Saturday, 27 September 2014

52. Weeping at the wood's edge

There. Today, I have outed myself as a Weeping Woman. No longer is the blubbing confined to the dark.

She has gone into hiding, Wonder Woman who can cope with anything and who is, above all, able to keep herself in one piece (and a dry one at that).

I'm sorry to keep disturbing your joie de vivre with reports of further misery, but this is day 11 of the third chemo cycle and I'm still exhausted. This is disturbing. I'd pencilled in the Suddenly I feel much better moment for yesterday, day 10, as on previous occasions. Alas, no such joy.

So, in an effort to revive my spirits and to rest my weary bones, I've come to our place in East Sussex for some proper breathing (tick), a swim in the sea (tick)a wander among my baby trees (tick) and above all, peace and quiet (tick). The unticked box was a walk in the woods.

I've been looking with longing at the London autumn sunshine. I love all seasons but autumn is my favourite, with its rustic colours, damp wooden smells and nature's promise of rest. I tried to route my daily walk across Clapham Common, which was nice enough, but what I really needed was a proper wood without car fumes and police sirens edging in.

Today was my day for a woodland walk.

I had to plan it carefully. My husband, having driven me here yesterday, has gone back to London to be with the children. He and my younger daughter won't be back here until later today (the older ones, being older ones, busy elsewhere). No car, so I'd have to be able to walk to The Chosen Wood.

There are small bits of wood all around, but I wanted a proper large one, with ancient trees and ancient smells and a space in the middle where I could just sit and sit and sit on an old tree trunk.

Walking has been wonderful. My doctors and all the booklets recommend daily gentle exercise ("it helps with the side effects"). Swimming is good but involves getting to the pool, which currently uses up the daily amount of energy. Cycling is also good, but this week I found that my eyes can't focus very well and I feel strangely detached from the outside world, which is not brilliant when negotiating London traffic. So walking it is.

Today, I reckoned, I could manage about an hour. Perhaps more, if said tree trunk in The Wood helped me recuperate.

I studied the map and figured I could make it to Promising Wood, about a half hour's walk away.

It looked nice and big, with proper tracks. We've been once before, last year, to the Open Day of the animal shelter it houses. 

Off I set, pockets filled with a water bottle, a couple of biscuits and (afterthought, which turned out to be just as well) a large clean hankie. All went fine, but blimey, did I need that tree trunk.

I noticed yesterday that my bones are beginning to ache. Probably a side effect of the daily injections I've been giving myself this week in an attempt to lure my bone marrow into producing more white blood cells. They've upped the number of injections this time round, as my blood count has been hovering alarmingly near the edge when they ought to creep back up to normal.

It's not particularly debilitating, but aching hip bones are not great when climbing the gentle hill up to Promising Wood. At last! There it is.

But hold on, what's that sign on the entrance track to the Visitors' Centre at the edge of the wood? No Entry? You Need Permission?

I walked past the sign and up to the building. I've got cancer, I told myself (Dutch people are law abiding citizens who respect Signs). Signs don't apply to me. If I can get a Golden Ticket to the hospital's blood letting department, surely I can get a Golden Ticket into the wood? Shall I play the Cancer Card?

"Excuse me," I accosted the women chatting around their mugs of tea just beyond the open door. "Can I just have a walk around these woods?"

"Sorry, no, you can't," said one of them, stepping outside to explain. "These woods are private."

Turned out I didn't need to play the Cancer Card. It played itself, because just like that, I burst into tears. And once I started, I couldn't stop. It was as spectacular as That Collapse in the shop with the funeral outfits, four months ago. But at least then I had my sister with me so I didn't need to explain myself. Here, I realised, some sort of explanation was required.

So I said, "I'm sorry, this is ridiculous, crying over a walk in the wood, but..." and blubbed incomprehensively about having only just made it here, having planned it so carefully, my yearning for The Wood.

"In the middle of chemotherapy," I added by way of justification for both the tears and the need, and in the vague hope that the C word would give me my Golden Ticket into the wood.

It didn't. She faltered, that poor woman, calling to someone else, "she can't just go in...?" No, she can't. Rules, etc.

So I dragged myself to a conveniently placed nearby bench, took off the headscarf that had been annoyingly clammy, put my head on my knees and sobbed.

And sobbed. Don't care who sees me now. Told you, I've come out.

Too much effort, keeping up appearances whilst also trying to keep my aching bones upright and fighting off my disappointment at the non-appearance of the Suddenly I feel much better moment. Let them see they've turned away a poorly cancer patient! Ha! Then they'll be sorry!

(This is an alarming deviation from my usual character. Inflicting misery and guilt on outsiders? On purpose? Whatever next?)

Mind you, I didn't have a choice. Talk of opening the flood gates. Every time I thought I could stop, I was hit by a new wave.

She did come out, the No she can't woman. She was kind enough. Sat next to me on the bench, apologising. "Sorry, I didn't realise. We've got Cubs in the woods today. I thought you were one of the mums."

(What? She didn't realise that a hiking woman asking for access to the woods was in fact a cancer patient about to burst into tears? Well, I suppose we can let her off.)

Not that it helped. You can't let a bawling bald cancer patient loose in a wood full of children, even if she has an armful of glowing Police Checks at home attesting her lack of criminal tendencies. That was in the past.

No she can't woman did offer access to a minuscule corner of wood behind the office, and for that I thanked her kindly. What I really wanted was a cup of tea, and I should have asked. It would have made both of us feel better. 

Instead, I drank my water and ate my biscuits. And did some more sobbing hidden among the trees.

In fact, I am going to show you a picture of it. I may live go regret the eternal presence of this rather unflattering photo in cyberspace, when I'm back to being a respected Associate Professor in Nursing (and when my children start reading this blog).

But if I only give you the smiley pictures that invite the You are beautiful responses, however true they are (and they are), I am only telling you half a story.


  1. Dearest Irene, still beautiful in your painfully honest emotions. This is real, this is how it is for you. And I think you're amazing. Just wish I could be there to give you an enormous hug.

  2. I am less beautiful than you, and for me this evokes negative emotions, like anger. How dare they close the wood? What if cancer patients (or even everyone) had the right to roam? I suppose the country would come to a standstill as lonely woods and valleys filled with weeping women with no hair.

    1. Ooohhh I love the image of woods and valleys filled with weeping women! Let's all go!
      Actually, looking at the map again afterwards, husband said he could have told me it wasn't a public wood, because although it had plenty of tracks marked, there were no public footpaths in it...
      Another 50 years and my 1000 newly planted baby trees will have grown into my own private wood to sit and wail in! Anyone who wants to come and join me then is welcome. (age 100+, we will all be hairless, toothless and senseless, and might need it.)