Cancer: Finding My New Normal
So it's 10 months since my diagnosis. I've been brutalised by Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy, then spent months suffering ...
I've always felt that I've had to sanitise my Cancer blogs a little. People who haven't had Cancer, or cared for someone close who's had it, wouldn't understand some of the things I could have mentioned over the past few months.
Here are ten - slightly less sanitised – bad things that happened to me:
- The sheer terror of being diagnosed with a possibly fatal disease - two days after my birthday - then being given a 50/50 chance of being dead by Christmas and watching your best friend burst into tears at the news whilst you can only squeak the words "What? Me? Christmas?" in complete shock when your Oncology specialist asks if you have any questions.
- The horrors of Chemotherapy where you voluntarily allow nurses to infuse some of the most toxic chemicals available into your body and how ill it can make you feel for the next 10 days. Then allowing them to do it again and again!
- Being carted off to hospital convinced you're about to die, because the strength of the toxic cocktail has caused your tumour to swell up and start pressing on nerves in your head.
- Having a very invasive PEG line inserted in your stomach because "from previous experience, we know you won't be able to eat and we don't want you to starve". I had no choice about getting it and I hated it for every single moment it was attached to me.
- Being strapped to a bed and having massive high energy x-rays fired at you every day for 6 weeks whilst feeling yourself cook slowly from the inside out, as you wait for the blisters to break apart and start oozing a horrible green pus everywhere.
- Being carted off to hospital again, this time with radiation poisoning, but still being made to suffer the final scheduled sessions of Radiotherapy even though you think you're about to die, which actually makes the treated area more painful and explosively pusy!
- Then, once treatment has ended, being left to cope on your own with no medical intervention from the NHS, except for your GP who isn't a cancer specialist. Yes, I probably could have called them, but I was far too ill!
- Having to deal with the fatigue and the nausea and the constant indigestion, the dry mouth, the tinnitus and the teeth grinding whilst fighting with your friends - who are caring for you - about how many bottles of Ensure TwoCal you're going to be pushing through your PEG line that day because it makes you feel so ill and you're probably going to chuck it up anyway later on, so what's the point?
- Suffering a huge, black depression as you wonder "what the f**k has happened to me?" and "when is this s**t going to end?" and not knowing who you are anymore, because you certainly aren't the person who you were before diagnosis; a look in the mirror confirms that!
- Watching your clients drift away one by one because they're unsure if you're actually going to be able to continue working and (quite rightly) are thinking of themselves, but you're too ill to do anything about it except be polite and wish them well and watch your bank balance crashing into the red as you don't have the energy to get out there and get new clients!
I'm sure Kirsty could suggest a few more terrors I've experienced, but it seems my mind has deliberately forgotten them! However, to balance the bad, I have to mention the good things that happened as well:
- Morphine! As soon as I started getting swelling in my neck and razorblades in my mouth I was given Oramorph and told to take as much as I needed. I didn't feel it zoned me out much, but Kirsty may disagree. All I can say is that it was a blessed relief from the pain I was suffering.
- My Oncology team and all the nurses in the Chemo suite and the Talbot Butler ward of Northampton General Hospital. I've never met a more dedicated group of professionals and no matter how ill I was, or how cranky, I was always treated with respect and dignity like all the other patients going through Cancer.
- My friends, who gave up their own valuable time to shuttle me to and from Northampton during my Radiotherapy and kept me smiling. Steve, Yvette and Pam, I salute you.
- My old friend Julie, who, after seeing what I was going through, gave up weeks of her life to look after me, keep my meds on schedule and ensured I was fed through the PEG line even if I was the grumpiest b**ch in the world and just wanted to sleep all the time.
- The wonderful Kirsty who was at every appointment from the initial ENT investigations, my diagnosis, the Chemotherapy, the Radiotherapy, late night trips to hospital when I thought I was checking out, giving up her time to nurse me in conjunction with Julie, coping with the grumpy b**ch again and being a shoulder to sob on when I just couldn't take it anymore and not caring about the amount of snot this blubbering wreck left on her clothes whilst she hugged me tight.
- Hearing the words "your MRI shows good healing and I'm pleased to say that right now, the treatment worked and you're Cancer free" coming from my ENT specialist - two days before Christmas - even though I wasn't able to process them. As we walked out of his office, Kirsty burst into tears of relief and I asked her "why are you crying?". I'd been concentrating on my treatment and she'd been carrying all my emotions for me. We toasted the news a couple of days later over our Christmas dinner.
- Getting all my taste buds back, albeit slowly, so I can now eat and drink what I want, but swerving fast food because starches like bread (sandwiches/burger buns) and potatoes (chips!) just don't feel right in my mouth anymore. I'm also tea-total as the acidity of wine makes me immediately throw up! Blargh! Oh, how my diet has changed for the better!
- Losing over 50lb in weight, but let's face it ... I needed to lose it because I was a bit of a Heffalump! I've not been this slim for years and my high blood pressure has dropped to normal because of it.
- My GP insisting I went on antidepressants. Although I'd never leave my cats because I'd promised them a long and happy life of love, freedom and a countryside full of mice, I had thought about how I would kill myself if I didn't heal and couldn't work anymore. That concerned him greatly!
- Realising that life is about love and connection. A few years ago, I experienced the worst humanity has to offer, yet everyone from the Oncology team, to the nurses, my GP and my friends have shown me the best. They've given their time, energy and resources to restore me to health and operated from a position of pure love at all times. I will always be grateful as every one of them, in their own way, has helped to save my life.
My cats were particularly active on the morning of Easter Monday and woke me up early. Once I'd fed them, I thought "wouldn't it be nice to sit outside with a coffee on such a beautiful day?" and then remembered that today was also the day I'd decided to let my little boy cat Gimley out to play for the first time. My beloved little kitten has grown so much since he cried at my door that cold and dark night 4 months ago and has settled in so well that I knew it was time to give him more freedom.
As I sat there, watching him run excitedly around the garden with Baggins at my feet rolling around in bliss as I'd given him a pile of catnip to play with and Willow sitting demurely on the bench beside me, purring her head off, I had a sudden epiphany:
"Today, I feel fine!"
It took a few minutes to sink in, but sitting there, on a sunny patio with a mug of steaming coffee in my hand was something I hadn't done since before my Cancer diagnosis.
With blue skies above me and the birds singing in the trees, with my cats playing in the garden, and me wrapped in a scrappy old dressing gown wearing flip flops and a pair of oversized sunglasses, I finally realised that yes, I was healed.
10 months it had taken, from diagnosis to today ... a dark journey of total brutality, of pain, anguish and at times, complete despair ... but it had been a very necessary one. My physical symptoms have finally abated to such a degree that I rarely notice them anymore and the antidepressants have worked by sorting my head out and lifting my mood.
"Easter Monday was the first good day and the rest of last week only got better and better!"
Now I've written this final chapter about my Cancer journey, I can close the story with a smile on my face, gratitude in my heart and a soul full of joy for the future again. There's only one thing left to say, isn't there?
Yes ... I've found my new normal!
If anything I've mentioned here resonates with you, do call me on 0333 335 0420 and let's see how I can help.