I stopped writing on my blog last year. I left it at point where I felt like I had won the lottery because I had been given the news my chest and bone scans were clear. But I still had to face chemotherapy and between it, the busyness of family life and my doubts about writing a blog in the first place, I found it too difficult to keep up.
I felt my writing wasn’t good enough and who would want to read it anyway! As time moved on and I settled back into ‘normal’ life, (whatever that is), I did not want to revisit those painful few months. It was behind me and I just wanted to live in the here and now and not think of the past. I certainly did not want to write about it. But I hate leaving things unfinished and so here I am again. My goal today, before I hit the parent teacher meetings for my daughter, is to finish this bloody blog post and update you on how things have been.
I’ve been through four cycles of chemotherapy which involved two drugs called Taxotere and Cyclophosphamide. I couldn’t believe it when a nurse told me one of the drugs was originally derived from mustard gas used in the First World War. Ironic isn’t it, something which was used to kill, is now part of a treatment to cure? But as Albert Einstein said, ‘in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.’ And how fitting the connection with war, because I felt like a soldier going into battle, scared, but ready to fight and praying to God I’d stay alive.
The toxic nature of the drugs terrified the hell out of me but I was lucky enough to receive a piece of advice from a very wise lady who told me, “Don’t dread the chemotherapy as your body will respond to your thoughts, making the whole experience more difficult. Rather imagine it as a wonderful medicine flowing through your veins to heal you.” As I sat on the Parker Knoll chair every third Tuesday over the course of four months, I tried to remember her words.
It is interesting, though, how everyone is an expert. I was told by someone, who incidentally was in excellent health themselves, I was mad to go through with chemotherapy. Easy to say when you are not in the situation. I know the arguments against chemo, but would you go it alone unless you had a proven alternative? I wasn’t willing to take the risk. I thought of my family and I would do anything to stay alive for them. Another person asked me, ‘why has your soul invited this cancer in again? On some level you must want to experience this.” Yeah right, this was definitely on my bucket list!
I love alternative medicine and I think it can complement conventional cancer treatment. Reflexology, meditation, yoga; I love them all. Unfortunately, because I had to have the chemotherapy administered through a PICC line, I had to give up yoga as any sudden movements may have dislodged it. For any medical nerds out there, PICC stands for peripherally inserted central catheter. It stayed in my body for the duration of my treatment. It was necessary as the veins in my left arm were so fed up of the last dalliance with Mr Chemo, they gave up the ghost and refused to do the dance with any more needles.
In the end I didn’t mind the PICC; it meant I was spared the torture of nurses poking and prodding me like a pin cushion to find a compliant vein every time I went for treatment. One nurse suggested I had a phobia of needles. I don’t. I do have a phobia of nurses who don’t have that magic touch when it comes to stubborn veins. Also, an added advantage of having the PICC line meant the district nurse had to call every Monday to check it. I liked the comfort of those visits. We would chat as they worked and she would address any worries I had. I did have a male nurse who called once, but for the most part it was female nurses. They were my lifeline through those months.
I’m sure you’ve heard it said, if the cancer doesn’t kill you, then the treatment will. The fear of chemotherapy is almost as bad as the fear of cancer itself. It is impossible to go through it without side effects. Fortunately I wasn’t sick and although, I had muscular aches and pains, they were not as severe as I had expected. But everything I ate tasted like cardboard, so I loaded all my food with salt and spices to give it a kick. I drenched salads in lemon juice and olive oil and spicy Chinese food was heaven. Hardly a healthy diet but a gal has got to eat!
The steroids they gave me for the first two days would put me on such a high, I felt like I could have taken on Kilimanjaro! My mistake, by the third day I crashed and burned. I very quickly learnt to conserve my energy. I also made the mistake of taking the steroids too late one evening, which left me wired all night. I could’ve taken on a nightclub and danced til dawn.
I think the fatigue was the hardest to bear. It was more than feeling tired. It muddled my brain and I struggled to make decisions on the simplest things, but my God, why are there two hundred types of bread?
Of course, the most visual side effect was losing my hair; for the second time in my life. But, come on, at least this time, I knew what to expect? Or did I? I felt I was resigned about losing it; if the treatment was going to keep me alive, then it was a small price to pay.
I was calm and composed. Or so I thought. But my calm composure melted away, in the words of my mother, ‘like snow of a ditch’. I hated my wig. I didn’t have the courage to tell the wig lady I didn’t like the way she had styled it. To me, I was a dead ringer of Garth from Wayne’s World, but far less attractive!
I cried, in a way I hadn’t done, since receiving my diagnosis. I felt so angry, disappointed, sad and then angry again that this cancer bitch had come back and I had to go through all this again. The wall I’d carefully constructed to keep everything under control, was hit by a bulldozer of emotions and I couldn’t keep the mask on any longer. But by the miracles of the universe, my best friend happened to call in the middle of my melt down. Sometimes, we need someone else to be our strength. She called the wig shop and asked for a restyle. The wig looked better but I never got over the feeling I looked like an extra from Wayne’s World; from then on the wig was christened Garth. In the end I just felt more comfortable in a scarf and although I did not forgo the wig altogether, more times than enough it lay curled up like a cat on the couch. And if I was dressing up for a meal out, a big plus was the fact I could sit the wig on my knee and see from every angle how it looked as I styled it.
Garth did provide some laughs. My children would take turns trying it on and we would all laugh about how daft they looked. Then there was the night I came home from town feeling very sweaty, hot and itchy. I just wanted to be free of the fecking thing. I burst through my back door pulling Garth off my head, while simultaneously shouting freedom to what I believed would be an empty kitchen. I realised my mistake as I faced my son and his friends and my daughter’s boyfriend all staring open mouthed at the wannabe WilliamWallace! I will never live that one down!
I feel well. I feel healthy. I feel glad to be alive. But I also have times when I feel depressed, sad and afraid. The fear of the cancer returning pops its obnoxious little head up every so often. Hearing news of someone who hasn’t survived can trigger it. An advertisement for Cancer Research; showing the obligatory patient with bald head panning across the TV screen, can also invite it in. Cancer is a lonely place, as the advertisement professes, but the adverts usually make me feel lonelier. Nowadays, I hit the off button. I’ve also learnt that on the days when fear walks in my door, puts its feet up and makes its menacing ass comfortable, I get my walking shoes on and walk out. Some days it follows and falls in step beside me, filling my head with dark thoughts, but I keep walking. I am glad to say there are more days when I am steps ahead and it can’t keep up.
Those are the days I feel invincible.