Posted in Living with cancer

This time next year

Hello! I write not from my sun-shiny garden – as had become my habit – but from my sofa, where I find myself curled up under a blanket with a cup of tea and a hot water bottle for company. The last hurrah of summer, it would seem, has already hurrahed. I can’t help wondering what autumn might have in store for me this year.

Garden sunshine
The last hurrah of my summer garden

Last autumn was the very definition of the ‘mixed bag.’ On the one hand, we had the Big Move North(ish) to Market Harborough to look forward to. It was a big deal for us, the relocation from Hampshire to the midlands, being as it was, part of a much bigger plan about what we wanted our future to look like. And on the other hand we had the spectre of my diagnosis hanging over us – the little lump and strange not-very-painful-pain above my right breast; the hope that it was nothing to worry about but the growing fear that actually, it perhaps wasn’t as innocent as all that.

That’s that then

I found the lump because of the strange not-very-painful-pain. At the time, I was busy packing up the old flat, and at first, I put it down to a packing injury – I thought I’d over-extended something, or pulled something, or bruised something – and so I put it out of my mind and pressed on. A couple of days later, when the niggle was still niggling I started poking around and there it was, unmistakable and heart-stopping: a lumpy little lump, the texture of frozen peas and the size of a five pence piece. And I thought to myself: “well SHIT. That’s that then.” It turns out your thoughts aren’t nearly as profound as you think they’ll be when those life-changing moments come around….

Garden last year
The day we collected the keys for the new place, with only the slightest idea of what might be coming my way.

I haven’t written much about how my diagnosis came about, mostly, I guess because there’s not a huge amount to say. In summary, I spent several weeks between late October and early December last year trooping around medical establishments, showing various strangers my tits and submitting myself to a raft of progressively less comfortable tests – mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsies, and CT scans to be exact. I don’t mean to make light of it, but really, it wasn’t any more complicated than that.

Show us

As for how I felt about what was going on – well, if you really want to know, I didn’t feel a single thing. I was there in body but not spirit – looking on from the side-lines – acting, to all intents and purposes, like the whole thing was happening to somebody else. Whatever gets you through the day, right?

Excuse me, I think you’ll find this is an ABSOLUTE SHITSHOW

As the nights draw in and the trees get ready to shed their leaves, it occurs to me that almost a year has passed since I first found my lump. Or, to put it another way, I can’t help thinking that this time last year I had no idea of the ABSOLUTE SHITSHOW that was about to come my way. And I want to be very clear about this, lest there is any doubt – cancer treatment is an ABSOLUTE SHITSHOW.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been finding my way through it because I have to find a way through it. And I’ve been surviving it because surviving it is the whole bloody point. And sure, I’ve laughed my way through a significant portion of it because what else was I going to do? And do you know what? Life has even carried on as usual for most of the time because I guess that’s just what life does.

But here’s the thing: you can find a way through and survive and laugh and live a reasonably normal life with an ABSOLUTE SHITSHOW running in the background. Cancer has taught me that.

Nothing to see.jpg

Figuring out what I need to figure out

They say that a cancer diagnosis hits people at different times and in different ways. For my part, I was doing just fine until there was a pause to recover from surgery. I found myself with time on my hands, and no treatment to distract me, and I started to realise that I’ve still got a lot of stuff to figure out.

I had no idea that the huge reality of it all was going to hit me when it did, or in the way it did. I didn’t realise how re-assuring the weekly chemotherapy sessions had been, or how sad I would be about the mastectomy. I didn’t understand how nervous I would feel ahead of the results of my pathology report next week, or how frightened I would be about the future. I didn’t realise that there would be times when even the most minor headache would lead me into a panic-driven, tear-soaked spiral of panic and grief. Until recently, it didn’t even occur to me that I might die and now I sometimes have to try very hard to put the thought of it out of my head at all.

