Then came the day I started chemo. I thought, “This isn’t so bad,” but the next day it hit me. I couldn’t get to the toilet bowl. I couldn’t even move. My mother had to hold me and walk me to the bathroom. Chemo drains you of everything: good cells, bad cells, and even your appetite.
My doctors wouldn’t let me leave the hospital until I ate, so even though I had no desire to eat, I finally did. I had already been there about two weeks and didn’t want to be there any longer. A cup of applesauce was my ticket out, so I forced it down and held it down until someone walked in with the discharge papers.
Finally I could go home. Fourteen days before, I had walked into the hospital feeling totally healthy, but I walked out of the hospital with cancer. We may feel like we are invincible, but each of us is as susceptible as the next person.
When I got home, I was delighted to see my family had redone my room. (The doctors said I shouldn’t have carpet because chemo shuts down your immune system, and carpet can hide things.) My walls had been painted two shades of my favorite color: purple. I would spend many days in my “purple palace,” as I called it. In fact, within those four walls, I finished my schooling online so I could graduate with my friends. I refused to let them graduate without me!
About a month later, I started radiation. They tried to prepare me by saying it wasn’t as bad as chemo, but it was the worst. Because the cancer was in my sinuses, I smelled everything. The beam caused mouth sores. I didn’t talk for two weeks. I couldn’t eat or brush my teeth. I didn’t even want to talk to the doctors. One really nice doctor brought in a dry erase board, and they learned I had a lot to say! (This same doctor later took me out with her family for ice cream.)
My last day of radiation, which lasted about a month and a half, was June 20. After my last dose under the beam, it only felt fitting to give the radiation machine a piece of my mind, so I did.
I forgot the nurses could see me through a window, and one of the nurses, who called me Cookie, said, “Cookie, did you just kick the machine?” and I said, “Yes, I did.”
She said, “Don’t try to break our machine.”
“It tried to break me first,” I replied. (There was no damage done. I was far from a lethal weapon. I didn’t have the strength to kick it hard enough.)
By August, I was borderline anorexic. I lost 50 pounds in three months. At 5 feet, 8 inches tall, I weighed only 126 pounds and looked like a walking stick. The doctors said, “You are way too small.”
I was determined I wouldn’t let another condition add to my problems, so I drank a lot of protein drinks and ate pudding. I couldn’t eat anything spicy. Even now, I cannot eat spicy foods. My pastors, Karl and Dyrie Francis, brought me Gatorade. I love Gatorade—and I’m a [Florida] “Gator”! When Pastor Dyrie noticed I wasn’t eating, she pureed food for me. It wasn’t bad at all—it was my first steps toward eating again.
My church was amazing. People who didn’t even know me talked to me. Members called and prayed for me. One member, Grace Brown, was there with me the entire time. She was like my own personal nurse. A lot of other church sisters helped me as well. They raised funds to help me get started in college and never stopped praying. Even to this day, some still pray for me.