I had my penultimate IV chemo treatment yesterday. Last one was suspended due to unfavorable blood test results i.e. My body needed to rest and recuperate before trying again. I was half hoping they would suspend the last two sessions. I am so over it. In that last week before the next session, when the poison has finally left my body and I have my energy back, I feel full of excitement about moving forward. Plans to slowly increase the exercise, do more work, meet up with friends more and bigger plans for the future in general. Then BOOM knocked back down to zero. Feeling like I am on the longest, biggest, crappiest comedown ever. 4 or 5 days where the only place I feel comfortable and warm, albeit bored out of my mind, is in my bed. Then a slow week of venturing out for short trips to stretch my aching muscles and finally Normal Week. Before starting over. It feels like a mental challenge, keeping up the motivation to pick yourself up and try to reclaim normality when you know it will only be fleeting. But I am almost there. I will keep going. The end is so close.
It is all very low key, no dramatic vomiting or violent illness, I am just quieter and more tired and I sleep on the sofa or sneak off to my room when the noise gets too much. All in all it hasn’t been so bad really. Sure I can think of better ways to have spent the last 10 months but there have also been beautiful moments of seeing how people rally round to help each other when they need it most and that is something you only experience when you go theough hard times. So though I never thought I would write this, here is a brief list of positives that have come out of all this shit:
1. Facing a fear (cancer) head on and coming out on top. It was a big fear of mine. I thought it was for everyone but not so, speaking to friends others are more worried about other illnesses or accidents that have afflicted their families. Mine was cancer. The period of unknowns in the first month or so when we didn’t know how bad it was or how far it had spread, that was tough. But once initial tests were done and treatment started it was just a process. One step at a time. Don’t look too far ahead, one foot in front of the other. Yes I do worry about it coming back but it is not the same as the fear of the unknown. I have been through it now. I don’t want to do it again but if I have to I can, and I will. As many times as I have to.
2. Feeling the love and support not just from family and close friends but our wider community. It has been really amazing. Hands down the best thing anyone has done for us during this time was when my neighbour handed me a note with all the afternoons she was free to collect my kids from school and give them lunch when I was having daily radiotherapy. I could have cried. If you know anyone needing help, take note, because I have; offering concrete help rather than vague ‘let me know what you need’ can make all the difference to someone.
3. Realising our amazing capacity to adapt to new challenges. Before all this I would have thought having an ileostomy was a major drama. It really isn’t that big a deal. Again, I am not doing backflips about it but it doesn’t depress me. It is the result of an intervention that saved my life. How can I feel negative about that? Many people do ask me how I am managing with it, full of sympathy but in all honesty IT IS FINE. It is just how I go to the loo at the moment. I don’t mind the questions and I know some people really struggle but for me it is akin to asking ‘how do you find pooing?’ A weird question, right? You just do it. You probably never even think hmmm is there a more dignified way we could eliminate waste? Its been a process of learning and I have had frustrating moments but the positive is that WE ADAPT. I should have a reversal in a few months and all will hopefully go back to normal. But reversals can go wrong and if I ever end up with a permanent stoma I will deal. Because I will be ALIVE and anything that keeps that truth going is a winner in my book.
4. The acute awareness of the frailty of life. BORING. I know. CHEESY. Correct. But no less true for it. I would have spouted that phrase before all this but I didn’t KNOW it. Not until I spent a few weeks wondering if they were going to tell me it was super early stage easy to cure or that it had spread and I had weeks to live. Either were possible (in the end it was stage IIIb). And in those weeks I looked at all I had and was acutely aware that it could so easily all come tumbling down. I hope I can hold on to this. I have ALWAYS been grateful for my life but this experience has motivated me to try to seize the day, just a wee bit more. Lets not play it so safe, throw caution to the wind a little bit more. I am still me. I am a worrier and incredibly cautious by nature so I am not about to start going to extremes. But I can try to breathe out a bit more. Leave the worries for another day. It can all be over in a second. In the last couple of weeks I have heard two stories of lives lost unexpectedly, in a flash, from close friends. Here one day, gone the next. It is so hard to comprehend how that is possible. I am grateful to have been given a chance to face up to my own mortality and think about what I would like to leave behind for my kids because although I hope to live a long life there will still come a time when they might appreciate small snippets from when they, and we, were young.
5. My husband. I have never loved him more. Seeing him face this head on with me, facing his own fears of the possibility of a life without me, raising two young boys alone, yet being an absolute tower of unwavering strength for us all. He keeps it all going.
6. My kids. Y sits next to me and strokes my face or climbs into bed to cuddle for a moment before racing off to the next adventure. O tidies up toys and helps his brother more than usual and with less fuss. Yes it sucks for them to see me low, but I am proud to see how compassionate they can be.
7. My close friends and sisters My two best friends from school and my sisters all flew out to see me within months of my diagnosis, separately and it made me feel so loved and cherished and made me realise yet again how lucky I am to have them in my life, no matter how far apart we are.
Overall it has been almost a year of pushing aside daily life. Work, Exercise routines, all routines, and just BEING. In the moment. Being with friends, being looked after and cared for. Just STOPPING and really being forced to look deeply at my beautiful, beautiful life. I feel so blessed for it all.