There is, by the way, no indication that my demise is imminent and there is no reason whatsoever for me to fear the future. What I’m dealing with now is – for want of a better word – trauma. I’ve been living with a life-threatening illness for the past nine months, and it is no small wonder that now, as I near the final stage of my active treatment, the trauma of that reality should hit me. Dealing with the trauma is, of course, a large part of coming to terms with what has happened. And coming to terms with it is, in turn, a large part of leaving it behind.

And leave it behind I shall, in time.

This time next year

So I suppose what I’m saying is – autumn is unfolding, I’ve been through a lot, and I’m feeling more nostalgic than usual. I seem to spend a lot of my time looking back: to this time last year, or five years ago, or a decade ago. I find myself wishing it was any year but this year, any time but now – that it was a long time ago again and that I still had all of this to come. Or perhaps what I really wish is to be a long time in the future, with all of this behind me. Perhaps what I’m really thinking about is not this time last year, but this time next year, and the year after, and the year after.

Can you be nostalgic for the future? I guess you can. Hope is important and all that.

L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N

Aside from all the quiet reflection, life rumbles along like it always did. I’m healing well from the surgery – the scar is small, neat and strangely fascinating. I’m frustrated by how little I can move my arm (WHO KNEW HOW IMPORTANT ARMPIT MUSCLES ARE?) but I’m told that my range of movement is actually surprisingly good all things considered. All things considered, is, I believe, nurse speak for ‘I’m surprised because it should be absolutely fucked’…..

Meanwhile, in other news

Meanwhile, in other news, I’ve FINALLY got a full set of eyelashes and eyebrows to report, and my haircut is now somewhere in the region of Elle at the mid-point of Stranger Things One. Believe it or not, it’s only the second-worst haircut I’ve ever had.

Worst hair cut
THIS is the worst haircut I’ve ever had.

I’ll wind up, for now, leaving you with a song and loads and loads of love from my little corner of the universe.

Love you all lots like jelly tots,

WeeGee

Posted in About today, Living with cancer

WeeGee and the case of mistaken identity

Since last I wrote I have mostly been sitting in the February sunshine feeling conflicted. I’ve been feeling conflicted because on the one hand there is NO WAY it should be this warm in the UK in February, but on the other hand this was my office for three whole days this week and I can’t quite bring myself to complain about it.

Garden picture
Garden office, cute penguin mug, and THE best notebook in the world

The PICC line doomy gloomies

The eagle eyed amongst you might have picked up on a certain doomy-gloominess lurking in the corners of my last post and there’s no use denying it – I was feeling a little bit sorry for myself the last time we spoke. Between you and I, the whole PICC line thing had bothered me more than it reasonably should have. Just lately, you see, things have a habit of sneaking up on me and catching me off guard by mattering an awful lot more than I expected them too. That’s what happened with the PICC line I guess, it ambushed me with it’s own sense of importance.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple of days wondering why I felt such a strong sense of resistance to delaying the treatment so I could get a PICC line and coming up with a list of pros and cons.

Here are the pros:

  • Having the PICC line will make the next twelve weeks worth of chemo considerably easier for me
  • Having a PICC line will protect my veins and give me back some mobility in my arms.
  • A delay of four days will make no practical difference to the outcome of my treatment

And here are the cons:

  • Having a PICC line is a constant and visible reminder that there is something wrong with me

And that, right there, is the rub, isn’t it? Having a PICC line is a constant and visible reminder that there is something wrong with me. Most of the time, I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong with me at all, so I’m loathe to look like there’s something wrong with me. On the one hand, it’s just pride, with perhaps a little bit of vanity mixed in. But on the other it feels a bit more vital than that – because as serious as cancer is, I’m not willing to let it in to my life any more than I absolutely have to – I suppose it has taken me a little while to find a way to make space for the PICC line emotionally because it marked a significant change in how things were going for me, and, if I’m honest, it felt like a defeat even though I know that it wasn’t one at all. Above all else, it felt like  admitting that maybe, just maybe, there really is something wrong with me…

Anyway – the PICC line is in and there’s no going back. I’m pretty much over it now, although I’d still prefer it IF NOBODY MENTIONED IT. And that’s all I’ve got to say about that…..

