The nausea that accompanies chemotherapy is difficult to describe to those who haven’t had the pleasure.
Most often, I describe it as being not too far from a serious hangover, all the time. The low energy, the turbulent stomach, the nasty flavor in the mouth, the lingering fog that never clears: that’s the legacy of a FOLFOX regimen.
But unlike a hangover (which only worsens when confronted by a quick shake of the head), the chemo haze is quite constant. You can’t make it go away, but you can’t make it get worse either.
The trick is to find something to do, something other than lying in bed, feeling shitty and watching Seinfeld DVDs to cheer yourself up.
For me, I craved something that involved as much physical activity as I could handle (which wasn’t much), something that a dealt out a good dose of mental distraction, and something that ate up huge chunks of time.
Something like golf.
In the previous few decades of my life, I’d spent a decent amount of time on the golf course, but mainly for the drinking and gambling. I liked the game enough, but I was really just a follower along for the ride.
It’s a ridiculous game, as every golfer will admit. But for me, in that season when swinging an aluminum shaft a few dozen times in an afternoon became as much as I could physically and mentally handle, golf became my saving grace.
Most of the time I would walk, though on the days close to a chemo dose I would take a cart. The dizziness and exhaustion I’d feel from walking a few dozen feet was a drag, but the company of other people was wonderful. And the pace of the game was addicting.
The excitement and anxiousness I’d feel pulling into the parking lot were the same emotions I remembered from big powder days. The first holes would be filled with promise, the middle holes a blissful blur of sameness, and on the 18th fairway I would always feel a touch of sadness for the round that was about to come to an end.
The chemo … of course … went away. But my love for the benevolent distraction of golf only grew.
In the seasons since then, as the oncology appointments have slowly dropped, so has my score. And today, just a few months away from what will hopefully be my last invasive reconnaissance mission for a very long time, my golf game is about to reach its peak.
In a few hours, I’ll be boarding a plane for Scotland with three friends, heading to St. Andrews – the birthplace of golf – to celebrate one of their birthdays. We will play some of the most heralded courses in the world, including the heralded Castle Course and Old Course of St. Andrews, and the epic links of Carnoustie.
That this once-in-a-lifetime trip is actually happening seems like a bit of a miracle to me.
But then again, each time I hit the ball well seems like a bit of a miracle, too.