciate it.

I’m offering my thoughts on being “halfway” through my scheduled chemotherapy so that it might serve to change how we approach situations like this.  I’m hoping that maybe we can figure out a more expressive way to show our concern or convey our well wishes.  Let’s change the dynamic in how we deal with our loved ones who are ill.  I’ve got pretty thick skin when it comes to people talking about my situation – I get what people are trying to say.  No big deal.  Let’s influence and improve the experience of the people around us!  I remember when someone close to me was terminal and nearing the end of their life – I did my damndest to always say to that person, “It’s good to see you.”  The one time I screwed it up and said the much more common “How are you?”  Yeah, I got an honest answer – a lesson for which I am forever obliged.  I promise that I’ll never get those two confused again.

So let’s change the culture a little bit.  One sick guy, a bunch of people who are supporting him while he goes through chemotherapy, and a random website.  What do you say?  I think we can do it.

A couple of my ideas:

  • “Wishing you a simple and easy second half.”  –  See?  There we can keep the halfway concept intact while wishing for an easier time of it.
  • “Can’t wait until they’re finished!” – That works.  Me too, let me tell ya!
  • “Past the Scylla, now on to the Charybdis!” – Okay, that’s a stretch – but I thought you literary types might enjoy the comparison of my odyssey to that of Odysseus… (Hey, you liked the Macbeth article, remember?). Obviously I’ve run out of even vaguely good ideas.  I didn’t say I had a solution for this dilemma, I’m just the one identifying it.  I need your help.

What about you?  Who’s got a good idea?  Put ’em in the comments and we’ll put together a Top 10 list of them to help family and friends of chemo patients!

Last thing:  I know I’ve been promising you proof of the new hairdo…

Don't forget to:

Don’t forget to:

3 Responses to Why Halfway Through Chemotherapy Isn’t the Milestone You Think – Living with Lymphoma Week 18

  1. Carouzer June 30, 2014 at 11:11 am #

    Well, Chris, I gotta say, as a bald guy you look just fine…kinda sexy in a Kojak kinda way. 😉
    I do understand your point of view about reaching “the middle.” When my sister-in-law was going through chemo after a mastectomy, she faced the same thing you’re facing now–well-meaning friends celebrating her halfway point as her reaction to the chemo became progressively more intense. In fact, time-wise, her halfway point turned out not to be a halfway point time wise, because her white blood count dipped so low after a couple of the later chemos, that the doctors postponed her subsequent chemo to give her body time to recover more fully. It is a delicate balance. Instead of 12 weeks until the end of her treatments, it turned out to be more like 18 weeks.
    Still, midway in the number of treatments was a milestone of sorts. So we adopted a “light at the end of the tunnel” approach. By mid-way she could reasonably anticipate and look forward to the end of chemo. It was just that sometimes that light grew brighter faster (when she could go forward with the next scheduled treatment) and other times the chemo train had to slow up for her safety–something she found enormously frustrating.
    Like you, she lost all of her hair. She is older than you, and that played a role in her ability to bounce back–she got very, very sick during the latter treatments, but she forced herself to eat and to go out walking for exercise. It was a real test of will. She also has osteoporosis and in the later stages the chemo played havoc with her back–to the point that she had to wear a full torso hard back brace for the last two months of chemo and for six months following the end of treatment. She wore it day and night–only took it off to shower.
    But she kept her eye on that light and it really seemed to help. She willed herself not to anticipate the stuff in the middle–just the outcome and that seemed to help her cope. She made plans for what she was going to do when it was over and she forced herself to do as much “normal stuff” as she could between the chemo treatments, while being careful to get as much sleep and rest as she needed. During the last several treatments, she felt lousy for longer periods of time, but she persisted. She did turn over the grocery shopping to her daughter because of the infection issues. This is hard stuff–no doubt about it! She’s a lot tougher than I would every have thought. She’s amazing.
    It has been eight years and she leads a healthy, independent, normal life, cancer-free. So all you can do is concentrate on the light at the end of the tunnel, put your head down and bull your way toward it. Hang tough, my friend, and remember that when you are healthy and active again, you can look back and understand that the price you paid for your health was well worth the pain and discomfort.

  2. Debbie June 30, 2014 at 4:06 pm #

    As a former track and field sprinter/relay athlete, I totally relate to your message about “halfway”. More times than not, the second half of the race is far more difficult. Your body is getting tired even though you are “halfway”. You work harder, exertion is greater, and your mind has to take over as you head towards the finish line for that sweet victory. It’s that victory that keeps you running.

    There are many kinds of victories. Sometimes it is the win of finishing first, or getting the best time, or breaking a national record. Sometimes it is just the thrill of the accomplishment of finishing and other times it is a ribbon, a trophy, purse, or just someone with a congratulatory pat on the back for having finished a race well run.

    So, I say to you Chris: As you pass halfway, if you get tired, or it all starts to wear on you, just keep that finish line in sight. There are so many of us that will waiting for you when you cross that line to your own personal victory……and you WILL cross the victory line. You ARE that strong.

    I leave you with this song, not so much all of the lyrics apply, mainly the chorus. I called on it mentally often times in a race, passing halfway with a long way to go and a short time to get there.


    All I know is this Chris, once you past halfway, run faster, run harder…keep in focus this victorious finish because “It Keeps You Running”.

    Hanging in there with you, The Lovely Bride and Nurse Bogey. 🙂

  3. Marcia July 3, 2014 at 6:09 pm #

    Keep up the good fight, Chris. No two ways around the fact that it sucks. But it’s inspiring to see you making the best of a rotten deal with this blog. We’re all rooting for you.

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