Flowers
Sensing I was a bit fed up about the whole PICC line thing, number one brother sent me some lovely flowers on the day of the procedure. And that’s why he’s number one brother* (*He’s also my only brother, but we’re not splitting hairs….)

Does this chump think I am goddam ill or something?

Every three weeks I have a pre-chemo appointment with the oncologist. He’s a nice chap – mercifully older than me* with a no nonsense attitude and a habit of holding your gaze just slightly too long. He’s a tiny bit awkward and I like him either because of or in spite of it. He wants to know the same things each time I see him – how I’m feeling, what my symptoms have been like, whether I’ve had any sickness, or dizziness, or trips/slips/fall, or weight loss, or weight gain, mouth issues, or pain, or bruising, or bleeding or yada-yada-yada….

They feel like questions designed for someone else entirely. I answer him as best as I can** and, of course, I’m perfectly polite about it, but I can’t help wondering if the poor chap has taken leave of his senses because it does rather strike me that he seems to be under the impression that I am a sick person. Didn’t he notice me bouncing into the office filled full of vim and vigour and life? Can’t he see I’m FINE? Doesn’t he know I won’t let this beat me? I mean sure, the chemo knocks the stuffing out of me for a week or so, and I get a bit tired at times, and my arms have been giving me a bit of gip of late – but apart from that, I really am fine***. Okay, I’ve got cancer but it’s not as if I’m sitting here dying or anything is it?

Little horse
BOOM BOOM!

This is really happening

For a week or so after my diagnosis I entertained the notion that maybe there had been some kind of terrible mix up – that the whole thing was a case of mistaken identity and I had accidentally been given someone else’s awful news. Any day now, I thought, someone would realise what had happened and it would all be okay – for me, at least. Eventually, of course, I had to let go of the fantasy scenarios and accept that the nightmare wasn’t going to go up in a little puff of smoke and disappear.

This is DEFINITELY happening, even if it doesn’t feel altogether real. There is DEFINITELY something the matter with me, even if you won’t hear me admitting it very often. And I am DEFINITELY still doing my best to live as well as I can with cancer even if I do feel a bit like an imposter who has been marching around in a stranger’s life for the past fifteen weeks.

Since my diagnosis, I’ve spoken to quite a lot of people who are undergoing cancer treatment. I think I’ve mentioned before how different they’ve all been, how at first glance, they’ve only had their cancer diagnoses in common – but actually, when you reflect a little further, we all have something else in common. We are all, in one way or another, completely fucking bewildered. There is no manual for navigating your way through cancer treatment and nobody plans to get cancer, so when it comes you find you are woefully under-prepared for it. And what else is there to do when you find yourself there, but march around in a life that feels like somebody else’s entirely, putting one foot in front of the other, and doing your best to look like you know what you’re doing with the closest approximation of a smile on your face as you can manage? So that’s what you do. That’s what I’m doing. I’m not making a bad job of it so far, in the main scheme of things.

Smiling
On my way to chemo number four…. Still just about smiling.

Meanwhile in other news

Meanwhile in other news, I was very impressed with the excellent level professionalism on display in Harborough Superdrug this morning. I bought 43 hair bobbles**** even though I CLEARLY HAVEN’T GOT ANY HAIR, and the young lass on the till didn’t even blink…..

Bobbles
Who says baldies don’t need bobbles?

That’s all from me today, save to say that I hope you’re all happy and shiny and peopley….. Here’s a song to play us out. It’s an old one, as usual and it has no particular relevance, as usual….

 

Love you all lots, like loads and loads of jelly tots,

WeeGee xoxox

 

 

*I’m nearly forty – doctors are getting younger and I’m just going to have to get used to that. But when you’ve got breast cancer, the doctor wants to see the affected area whenever you meet so, you know, under the circumstances, it really does help that my doctor is a grown-up, relative to me and my hopeless childishness….

**None of the above, nosey parker

*** I’m reminded of a guy from the heady days of my undergraduate studies who insisted that he didn’t really get hang-overs. He said he just got a headache, and a bit of nausea, and felt really tired…..

****For REASONS.