Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, April 11, 2008

Five Things I Hate About Chemo

by Kerry Blair

When I began chemotherapy for ovarian cancer, I wanted to keep it private. Two weeks later, not only is it the worst-kept secret since Neiman Marcus’s chocolate chip cookie recipe, but I feel like a fraud. I recently got a letter from a friend outlining how brave and candid and long-suffering I supposedly am. Oh, gosh. Is that a load of . . . um . . . that all-natural material everybody’s spreading on their gardens this time of year, or what? Not only would I never cut it on Moment of Truth, but I can gripe and whine with the best of them!

I’ll prove it. In a drastic departure from “to review or not to review” – and just for the record – here are the top five things I hate about chemo:

Mouth sores and chapped lips. I go through two tubes of Chapstick and one bottle of mouthwash a week with no noticeable improvement. It is the first time in my life I’ve been grateful for thin lips and a small mouth. Julia Roberts and/or Joan Rivers would not survive this.

Trashed taste buds. Everything tastes terrible. Some people say it’s metallic, but I think it’s more . . . I don’t know what it is . . . but it changes eating as I know it. Bland is barely tolerable. Sweet is nasty. Salty is at least close to normal. Anybody remember the salt-craving creature from Star Trek? I feel such a strong kinship these days that I downloaded her picture and put it on the mantle with the rest of the family photos.

The singular opportunity to observe results of my body’s semi-digestive process up close and personal. Repeatedly.

Soliloquies. “To wig or not to wig. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (as in the looks one is bound to get when bald) or to take arms against a sea of troubles (as in poaching somebody else’s hair) and by opposing end them?” Of all the thousand natural shocks that chemo-flesh is heir to, hair-loss might be the worst. I’ve spent hours looking at wigs. Long hair. Short hair. Brown hair. Red hair. Goth hair. Mohair. Even a curly blonde bubble-do Barbie wore in 1955. Suffice it to say that despite being sorely tempted by a purple shag, I decided to hope for the best instead of prepare for the worst. I will think positively . . . and avoid hairbrushes. If I go bald anyway, Plan B is already in the closet: the knee-length curls Hilary wore at the last Mystery Dinner. Bonus: Since I'm so short, all I will need to reenact Rapunzel is a stepladder and a witch.
Pity Parties. While I do allow that an occasional intimate tea with self-pity is gratifying, I despair of larger soirees held in my honor. Almost everybody I know feels so dang sorry for me they can’t stand it. Well, I can’t stand it either.

Most of my phone conversations now go like this: Hello? Did I get you up? No. Oh, uh, good. So, er, how are you? I’m fine. How are you really? I’m really fine. No, you’re not. You puke toenails. Well, sure. I meant other than that. I knew I shouldn’t have bothered you! Click.

It’s not much different in cyberspace. I used to get silly stories and incredible pictures and tales of woe and requests to read manuscripts. This morning, every single e-mailer wanted to sell me something or pray for me. Obviously, the word has spread. While I am practically certain that I am the same person I was before I started feeding on salt and kneeling in the presence of toilets, I may be the only one who believe it.

Nobody take this next part wrong, even if I phrase it badly, okay? I deeply appreciate prayer in my behalf. Prayer is, as Elder Maxwell taught, the most efficacious thing one person can do for another. Thus I am richly blessed by the effort and faith of my family and friends. Pity, on the other hand, leads people to think that all they have to offer is prayer . . . and sympathy. That is not the case.

Please don't feel sorry for me. I don’t feel sorry for myself – at least not because of that stupid “Things I Hate about Chemo” list. Everything on it pales in comparison to my many blessings. They are too numerous to list, but I have a great doctor, adequate insurance, lovely bathrooms, and the best family and dearest friends in the world. Yes, I also have cancer, but I have a kind that is almost never caught in stage one – and yet it was! This means that if I endure a little discomfort today, I have a 95% chance of living enough tomorrows to . . . I don’t know . . . see Rob grow up? Watch the Cubs win a World Series? Something miraculous, for sure!

