Chemotherapy, Skydiving and Drooling

“Are you willing to be sponged out, erased, cancelled, made nothing? Are you willing to be made nothing? dipped into oblivion? If not, you will never really change.” D.H. Lawrence

I have an unattractive motion in my chin when I have exceeded my terror level. It gets numb and quivers pathetically causing me to drool. This happened during my one and only sky dive and just prior to a scuba dive off of the Great Barrier Reef. It happened as I followed the nurse down the long foreboding hallway to the hospital bed. The chin thing started when the nurse approached me in the waiting room.

Clearly shielding me from the other two cancer patients sitting in the waiting room, Nurse asked in a curious whisper, “Which one of you is Dawn Novotny?” Raising my hand, she continued, “We only have one hospital bed left and when I looked at the medications they are giving you, you are definitely going to need that bed.”

Oh my God, I thought, what exactly does that mean? Will this procedure hurt that much? Might I die on the table or something? What is she saying and why did she say that to me? Didn’t she know that I was already scared s@*&%#@! Keeping all of these thoughts to myself as in, what would be the point in asking if electrocution would hurt after you had been sentenced to death? I followed her like a lamb to slaughter, inconspicuously (I hoped) wiping the drool away from my mouth. A girl’s got to maintain some semblance of dignity.

I proceeded to the large double bed. I wondered why a double bed would be on a Hematology, Oncology floor. I considered if this made it possible for family members to crawl into bed while lovingly holding their dying into the afterlife as I had my mother. I got myself as comfortable as possible while answering inane, chirpy little questions like, “Do you like apple or grape juice,” and, “do you want two or three pillows, are you cold or too warm?” I was not sure how to ask her for a drooling towel.

Allowed to wear my own clothes, I chose a long loose skirt for easy bathroom access because I was told that I must rapidly drink at least a gallon of water to flush out the poison being pumped into my body in order to protect my organs from damage. One of the dozens of details omitted from my instructions was, don’t wear underwear. Who knew that I would be dragging the IV stand into the tiny bathroom awkwardly navigating my skirt up while pulling down my panties, not to mention the wiping part all with one arm strapped to the IV stand? That would be the last time I wore panties to the hospital unless during surgery (go figure). Come to think of it, that may have been the last time that I wore panties period. They really are inconvenient, uncomfortable stupid little things that insist on clinging to and in the most tender of places!

My doctor decided that I would have four treatments of adriamyein and cytoxan. Six treatments have fewer side effects but for reasons that remain too complicated for me to understand, four treatments were decided upon. I did crash courses on breast cancer, chemotherapy, radiation and tamoxifen, which I adamantly refused to take. Although overwhelmed with information, much of which required a doctor’s knowledge to interpret, I was determined to be as informed as possible. My husband’s background in dentistry, coupled with his generosity of time, love and research, greatly aided in my decision making process.

Speaking of my husband, he was the quintessential perfect partner to have during my cancer treatment and recovery. There every time I needed his help, support or advice, but never burdening me with his fears. Neither did he take it personally when I did not want him around. For example, during my months of chemo treatments I wanted a dear friend to accompany me and simply sit quietly and read a book. I did not want to worry about him worrying about me.

When warned of the “possible” short-term side effects of chemotherapy such as vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss, mouth sores, anemia, risk of infection and fatigue they did not tell me that fatigue often means being without enough available energy to walk to the mailbox. Come on, until these treatments, I had been an avid racquetball player. They also failed to tell me that urinating during the chemo infusion would burn my skin until I cried. I learned to use something like diaper rash paste during the next rounds.

What were your two scariest moments in life?

Do you have any funny little tics or habits you do when you’re afraid?


Photo by Bigstock. e-16096121




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  1. What a brave story, Dawn, and you are a brave person. To undergo this kind of pain and scare is more than challenging. Sharing your story like this I’m sure will help others who have to face such things as a way to prolong their life, letting them know they are not alone. Knowing you as a healthy vibrant person for several years, I wouldn’t know that you had endured all this. And it as given you the gift of your sharing, your writing, being willing to expose yourself and your personal difficulties to the world as a way to witness suffering, to connect with so many others. What a blessing you are! Thank you for this post.

    • Hi Linda Joy,

      Thank you so much for your comments. As you well know, life’s challenges can be quite daunting at times. Strange as it sounds, I will be forever grateful that earlier in my life, I had several more difficult challenges from which to draw strength during the cancer process. Love to you, dawn

  2. Jay Squires says:

    I echo Linda Jo’s thoughts, Dawn. I’ve led a very conservative, emotionally-controlled life, with little envelope pushing. If I tried sky-diving there’d be a bit more than drool that I’d be splashing into on the ground! As I tweeted you, I too am a cancer survivor, so I guess I am privy to some of what you went through (except for not wearing panties during surgery. They let me keep mine on. And they were Jockeys, thank you for not asking! Dawn, I have tremendous respect for you and a high regard for your writing style. I signed up for your Blog, so I’ll see you around here as well as on Twitter. Bless you richly.

    • Hi Jay,

      Thank you for visiting my blog and for commenting. I hope that your cancer is way behind you now as is mine. It makes me smile to think of you following my blog. Be well, dawn

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Cancer: The Dream
Radiation treatment: Danger Keep out