Weighing the Consequences

CURE, Spring 2013, Volume 12, Issue 1

Life is more complicated after a cancer diagnosis.

The conscientious pharmacist handed me the basket of medications, each packaged with the usual plethora of pamphlets. “Are you familiar with this new drug? Be sure to read the patient information material,” he cautioned.

As a career member of the chemo club who has chalked up 14 years of treatments for advanced ovarian cancer, I take the term “survivor” seriously. Where I once carelessly dismissed those inserts, I’m now a devout reader of the info accompanying each drug, especially the paragraph titled “Possible Side Effects.” After surviving such random effects as instantaneous throat closure, full-body rash and peeling toenails, I dutifully scanned info on the new prescription. Yeah, yeah—the usual fainting, swelling eyeballs, purple teeth, hallucinations and precocious puberty—huh? Excuse me, but—precocious puberty? Sign me up!

I didn’t know there was such a thing. My family was staunchly religious—puberty was not allowed. In fact, I don’t remember ever experiencing puberty at all, and I’m pretty sure “precocious” was a dirty word in the small community where I grew up.

Many of us in the chemo club have tucked away somewhere that “Blue Sky” list—a list of “things to do while skies are blue.” In a fit of impatient frustration, mine had recently been banished to the bottom of the bird cage. I hastily retrieved it, scribbled “precocious puberty” on the list of ambitious intent and tucked it safely in the bottom of my desk drawer.

As a veteran of food restrictions, special diets and the gourmet gauntlet, I will confess to occasional reckless debauchery; and if you dance, you’ve gotta pay the fiddler.

As I was considering how to maximize this new entry on my list, I was reminded of the side effects of unbridled exploitation: Consequences. Oh, cruel irony! This new prescription promised to radically increase the heart rate. Hmm. So my choices were heart attack or precocious puberty? What was the dosage on that again?

As a veteran of food restrictions, special diets and the gourmet gauntlet, I will confess to occasional reckless debauchery; and if you dance, you’ve gotta pay the fiddler. I won’t go into the details here, but during the course of double-digit O.R. events, most of my original equipment has been donated to cancer. So I’ve learned that every decision has consequences. For instance, root beer float equals blood transfusion.

You see, having had my colon removed, piece-by-piece, with numerous debulking surgeries, my nemesis is liquids, particularly sweet liquids. Milk is also something I must consume in small quantities. So the abundance of carbonated liquid added to the sugar and ice cream in a root beer float will cause me to lose a great deal of fluids very quickly. A loss of fluids means danger of dehydration and loss of valuable minerals—potassium, magnesium, etc. When this situation occurs, the quickest way to replace what’s lost is to receive a pint of blood.

Through no fault of my own, I recently found myself staring down the barrel of a root beer float, and in the space of a hummingbird’s heartbeat, the straw was between my teeth, delivering the life-affirming/life-threatening liquid.

As I noisily slurped the last dregs from the bottom of the glass, I acknowledged the ancient wisdom: “Forbidden fruit is so much sweeter.” The salacious rush to savor that root beer float was a bit like forbidden sex—in the cool aftermath, it’s never worth the risk.

Scouring the glass to remove all incriminating evidence, I made a silent note to self: Make appointment for blood transfusion; one pint should do it. Confidentially, I’ve had 27 blood transfusions, and not all of them were due to root beer floats. Life is just not as simple as it once was.

Fran Di Giacomo is an artist and author.