I do recognize that ignoring cancer is like overlooking an elephant in the room. But in my case, it is a very large room and a relatively small elephant. In fact, I think it looks like this one – about eight inches high and six inches wide. Since it’s made of solid brass, it is a little heavy to carry around all the time, but one does what one must. Here’s the thing I wish more people understood: If I hold this thing up to my nose it is all I can see. Its width and breadth obscure the room and make everything seem as dark and cold as it is itself. Anyone would be afraid to be alone with a beast of that magnitude. But when I manage to push it out to arm’s length, the perspective changes. It’s the same elephant, and we’re still together in the same room, but now there is light, and around its greatly-diminished dimensions I can clearly see all the places I have yet to go.

You’d think, knowing this, I could keep that elephant where it belongs. But the thing I really hate about chemo is the lack of strength I sometimes have to keep the elephant at arm’s length. Then, more than I need barf bags and pretzels and sympathetic shoulders, I need friends who still see me behind the elephant. Living and laughing and growing and serving despite cancer and chemo is the only way to keep the pachyderm in perspective.

So, quick, somebody tell me an elephant joke!


At 4/11/2008 12:31 PM, Blogger sperrynluv said...

Q: What did the mother elephant tell her son who was late for his botany fieldtrip?

A: Pack up your trunk and leaf!

(It was the best I could do on short notice.)

At 4/11/2008 12:47 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Q. How do you fit four elephants into a Volkswagen?

A. Two in the front and two in the back.

You didn't say they had to be GOOD elephant jokes, did you?

At 4/11/2008 12:49 PM, Anonymous mean aunt said...

How do you stop a charging elephant?

Take away his credit card.

Why do elephants paint their toenails red?

To hide in the cherry trees.

At 4/11/2008 1:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who is the most famous male singing elephant?
Harry Elephante.

How can you tell when an elephant has been in your refrigerator?
Look for elephant tracks in the butter.

What cheers you up when you are sick?
A Get Wellephant card.


At 4/11/2008 1:19 PM, Blogger Cheri J. Crane said...

Kerry, thy name is spunk. This is very good. It's how the unsinkable Molly Brown survived her adventures. ;) And just for you, here are some lame elephant jokes: (best I could do on short notice)

How do you get three elephants in a taxi?

One in the front next to the driver, and two in the back.

How do you know there is an elephant in your house?

There's a taxi outside with two impatient elephants.

How do you know there is an elephant in your refrigerator?

There's a taxi outside it with two impatient elephants.

And what if you don't notice the taxi?

There are footprints in the butter.

How do you get an elephant into the refrigerator?

Open the door, put in the elephant, close the door.

How do you get two elephants in the refrigerator?

Open the door, put in the first elephant, then put in the second elephant, then close the door.

How do you get six elephants in the refrigerator?

Put three elephants in a taxi, put three elephants in another taxi, then put the two taxis in the fridge.

Why are there so many elephants running loose in Africa?

Not enough refrigerators.

At 4/11/2008 2:51 PM, Blogger Marta O. Smith said...

Person with ADD: Why did the elephant cross the road?

Normal Person: I don't know. Why?

ADD: (Blink, blink) I'm sorry, what was the question?

Normal: You were telling me a joke.

ADD: A joke? Okay. Knock, knock.

Normal: (Sigh) Who's there?

ADD: Hey, look! An elephant!

Normal-brained people think this is just another dumb elephant joke. Those of us with ADD think it is hilarious.

At 4/11/2008 2:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Q: What did Keery say when a man dressed in an elephant costume knocked on her door?

A: Sorry, Rob. No interviews.

Q: What did Kerry say when she dropped off her elephant in the elephant exhibition pen at the Phoenix Zoo and found Jeff Savage blowing water out his nose?

A: Call Letterman.

Q: What did Kerry say when her suspiciously dressed editor wearing sunglasses and an eerily familiar curly blonde bubble-do barbie wig told her she'd found an ly adverb on page one hundred twenty three of her work in progress titled Wake Me When Its In Remission and told her to call Woolley about removing it with his Hazmat outfit and remote control robotic arms?

A: I told you Rob, no interviews.


Praying you drop your elephant off at the zoo really soon! Ignore Savage when you get there. He's been blowing water out his nose longer than either of us have been breathing. And never agree to an interview with Rob. He'll spend all his time on the wigs and virtually no time on the water blowing incident at the zoo.

