In her PEOPLE.com blog, Diem Brown, the Real World/Road Rules Challenge contestant recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer for the second time, opens up about her desire for a child and the ups and downs of cancer and fertility procedures
It’s been over six years since I stepped into a chemo infusion center. I remember being blown away by the visual: tons of small rooms with curtains along the outside and an inner circle of brown leather recliner chairs in the middle, all occupied by people hooked up to IVs. That scene was a lot to take in six years ago. I thought this time it would be easier…
But I was wrong.
I honestly constructed this idea in my head that I could just continue to take the new chemo in pill form and forgo the IV chemo all together – or maybe do the IV chemo but not lose my hair.
I know people…”it’s just hair”… ugh, if I hear that one more time! It’s almost humorous to me now. I’ve even tried that mantra on myself while hoping to suppress my fears. But I’m going to be real: Yes, “it’s just hair,” but this part of the chemo process is the most visual sign to me – and to others – that I am ill. No more pretending through hot pink and purple hair that I’m fine. Now come the big guns.
I was so nervous for my first IV chemo day (I’m doing the lovely carbo taxol cocktail) that I decided to blow off some steam before my appointment and do a Barry’s Bootcamp class. Yeah, that’s totally normal, right? Ummm no! I know that sounds bonkers, but since my appointment started at 11 a.m., I wanted a morning distraction and didn’t want to get all anxious about chemo, so I figured I would instead push my body hard so that my mind didn’t have time to think.
The Big Day
I walked into the hospital at 10:55 a.m. and it was funny to me how organized everything was: check in, wait in the waiting room, eat a cracker then get your blood drawn. Pretty simple so far, right?
Now comes the hard part: walk into the infusion center. As soon as I walked through those doors, it hit me like a thick layer of heat … this infusion center was different than my first one, but just as daunting.
This infusion center is a long skinny hall with patients on either side hooked up to their IVs. I was instantly overwhelmed (note to others if you’re anxious like me: look down while walking into the infusion center during your first treatment as it can be a lot to take in the first time you go).
They walked me towards the end of the hall and my doc came in and started talking about the changes they have made to chemo over the past six years: an IV bag for nausea, an IV bag of steroids and an IV bag of Benadryl-type “stuff” to help knock me out while getting the treatment.
I sat and listened while on auto pilot mode … “Yep, yeah, uh huh, got it.” I was trying to hear him while not trying to let my mind drift off to crazy, crazy land. I tilted my head up high so my welling up tears wouldn’t stream down. The doctor then paused and the nurse handed me a list of places to get wigs … And BOOM the welling up tears came streaming down my cheeks.
Embarrassed for crying, I started to apologize. My doctor comforted me with saying, “I only treat women and every woman’s first infusion always has them getting emotional. It’s partly because of the steroids I put you on, but it’s also because this is the start to something you, everyone dreads. Yes, you have done this before but it’s okay to be emotional. If you weren’t emotional, I would be worried you aren’t human.” His soft humor made me crack a smile and I took the box of tissues from his hands trying to eliminate any evidence of my weak tearful moment.
“It’s just hair,” I mumbled to myself, rolling my eyes at my own words. “I’m being so stupid. It’s just hair!”
I’ve tried to think of all options to avoid the hair loss. I’m very Southern and have always thought my best feature is – my hair. I know, it sounds dumb to most, but it’s a part of who I am … and it’s part of my best dance move … the hair flip.
People have told me about “ice caps” and other so-called solutions, but my doctor told me it isn’t recommend if cancer is in any lymph nodes. So yep, call me a big ol’ dramatic baby … I don’t care. I’m pissed off that I have to do this all again. It sucks! There I said it. It sucks, but whatever, I’m doing it and I’m gonna get healthy and kick this cancer crap out of me for good. Then I’m going to grow my hair to my gluteus maximus. Watch out Guinness Book of World Records hair lady I’m coming after you!
A Wave of Emotion
My sister entered my IV infusion room as they started my drip gently placing my “chemo bear” to hide where the IV goes in. I swear that dang bear is the best distraction for needle wimps, especially during a long infusion.
Then it hit me – a wave of emotions. I’m pissed, sad, scared all at once and my thoughts are scrambled everywhere. This is it, the moment I’ve dreaded. I’m a mess and have zero control of my emotions. It’s like the dam done broke y’all. No, it wasn’t my finest moment.
I looked into my sister’s eyes and felt comfort, especially as she grasped my hand and fidgeted with a butterfly bracelet on my wrist. My mom’s symbol was a yellow butterfly, so as Megan fidgeted with my bracelet, I knew it was her way of reminding me that our mom was with us.
I started to get groggy and tried to fight it as I got through texts and work emails, but my mind was getting so fuzzy. The drugs are no joke and act fast. I started to feel my anxiety release and welcomed unconscious land. I swear these new chemo drug combos are great. I was loopy and drifted in and out during the infusion. Weirdly enough, I loved the feeling because time was flying by.
We left the hospital at 8:45 p.m. and I felt like I had slept for days. On the way home I kept apologizing to my sister for having to be at the hospital for so long. She rolled her eyes in annoyance and said, “I’m coming to every one of them you idiot.”
Sisters have a great way of being blunt, yet making you feel comforted through brutal honesty when you are acting crazy.
So now it’s the waiting game: 10 days until my hair starts falling out and two weeks until I rock the “Mr. Clean” look. I know “it’s just hair,” but this is the part I’m dreading as I’ve loved walking around N.Y.C. as though everything’s fine.
Last time I felt like I was “hiding” when wearing a wig, but then felt like eyeballs were on me when I didn’t. I’m trying not to focus on it, but it’s how I feel, it’s part of the cancer treatment process that you can’t ignore.
“It’s just hair” … hair today, gone tomorrow and I pray that with the hair loss, my cancer will lose too.
Check back for updates every Thursday: Diem will be chronicling her journey through fertility treatments, chemotherapy, and her quest to educate others about ovarian health exclusively for PEOPLE.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @DiemBrown
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Diem Brown on Her First Day of Chemo and Facing Hair Loss