Nothing makes you appreciate something like the potential to lose it. Take the sensation of touch, for instance. The second chemo drug I was given – Taxol – has the potential effect of causing neuropathy, or nerve damage, in the hands and feet. I remember the night before my first Taxol treatment, I lay in bed and stroked my cat with my fingertips, trying to embed the sensation in my brain so I could recreate it should things go south with my fingers. I spent a lot of time dismantling the components of the sensation, I even compared what it felt like to stroke her with my palm, my fingers, even my wrist. It works, but it isn’t the same. There is some kind of divine hotline that runs from the fingertips to the brain; one, I would hazard a guess, we take for granted and don’t really give a second thought to, until faced with the possibility of having to live without it.
I remember wondering how odd it would be to not be able to pick up a dime, then wondering at the amazing mind – fingertip dexterity at play so that I can pick up a dime. Or hold a pencil, or tie a shoe (for those who still have tie shoes). I also remember looking at my red swollen fingertips the day after my first treatment, thinking it was probably a bad idea to insist on doing the dishes the previous night, before I knew that hot water was my new Achilles heel. Or maybe it was the best thing I could have done, because I took it pretty darn seriously after that, protecting my two precious hands and each of my ten precious fingers as fiercely as a mamma bear does her cubs.
And so it was of no surprise yesterday, as I gazed at the cloud-strewn sky, that I saw a bevy of bears. A large white bear floated by on her back, her head turned toward me, left paw raised in a nonchalant wave. To the west, one cub cavorted with all four paws in the air, his hind legs kicked toward the heavens in glee. His brother sailed in from the west in super hero fashion, paws stretched out in front of him like Superman, both under the protective eye of their mother.
And so here I sit, sixteen months later, remembering. So far so good, I do not have signs of neuropathy. Whatever symptoms I did have during treatment have faded away. I credit a dedicated oncologist (Dr. Regan Rostorfer), lots of frozen peas to keep my hands and feet cold during treatment (less blood flow to the hands and feet equals less Taxol in the extremities) and lots of fish oil post-treatment so my nerves and brain can repair themselves. Also, and this is an important one, I never, never, never put my hands in hot water, even now. Heat still feels exponentially hotter to me and my hands react as though it is as hot as they think it feels. Eh, so what. It is a small price to pay to be alive, and to be able to feel the world beneath my fingertips.