Once my hair started falling out from the radiation I drove to CVS and bought a pair of clippers; shaved my head right before Acting class. My default wardrobe during treatment was usually: shaved head, goatee, black leather barn jacket, dangling rosary beads my mother had blessed at Lourdes, and Doc Martens. I didn’t look like a “cancer patient”, I looked like an I.R.A. terrorist. It was a 24/7 big middle finger to cancer. I had purpose, I had appoinments, and anti-depressants!

Once treatment ended, I was skinny in my limbs but bloated in my belly. Easily distracted (clueless), quickly exhausted, and often spilling over with anger. My hair was kind-of grown back?
I sold medical labels and filing folders over the phone by day, then came home to help take care of our infant son with my post-partum suffering wife, then ran to my writing partner’s house to work on our screenplay.
I was so tired at work that for our 15 minute break I could set an alarm on my phone, pull my jacket over my head, and soon after my head hitting my desk I was out cold. Cancer terrorist was a sad mess.
Dark days…

A psychiatrist prescribed me the drug, Trileptal, because my wife and I wanted to get pregnant, but the SSRI I’d been taking had sexual side-effects. Trileptal was originally developed as an anti-seizure med for epileptics. The doctor never told me (because I’m sure she never looked deeply into it) that Trileptal can have some wicked side effects. SERIOUS impulse control problems. An hour after taking it in the morning I’d be driving to work, doing 100mph on the 5 North with a feeling inside my brain like an M.R.I. going “wohw, wohw, wohw, wohw, wohw”. Honestly, it was like drunk driving without losing fine motor skills. When the meds wore off about 12 hours later the medicine’s effects would drop off like a rock and I would be exhausted, anxious, and full of rage.
Why didn’t I mention this to the Dr. on followup visits??? I don’t really know. Partly, it was growing up in a culture that did what the doctor told you to– period. Mixed with not wanting to be a wuss, and topped off with having very significant impairment to my executive functioning and overall awareness due to chemo brain and other late effects. When she asked me at followup appointments, “How’s the Trileptal?” I truly couldn’t think of what to say. The most I ever came up with was, “It makes me kind of weepy. I can cry at things that aren’t even sad…when I don’t even feel sad.” Her answer?
To make an analogy it’s like that dazed and hazy half-way present awareness when you’ve been hit hard in the head, but not enough to make you black out. Having that going on at a low level underneath me all the time, but while walking, talking, and living my life as if I was competent and capable. I wasn’t bullshitting– just totally clueless. I won’t mention the bathroom problems in this post (I like to save the good stuff for later!)

If you’ve gone through cancer, believe me, I can relate.