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Weighing the Consequences

The conscientious pharmacist handed me another basket of medications, each packaged with the usual plethora of pamphlets. “Are you familiar with this new drug? Be sure to read the Patient Information material on this one,” he cautioned.

As a career member of the chemo club chalking up fourteen years of treatments, I take the term “survivor” seriously. Where I once carelessly dismissed those informative papers, I’ve now learned to be a devout reader of the info accompanying each drug; especially the paragraph titled Possible Side Effects. After surviving such random effects as instantaneous throat closure, full-body rash, and peeling toenails, I dutifully scanned the info on the new prescription. Yeah, yeah – the usual fainting, swelling eyeballs, purple teeth and hallucinations, precocious puberty – huh? Excuse me, but – precocious puberty? Sign me up!

I didn’t know there was such a thing. My family was staunchly religious – puberty was not allowed. In fact, I don’t remember ever experiencing puberty at all, and I’m pretty sure “precocious” was a dirty word in the small community where I grew up.

Many of us in the chemo club have tucked away somewhere that Blue Sky list – a list of “things to do while skies are blue”. In a fit of impatient frustration, mine had recently been banished to the bottom of the bird cage. I hastily retrieved it, scribbled “precocious puberty” on the list of ambitious intent, and tucked it safely in the bottom of my desk drawer.

As I was considering how to maximize this new entry on my list, I was reminded of the side effects of unbridled exploitation: Consequences. Oh cruel irony! This new prescription promised to radically increase the heart rate. Hmm: So my choices were heart attack – or precocious puberty? What was the dosage on that again?

Survival is a multi-faceted dilemma. As a veteran of food restrictions, special diets, and the gourmet gauntlet, I will confess to occasional reckless debauchery; and if you dance, you’ve gotta pay the fiddler. During the course of double-digit O.R. events, most of my original equipment has been donated to cancer. We won’t go into the details here, but I’ve learned that every decision has consequences. For instance, root beer float vs. blood transfusion.

I’m fairly certain that my earliest childhood memory involved a root beer float, which I must now resist. Through no fault of my own, I recently found myself staring down the barrel of this luscious concoction, and in the space of a hummingbird’s heartbeat the straw was between my teeth, delivering the life-affirming/life-threatening liquid.

As I noisily slurped the last dregs from the bottom of the glass, I acknowledged the ancient wisdom of Confucius: “Forbidden fruit is so much sweeter”. The salacious rush to savor that root beer float was a bit like forbidden sex; in the cool aftermath, it’s never worth the risk.

Scouring the glass to remove all incriminating evidence, I made a silent note to self: Make appointment for blood transfusion; one pint should do it. Confidentially, I’ve had 24 blood transfusions, and not all of them were due to root beer floats. Life is just not as simple as it once was.

Fran Di Giacomo is an artist, and author of

I’d Rather Do Chemo Than Clean Out the Garage: Choosing Laughter Over Tears.

Visit Fran at

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