Love you,

David G. Woolley
(You surely, petulently, fondly, certianly know that!)

At 4/11/2008 3:03 PM, Blogger Anne Bradshaw said...

Wish I could remember some elephant jokes, but I can never remember ANY joke to the end. Usually the punch line goes AWOL. Hmmm, maybe that's a joke in itself.

Love your sense of humor--even when sick. This is not a sympathy note. It's a "Wahoo! You're winning" note.

Oh, and by the way, in case your toothpaste contains Sodium Laurel Sulphate (most do), stop using it immediately, and get something natural (without the SLS). Using natural might help eliminate the mouth sores/cankers--or at very least lesson their duration. You have to read labels carefully though, as even health food stores carry some with the dreaded SLS therein.

At 4/11/2008 3:44 PM, Blogger Doug Johnston said...

How do you stop an elephant from charging? Take away her credit card.

At 4/11/2008 3:45 PM, Blogger Doug Johnston said...

Kerry, Have I told you lately that you are my HERO! You know that already though.

At 4/11/2008 3:57 PM, Blogger Jennie said...

Kerry, I don't know any elephant jokes, just democrat ones. I miss my Dad; he had all of the pack mules in the pasture next to his house named for prominant democrats. I wonder if he would have named Bill and Hillary's new colt Obama.
By the way while you're praying at the porcelin altar, say a word for indoor plumbing.

At 4/11/2008 4:01 PM, Blogger jill said...

Adding to your list of chemo woes:
People who won't say the word "cancer".

It goes on for years. They refer to your diagnoses and treatment as "you know, when you were sick".

Drove me up a wall.

No elephants there.

At 4/11/2008 4:15 PM, Blogger Nancy said...

Kerry, I wish I were a funny person. I'm only ever funny by mistake. I'll just stand under your hand for a bit to help you hold up the elephant.

Have you read Lance Armstrong's book? There's a scene he talks about in the hospital during treatment and a nurse comes in and wants him to blow in that thing that measures lung capacity- he bites her head off and it makes me laugh every time I think of it. (He swears at her, so if you do read it and then think- that Nancy is a potty mouth!- well, let me just say that funny is funny.)

Love you tons.

At 4/11/2008 4:37 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

For purely selfish reasons, I was about to feel bad about the whole thing--but then I got to the part about Stage One and wanted to do the happy dance. Your top 5 notwithstanding, I'm thrilled we get to keep you around for a long, long time!!! Yippee!!!

At 4/11/2008 5:14 PM, Blogger Jennie said...

Kerry, you know me, I'm not into poetry, but when I faced my own stint with cancer, I found some kind of perverse satisfaction in this poem/prayer, which isn't original and I don't even know who wrote it:

Dear Lord,
So far today, Lord
I've done all right
I haven't gossiped
Haven't lost my temper
Haven't been greedy
Selfish, or over-indulgent
I'm thankful for that.

But in a few minutes,
I'm going to get out of
And from then on
I'm probably going
To need a lot more help.

At 4/11/2008 5:37 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

Next time you're in town, we'll have to play the White Elephant game for sure. I loved seeing you at the Whitneys!

At 4/11/2008 5:43 PM, Anonymous Stephanie Abney said...

Sweet Kerry ~

I just have to tell you what happened to my sister's friend when she went to the circus. (This was years ago, but pretty funny). She drove a little bright orange VW Bug (we had one of those - also orange - in the 70's). So, anyway... she parked near the circus tent in an available parking spot and went in to enjoy the circus.

When she came out there was a lot of commotion around her car and as she got closer she saw the trunk (which is in the front of VW Bugs as I guess everyone knows... sorry, too many details) was all smashed in. She's thinking... how did this happen? I'm next to a tent... how did a car run into me and what a weird kind of a dent anyway.

Then, the elephant trainer approached her, full of apologies. Apparently, he had "pottied trained" his elephants, believe it or not, and it was a LARGE ORGANGE BUCKET type thing they used and when he was leading the elephant past her car, the sweet little creature insisted on stopping and doing her thing.

Can you imagine filling out the claim form?

Cause of damage: An elephant used my car for a potty break.

