Friday, 9 September 2011

When Treatment Ends...

Recently, I've realised that as a cancer patient, I've now entered a different phase of 'my journey' (for want of a better word). After the drama of leaks and dressings, my scars seem to be healing well. Even though my hair is still very short, it is now long enough for people to not look twice when I'm out and about. So much so, that the other day at my partner's family reunion, one lady remarked on how lucky I'd been to not lose my hair during chemo. My afro wig, the one that I went through hell to search for and get cut, now seems to be languishing on its own on one of my shelves. I now seem to be slowly reverting back to... myself. 

Gone is the gung-ho 'Just Do It !' stance that I adopted to get through all the treatments and side-effects of only a few months ago. Gone is the fuck-you-I-don't-give-a-shit-if-you're-looking-at-my-big-hair attitude that I seemed to possess throughout the whole ordeal. What's happened to me ? I don't even wear half as much make-up as I had done when I was on chemo, despite having attended a 'look good, feel better' make-up course and learned a whole lot of tips from those kind counter girls when I was seriously lacking in the eyebrow and eyelash department. 

I seem to have slipped into a new zone.

The zone that I refer to is often described by the cancer brochures as the 'when treatment ends' phase. You've struggled through them and are now feeling more like yourself again. Your body seems to be recovering well and you no longer spend all your waking days at the hospital wondering if you're developing a crush on one of your doctors. Emotionally, you should be feeling stronger. Everyone tells you that you're looking well and you get more than your fair share of compliments. These are usually heavily laced with adjectives like 'strong, courageous, brave, fighter,' yadda, yadda, yawn, yawn, yes, I could go on... there's a hell of a lot more where they came from. Deep inside though, you feel anything but brave. You feel relieved that for now, you can maybe try to pick up the delicate strands of your life from where you last discarded them. You know, before those nasty old bullies came along and tried to hijack your body. 

Personally speaking, this is actually a bit premature since I'm still having to pay three-weekly trips to the chemo lounge to get my regular herceptin fix. But apart from the odd bit of fatigue and some mild flu symptoms (including a very runny nose), I don't seem to be doing too badly. Feeling almost 'normal' seems to be fooling my brain into thinking that I'm okay again. Ok, not entirely normal since I still feel as though I'm wearing a breastplate of armour across my chest and the site on my back where I had my mastectomy still aches since my recent sternectomy. In fact, it often aches, a lot. 

But still, from the outside, when I'm breezing down the road pushing baby A along with the gayest abandon, you'd never think that I had (can I boldy use the past tense ?) cancer that  spread to my bone and liver. Mostly I feel grateful, even if I have no idea just how long or short this reprieve might be, I try to reassure myself from time to time by remembering how pleased my doctors were that the chemo worked so well. But other times, I wonder if I shouldn’t be writing up that bucket list today and preferably at least trying to complete, oh at least half of the activities before the year ends.

Y’see, while the cancer brochures and websites are great at telling us how to manage the side effects of chemo and radiotherapy and hot flushes and whatever other yucky effect your body might be reacting against at any given moment, no-one can guarantee how we’ll feel once the intensity of chemo treatment ends and once the trauma of pre and post surgery is over. Once everyone looks at you and tells you how great you are and what a trooper you’ve been but then suddenly stops phoning you. When you feel as though you should be getting back to normal life, but you’ve spent so much time holed up in Cancerland that you can’t exactly remember who you were before the nastiest of diseases jumped up from out of nowhere and gave you a couple of slaps in your face to remind you that actually, you’re not immortal. Your shit does indeed stink and you know what ? you will die one day, and it might well be sooner than you were promised. Maybe I’ll blame ole’ chemo brain but at the moment, I find it hard to concentrate on the most trivial of conversations. I walk and move among the world of the living, but sometimes, if I’m really, really honest, I feel so outside of everything that’s happening around me, that it can feel as though I’ve just stepped into a parallel existence. When I was first diagnosed with cancer, well, that was an experience. But there seemed to be an end and while I struggled to stay sane, after a few years and with my health pretty much intact, I bounced back. But this megastatic (c’mon let me have some fun with this dreaded word – puhlease ?) diagnosis is an altogether different beast. Here, no-one mentions that word we cancer patients so crave to hear. No-one dares talk about a cure.

So what am I doing about this ? Well, my mind, which has been so crammed full of talk of prescriptions and pills is now doing a u-turn and heading back towards the world of work. I don't miss the 9 - 5 but I do miss having some sort of identity. Some people think I’m mad to even embrace such a concept just yet. After all, it’s only been two months since my operation. I still tire easily and more importantly, I have a young baby to look after. I’ve taken this all on board, have gone back to seeing my therapist (just the mention of her makes me feel like one of those incredibly complex female characters that you find in a Hollywood thriller). At the moment I’m just happy focussing on my relationship with baby A. To be able to pick him up, kiss him, make him laugh, run towards him, run away from him and take him to playgroups with all the other mothers is well… more than words can truly express. No matter how hard I try. I had forgotten just how enjoyable it is to live in the present moment.  So for now, I’ll think I’ll stay in this moment. I’ll switch off the rational part of me that wants answers and return dates and certainties and just go with the flow until inspiration comes along...  

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