Since middle school, I’ve associated vascularity with strength. Every action hero and athlete I grew up watching had pronounced, textured arms and hands, but I just had a lot of chub, and I connected that directly to my lack of strength. When I hit a growth spurt and started working out in high school, I measured success based less on muscle and size, and more on the lines I could trace with my fingers.
Last year, the evening after my first chemo infusion, I went for a run. I thought I could bulldoze my way through treatment, and wanted to keep my regimen up for strength (and sanity). For a brief moment, I felt close to invincible, and as a mix of chemicals pulsed through swollen veins, I took a photo. Just a few weeks later, any prominent lines running down my forearm would fade from sight, sclerosed and hardened like steel cables under my skin, constricting tighter as the temperature dropped. No one warned me about that, but my docs weren’t surprised when I reported it.
These memories still come flooding back every few months, as I offer the top of my hand for a blood draw, or for the IV contrast used to scan the depths of my abdomen and chest. It’s mostly an annoying pain, yet a consistent reminder of how a treatment like chemo can alter the body indefinitely. We have no choice but to trust that it’s doing far more good than bad.
Tiny veins have started to grow in over the last several months; I can’t feel them, but I can see them in the palest stretches of skin. I’m grateful for this resurgence of life, but my body still feels unfamiliar at times, and that’s a difficult thing to process, let alone try and describe. I try to be accepting of myself, but grace is so much easier to offer to others.