I never thought of myself as the type to deal in magical thinking. I was a realist. A rationalist. I dealt with things with the bare minimum of fuss, fantasy and fear. And then I got cancer.
I started off, true to form, brave and rational. I cheered myself I wasn’t scared of needles, or doctors. Truth: I was very scared of hospitals though. I didn’t have a nice history with hospitals. My hospital experiences were all tied up with death (my two grandmothers), near death (my mother’s horrific and extended experience with colitis) and fear of cancer-related death (my dad’s prostate cancer).
Now, nine months or so later, in that strange hinterland post treatment, I’ve had to finally admit that my superstitions run very deep indeed. And that there are fears where there were no fears before.
Two weeks ago, I wholeheartedly leapt back in to full-time work. And it was wonderful how everything slotted back in to place. It was pretty much, save for people’s polite queries regarding my shaved head, like cancer was a bad dream and that I’d now woken up.
Except it wasn’t a bad dream. Two days ago I returned to hospital to have my IV port removed. Oh yes, my trusty port. The port that gave me my chemo, litres of blood transfusions, five weeks of IV drugs. Was I happy to get it out? Hell, yes! Was I scared to get it out? Terrified!
Getting the port out meant saying to the world I’m done with this. Chemo is over. The cellulitis is defeated. I won’t need weekly blood tests. Treatment be gone! But new me, magical thinking me, quaked. Don’t tempt fate like that. Never say never!
Walking in to the hospital was difficult. For so many months the hospital was my turf. I felt safer there than anywhere else. I knew the secret passageways, recognised the nurses and enjoyed the changing notice boards and art displays. After just two weeks of work, the hospital felt foreign. Scary. A return to the nightmare.
And when I lay on the sliding metal X-ray tray with a pretty young radiologist saying It’ll only be three or four needles I felt faint. I hate needles. I didn’t use to, but I do now. Every needle stuck in to my chest reminds me of my first breast biopsy, and then the terrible sentinel node biopsy the day before my surgery. I so vividly remember that the last thing my breasts went through was searing pain. Isn’t that sad?
Anyway, the port came out, and so far so good. Rationality:1 Superstition:0.
Does it mean the magical thinking has passed? Not in the least. I couldn’t join a social network for people with breast cancer the other day because you had to say where your treatment was at, and all I could think was how horrible it would be if I found the cancer had spread and I had to update my status. Crazy lady, right?
I’m almost relieved that I have five years where I’m not permitted to have kids, or say it’s over, because it gives me an end date for superstition. December 24, 2017. That’s the date.
So what am I up to in the meantime? Well, I figure that if life is a game of Monopoly, I’m now out of jail and have just been dealt a Chance card. Sort of a Go directly to work, pay your mortgage, go on nice holidays, generally act like a complete yuppy and in five years you can roll the dice again Chance card. And that is A-OK with me.
Step 1 was turning 31. 30 was, to put it mildly, the lousiest year of my life. So my first act was to start 31 right. I booked a lovely house in Jervis Bay with my nearests and dearests and had four days of eating, drinking, walking on the beach (in the rain), swimming, and one very intense Pictionary game. 31 started with little pretension but much happiness, and I hope it’ll continue in the same spirit. Thanks so much to all the wonderful people who drove down over the weekend. You filled my superstitious soul to the brim with wonderful, positive, happy vibes and left little space for any cancer fears.
I hope you’re not too bored of puppy photos yet, because here are a few more from the weekend.
Lots of luck (and love) to you all.
Well, while I’m insomniac and all, I figure that I might as well tell you how I spent my September 11 this year.
What a sad day, I must admit I avoided any vision involving 9/11 as I’m an easy target for spontaneous tears at the moment.
The day kicked off at 8am with another visit to day surgery. After much bellyaching and debating, my decision to get an IV port implanted in my chest was cemented by a YouTube clip. For some reason known only to me, I had this vision that I’d have some horrific metal plug sticking out of my chest like stethoscope meets terminator and I just wasn’t sure it was my thing.
Then the steady collapse of my veins throughout IVF and the discovery that the metal tron bit sits under your skin (dumbass) pushed me back into line.
The surgery, once again, was pretty much a non-event. It would seem that my superhero skill is falling asleep (or at least into a light coma) during anything stressful. This was misconstrued as stoic and brave behaviour by the operating staff but as in this case my head was hidden under a heavy sheet throughout no-one was any the wiser.
Basically I now have a metallic port settled just below my left shoulder, with a tube leading to one of the arteries in my neck. My other veins are pretty much dizzy with gratitude now as both chemo and blood tests will be done through this handy dandy device until next March when I hang up my tron hat and hopefully return to being normal.
From the day surgery, I was swiftly released after stoically choking down half a hospital sandwich (St Vincent’s, we seriously need to talk about the food) and trotted off to meet my always gorgeous friend Kara.
Kara was brave enough to accompany me to a Look Good Feel Better workshop. I cannot commend these workshops highly enough. This week is Dream Week and they’re raising money for LGFB so if you see a seller, please buy a badge or drop into David Jones until the end of the week and buy a lipstick as they’re donating funds to LGFB.
LGFB is a workshop for women undergoing physical changes brought on by chemotherapy. Beyond the obvious hair loss, chemo tends to dry out skin and leave a pallor on the face. Sometimes marking and burning happens as well, particularly if radiation is part of the treatment.
The beauty industry donates free (nice) products and the workshops are run by women who’ve worked as make-up artists, beauticians or at cosmetic counters, as well as alopecia specialists who talked us through all things chemo-hat and wig related.
It was wonderful to see how in particular the older ladies in the session just lit up with a bit of pampering. It wouldn’t have occurred to me that the side effects of chemo might be more distressing at 50 than 30, but now I believe in general they might be.
The ladies running the workshop obviously were familiar with this, largely leaving us younger girls to play with our makeup while they gave the older women makeovers. One of the women was then fitted with a wig as well and just looked radiant! It was truly a heart-warming moment.
What was really interesting and reassuring for me was that one of the other younger women had just elected to shave her head. She looked incredibly cool, a really pared down sophisticated look. The wig lady got her to model a wig or two, and while she undeniably looked great, I had to admit I preferred her buzz cut. I know that a buzz cut is very different to the shiny egg baldness of a chemo head, but I really think it was her attitude that made her look so great.
I came out feeling incredibly empowered and will do everything I can to rock this chemo look to the max going forward. Kara’s support and enthusiasm, and her very kind gift of a few gorgeous scarves of her grandmother’s made me feel all the better as well. We brainstormed a number of cool looks which I’ll try out over the next few months.
OK, nausea has passed at last so I might try to sneak in one final hour of sleep before I return to my favourite hospital for more frolics…
Much love, as always.