Still makes me laugh and it was so long ago. Anyway, hope you enjoyed it. LOVE YOU TONZ and TONZ!!!


At 4/11/2008 6:21 PM, Blogger Jennifer Leffler said...

How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

At 4/11/2008 6:53 PM, Blogger Liz Adair said...

Do you know how long it has been since I told an elephant joke? Here goes: Who is the most famous female singing elephant?
Elephants Gerald

How do you get down off an elephant? You don't. You get down off a goose.

How can you tell there's an elephant under your bed?
Because your nose is squished against the ceiling.

Kerry, I want you to know that I wouldn't do elephant jokes for just anybody. But your blog was so funny and brave that I feel like I should make an anthology. Or drop elephant jokes like propaganda leaflets from a low-flying plane. Or rent a broadcast truck and drive around the neighborhood asking, 'Why did the elephant cross the road?' (Because the chicken hadn't yet evolved.

Love and strong thoughts,


At 4/11/2008 7:00 PM, Blogger Kim Thompson said...

Why don't elephants ride bikes?

They don't have a thumb to ring the bell.

We all need to step back from our own elephants and see our lives from a bigger perspective.

Thanks for the reminder!

At 4/11/2008 8:10 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

Not an elephant joke, but this is my favorite joke to tell:

Lord Nelson, the famous British Admiral, was sleeping in his chambers when his night watch awoke him to tell him that a Spanish frigate was approaching. Lord Nelson ordered the watch to bring him his red waistcoat and to prepare the crew for battle. The British ship handily defeated the Spanish Frigate. On two other occasions the same battle took place, each time, Lord Nelson would request his red waistcoat prior to battle. The watch asked Lord Nelson why he always wore his red waistcoat while going into battle. Lord Nelson replied, "I wear red because if I am wounded during the battle, our crew will not see me bleed and loose heart." Satisfied with the answer, the watch returned to his post. A week later, the watch informed the Admiral that the entire Spanish Armada was heading toward their ship. To this news, Lord Nelson ordered, "Bring me my brown britches!"

At 4/11/2008 8:19 PM, Blogger Karen Hoover said...

I don't know any elephant jokes, but I can tell you the two I remember from first grade that are still my two hoakie favorites

Q-What did the big firecracker say to the little firecracker?

A-My pop's bigger than your pop's

Q-What do you do when your toe falls off?

A-Call a tow truck

Love you, Kerry!!!

At 4/11/2008 8:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What time is it when ten elephants are chasing you?

Ten after one.

By the way, I use Herpecin L for my lips when I'm prone to cold sores and chapped lips. It works much better than chap stick for me. And I hope you are using knee guards or of good pile of rugs under your knees. You may know instantly if the next is a good suggestion. The only thing I could enjoy while I had morning sickness was spicy Mexican food. If you haven't already had to retreat to the bathroom just from reading the words, you might try some. It also worked for a friend, but I don't know if morning sickness and chemo are related enough for it to work for both.

By the way, I plead guilty to copying my elephant joke straight from google--they seem to have a good supply so remember that when the light isn't shiny as bright.

As always,


At 4/12/2008 5:10 PM, Blogger MaryJo said...

Hey Kerry,

All the elephant jokes I know have already been said.

LOVED your book! My mom bought it for me and sent it to me for Easter. Trying to find time to read when you have a four year old is hard but I mannaged to do it.

Your my hero!

At 4/12/2008 6:40 PM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

Q: What do elephants have that nothing else has?
A: Baby elephants.

What I hate most about chemo - that you have to be on it. :(

At 4/12/2008 10:30 PM, Blogger Karlene said...

What is gray and comes in a powder?

Instant elephant.

If you get tired of that long black wig, I have a long white one I'll lend you. You'll look like Galadrial from LOTR. Well, except maybe a little shorter. :)

At 4/13/2008 12:57 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

Blessings upon the heads of all who commented here and elsewhere! I'm not a good enough writer to tell you how grateful I am.

One thing is sure -- my next book is going to be a compilation of elephant jokes. I think Covenant will love the idea, don't you?

At 4/14/2008 10:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sometimes we don't know what our blessings are.

I am cheering for you!

