10/12/15: Home-Finally it’s here. The day that puts the ‘Big C’ into cancer treatment and the big fear into cancer patients, well maybe not all cancer patients but most definitely this cancer patient. Chemotherapy day!
So the morning arrives and brings with it enough rain to float an ark! I’m ready and waiting, coat buttoned up to my nose, hat and hood pulled low over my eyes only a narrow horizontal gap through which to view the world-like a knight’s visor!
If I were a knight, I’d be riding to my battle on a trusty steed, a white charger, a war horse but as I’m just a simple maiden, I’m on Shanks’s pony!
Many offers of lifts have flooded in along with the downpour but I choose to walk.
I want to walk.
It’s important to me, though I know sometimes its hard for those around me to understand.
I want to breathe deeply and fill my lungs with the early morning air.
I want to feel the wind and rain on my skin.
I want to feel my muscles flex and extend, my breath quicken and my heart pump faster, propelling me up the hill once more before I give my body over again for the next stage of the treatment of my poor, over enthusiastic cancer cells.
For the next four and a half months my body will be flooded with toxic chemicals, so severe my hair will fall out and my kidney and liver function will have to be carefully monitored along with my bloods to make sure my body can cope with each cycle. And I don’t know the limits this will force upon me-so today I want to walk.
I’m standing in the kitchen ready to leave, my activity filled rucksack on my back. My son, who arrived late last night on the train from Edinburgh to accompany me to my first session is nowhere to be seen. I knock on the living room door, his temporary bedroom and he emerges bleary eyed and barely human. I announce that I will be leaving in less than five minutes and he nods his understanding as he ambles towards the bathroom.
Five minutes later and by some small former student-style miracle, my young man is following me out of the door and into the dark winter morning, the rain steadily falling. As we round the corner onto the village high street, my boy nips into the baker’s for coffee and butty to go. I forge ahead having breakfasted at home. His longer, stronger stride will catch me up in due course.
I plug in my earphones and renew my step.
I love this walk. In spite of the rain.
I love this walk. I love this rain.
A text buzzes in my pocket-assuming it’s my son alerting me to his current position I pull it from the dry shelter of my coat pocket. The rain splashes onto the screen as I try to access the message. It’s my brother, one final attempt at encouraging me to accept a lift. Bless!
I know it’s hard sometimes for them to understand.
They think I’m stubborn-this is very true.
They think it’s about asserting my independence-this is also not beyond the realms of possibility.
Sometimes though my decisions and subsequent actions are born out of a much simpler motivation and this is one of those times. Walking nourishes my mind, body and soul and today of all days I need this.
As I arrive at the foot of the hill, the rain slows to drizzle. I push back my hood (it’s getting rather hot in my DIY balaclava) and increase my speed.
I pass the children on their way to school, faces full of excitement and expectation, their guardians’ shadowed by one too many early starts and the weight of the unenviable juggling regime they comprise.
I pass residence after residence decked with festive cheer, the winter rainbow of fairy lights in windows, on trees both inside and out and I love that whether the inspiration is born of religion or tradition, so many take part in the ritual. Lighting up the darkness of shortened days and long nights, fleetingly lifting the veil of privacy to join with and contribute to the communal gesture of good will and hope and my heart is cheered.
I arrive at the driveway to the hospital and stop. I look back up the road I have travelled down in search of a familiar figure but there is no one there. I shift from one foot to the other considering my options. My boy has no idea where we are heading so I pull out my phone and see he has called and sent a text.
And then there he is, strolling down the hill, all the urgency of a leisurely Sunday promenade! My boy has no rush in him, he moves to the beat of his own drum and I love that about him in spite of how infuriating it can be on occasions.
After we have established ourselves in the waiting room, shedding layers of soggy outer garments and accessories- that’s me, he simply removing his coat, my boy wastes no time and switches swiftly into Games Master mode.
From his wet rucksack he fishes out a pen and note pad and begins to count and draw out several little horizontal dashes. Hangman!
Now the thing about my son and me is that we cherish independence, sharing a common desire that necessitates a deep sense of personal space. We generally require little regular contact in spite of the geographical distance between us to maintain the tender yet robust relationship we have.
We share in a love of many simple joys such as the first snowfall, walking in the rain, old fashioned parlour games, birthday treasure hunts and pot washing opera! Elementary pleasures founded in his childhood, nourished and developed throughout his teens and maintained even now into his adulthood.
One such shared gem consists of major stupidity in the form of a variety of word games, hangman being a perfect vehicle for such childish indulgence. As the competition between us heats up the carefully chosen words and phrases that only he and I could ever guess, decline into utter buffoonery and our laughter fills our corner of this waiting room and this amazing human being that sits by my side fills my soul with peace and joy because no matter what the future brings I know my boy will be okay.
I am called from our corner several times over the course of the morning to be weighed and measured, presumably so they don’t overdose me! To see my oncologist-the real one this time. To see my chemotherapy nurse and finally to receive the chemotherapy itself.
Given the option to be present when I see the oncologist and the chemo nurse my brave little soldier decides if he’s in for a penny he’s in for a pound-neither of us having a clue what these sessions entail.
After seeing the oncologist we have some new information regarding the lymph node treatment and the clinical trial. My oncologist understanding my aversion to further surgery and the heightened risk of lymphodema it brings offers another option- targeted radiotherapy to the lymph node area. With this treatment there is a reduced risk of lymphodema and recent small scale studies are suggesting that survival outcomes after five years are similar with either procedure. No guarantees but then are there ever with cancer treatment?
I agree to consider this nearer the time and gathering up our still sodden belongings we depart his room, unbeknown to myself, having left an ominous puddle on a chair which on discovery has the nurses running around trying to establish the source of this unidentified ‘spill’. It was my rucksack-not me!!!
Our play continues while we wait.
After a short while we are visited by our family who have been to their own appointments at various departments across the hospital. So here we sit chatting, laughing and whiling away another hour, my mum, my aunty, my boy and me until its my time to see the chemo nurse.
We kiss our goodbyes and go our separate ways, the sisters off for well deserved and needed coffee and cake my boy and me off once more to the great unknown.
My chemo nurse is wonderful, compassionate and approachable. Clear and concise in the information she is required to impart. I feel at ease. I feel safe and reassured. It’s a small room. There are four of us squashed in. It’s an intimate space for a very intimate chat- it transpires.
My chemo nurse begins to go through the signs and symptoms the do’s and don’ts and the whys and wherefores. She finally arrives at the issues of sex pointing to the subheading on her crib sheet for my eyes only and asking if the young man at my side will be ok with this conversation. I glance at him and back at her and motion for her to continue adding it was his choice.
My boy and I are both pretty open honest and upfront folk but neither of us is quite prepared for my lovely down to earth chemo nurse’s next words:
“so sex is fine if it’s something you feel happy to engage in that’s great-some women do and some don’t but absolutely no ‘back door action’ because risk of infection is too high”
The boy and I avoiding each other’s eyes thank her kindly as she gives me an anti-sickness tablet and advises us we can now nip to the cafe to pick up a sandwich before returning for the start of chemotherapy.
Exiting the now even tinier room, my traumatised son and I head off to the cafe in search of provisions and conversation to erase the last five minutes we have unwittingly shared!