Keep Calm and Carry On
As I became accustomed to the fact I’d be dealing with this thing for a long time, I also resolved to beat it. I was still really scared, but the hopelessness was ebbing away.
In the weeks between my first and second chemotherapy sessions, I worked from home on a Salesforce project for a client in Sri Lanka, so I felt useful, at least. I could still work; I even drove the 3 hours up to my company’s offices in Harrogate for a meeting. The people were nice and the hours suited me. If I felt ill in any way, I just had to pick the phone up and I’d be off for the day. I couldn’t get over how compassionate my new employer was; it made things feel a little more “normal”.
On the other hand…
Mollie was just over 18 months old and teething again; her cheeks were constantly red. She was up most nights, crying; often I struggled to get her back to sleep. Many a night, after cuddles, milk, rocking and pacing (to no avail), I put her in the car and went for a drive. If I was lucky, she would fall back to sleep. Other nights I took her to the 24-hour Tesco at 3am and we did the grocery shopping together. She didn’t often go back to sleep.
The day of my second chemo was the first time I mentioned it on social media. Up until then, I’d been far too angry to talk about my illness; the most I’d done was select a few close friends and send them a private message via Facebook. The rest I kept offline; I was just too angry. I’d been online looking at breast cancer forums, McMillan and Facebook pages; everything I read was either a horror story or people whose illness was less severe than my own. I just didn’t feel comfortable with it. The thought of setting up a blog or recording videos tracking my “journey” was inconceivable. As far as I was concerned, I had to focus on the task at hand, in those early days.
As I started to deal with it better, I started referring to my illness as my “squatter” and my chemo sessions as “eviction notices”. One day inspiration grabbed me and I replaced my Facebook cover photo with a photo of Syrio Forel from Game of Thrones, coaching Arya Stark. His famous quote served to remind me of my own resolve:
There is only one god and his name is Death, and there is only one thing we say to Death: “Not today”.
Then, at the second chemotherapy session, I took the plunge and posted this on Instagram.
This one was harder than the last. Firstly, when Harriet put the Huber needle in, it hurt a lot more. It was like a stinging sensation that lasted about 15 seconds then went away. I couldn’t wear my wig in bed because it was falling off all the time, so I hung it up on the drip stand. It frightened the hell out of Harriet when she came back into the room; it was hilarious. The same routine again: 1 bag of saline pushed through the pump, followed by Harriet and the evil red syringes, then finally, another bag of saline. I was a bit wobblier this time when we went home.
This time, the hangover lasted way longer and I had some other weird side effects. I noticed my heart started pounding at times, then going back to normal. My hands and feet were getting pins and needles and I generally just felt really washed out, which I had been expecting. I managed to give myself the white blood cell booster this time without squirting it everywhere; joking to Andy that I was such a classy bird, having given myself an injection in a car parked at a Stevenage retail park.
I didn’t do much that weekend; just watched TV and drank an absolutely huge amount of water. My parents turned up on Sunday; they cooked for us and got Mollie off to bed. I’ll never forget the look on my dad’s face when he saw me lying on the sofa; pale, gaunt and hairless, my husband playing computer games while Mollie played on the floor.
On Tuesday morning, four days after chemo, I was still feeling absolutely rotten. My sister-in-law came over that morning, but by lunchtime I was on the phone to Harriet, asking what I should do. She asked me if I could get myself down to the hospital. It was a 45-min drive and I knew I wasn’t feeling well enough, so I lit the Dad signal and within the hour he arrived from Bedford and drove me to the hospital.
The moment I arrived, I was shown to my room and then Harriet attached an enormous bag of saline to my port. It was surreal. It’s hard to remember everything since my condition had deteriorated in the car and I was feeling too ill to lift my head. I laid there in the bed, clutching my dad’s hand, eyes closed, wishing this godawful hangover would just bugger off. Someone turned up with a syringe and suddenly my eyes were popping out of my head. It was pretty strong, so I just laid there while it kicked in. Someone kept turning up and taking blood tests every now and again. My dad kissed me and said goodnight at around 9pm.
When I was starting to feel a bit more alive, I remember Harriet saying it was no surprise I was feeling so wretched; I’d been given a “whopping great big dose” of chemo. My body was supposedly young enough to handle it.
4 Days Inside
Within a few hours, I started to feel much better. My stay in the hospital went on until the weekend. I developed an enthusiastic and embarrassing case of diarrhoea once my nausea had gone, so I was kept in hospital until it had cleared up. I learnt how to sleep whilst hooked up to a drip and I became a pro at taking a drip pump and stand to the toilet with me. The smell in my room was embarrassing, but it was December and too cold to open the windows, so I just had to accept it. Everything got sore because I was up and down so much.
Each shift change brought a new nurse to meet; with each new nurse came an astonished and empathetic expression at seeing someone so young going through this. One of them told me she had had breast cancer a few years before; surgery followed by radiotherapy. She told me what I could expect from the radiation and was a very real comfort to me. She tutted when she saw how young I was, going through this “nasty business”. I Skyped with Andy and Mollie on my second night and I watched more films than I have ever done before in a four-day period. I even watched Robbie Williams doing a show at the Albert Hall, which he got a lot of stick for – but I really enjoyed it.
When I wasn’t doing that, I was wishing I was somewhere else. Thinking of all the times I had taken my good health and happiness for granted. A few angry tears were shed at being in this ridiculous situation AT MY AGE. It felt like I was fenced off from everybody else who was healthy, had hair, wasn’t hooked up to a drip nor up and down to the loo with the runs. I knew I had to just focus on getting through this, but I vowed to myself that if I ever did, I’d see more of the world, be grateful for the gifts life had given me and do all I could to be happy.