At 4/14/2008 1:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Valerie Steimle here: Don't know if you remember my name but heard through the grape vine and wanted to post a few jokes but I can't remember them. They were funny elephant jokes too!
Something about running through the jungle and elephants jumping out of trees--that is why a beaver has a flat tail.....hmmmm. I think my memory is going.
Here is a favorite of mine:
There were two sausages frying in a pan. One sausage says to the other, "Boy, it's getting hot in here." The other sausage says: "Oh my goodness it's a talking sausage."
Have a great day.

Valerie Steimle

At 4/14/2008 6:01 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

Valerie: nice twist, I was expecting "It's almost bacon in here!" or
"I never sausage heat!"

At 4/15/2008 5:40 PM, Blogger Janette Rallison said...

Everyone knows? I didn't tell a soul. In fact someone was asking about you yesterday and I was so discreet--but leave it to you to turn a blog on chemo into something that makes me laugh. I don't care what you say to the contrary--you're wonderwoman.

At 4/15/2008 7:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, Kerry, - you won't remember me but I listened to you at ANWA Conference. I am a Cancer survivor - they found it when I had "four days to live." That was in 1968! It was before Chemo and I survived anyway....because I'm ornery. Ask anyone. I found you so inspirational from all you said at the Conference. The only joke I know isn't an elephant joke, but I think you'll enjoy it.

A Primary aged child went to her Grandmother and said, "You and God are a lot alike, Grandma!" Grandma stood a little taller as she asked in what way? Her grandchild remarked, "You're both o-l-d!"

At 4/16/2008 1:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Kerry:
Now you let the cat out of the bag I won't have to pretend to be ignorant.
If your doctor isn't prescribing Zofran for your nausea ask for it.
If you don't have a lidocaine swisn and swallow for your mouth sores, ask for it.
If the need arises, I've seen some mighty cute cap / hat affairs that are less combersome, not and itchy than wigs - and they come in more styles and colors.
And only because you asked would I ever attempt a joke - as you know that's not my thing.

Why did the elders request an elephant?
They converted the circus.
(Lame, I know.)

Keep up the smiles!

At 4/18/2008 12:39 PM, Blogger Josi said...

Dang, I've never heard so many elephant jokes in my life. You might not appreciate mine, as it comes from the wrong side of the tracks, but I think it's very funny. Be sure to answer it before you scroll down to the answer, K.

As for tricks--I get lots of cold sores, don't know if that's the same thing you're dealing with, but I have a prescription that is priceless! Also, there's some stuff called Zalactin you can buy OTC that makes a 'mask' over cancer sores. It stings for a bit but then you get a couple hours of releif. And when a freind was going through Chemo she said putting her hands in ice following a treatment kept her fingernails from going black and something about her mouth didn't hurt so bad. Sounds wacky, but might be worth a shot. Prayers without Pity heading your way.

Okay, for my joke:

How you fit an Elephant into a safeway bag? Take the S out of safe and the F out of way

(scroll for the answer)

There's no F-in way

At 4/18/2008 2:19 PM, Blogger Julie Wright said...

Janette is better than I am when she says she didn't tell anyone. I told Josi. But I swear I didn't tell anybody else!!! You gotta know that telling me something is kinda the same thing as telling Josi something. :) I love you but I have no elephant jokes. But I have a great writer one I stole from google and now use when I speak to writing groups:

A writer died and was given the option of going to heaven or hell.

She decided to check out each place first. As the writer descended into the fiery pits, she saw row upon row of writers chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they were repeatedly whipped with thorny lashes.

"Oh my," said the writer. "Let me see heaven now."

A few moments later, as she ascended into heaven, she saw rows of writers, chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they, too, were whipped with thorny lashes.

"Wait a minute," said the writer. "This is just as bad as hell!"

"Oh no, it's not," replied an angel. "Here, your work gets published."

I love you Kerry!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

At 4/19/2008 12:40 PM, Blogger Carole Thayne said...

Kerry, you don't know me, but I'm a storymaker also. Anyway I'm like Anne Bradshaw--can't ever remember the whole joke. But I was inspired by your post. You do indeed have a lot to be grateful for. Prayers and yes a little pity (sorry) your way. Good luck beating this.


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