Sunday, 21 December 2014

87. The REAL end of chemotherapy

Well done, you've finished the chemo! people said to me after the final drop of poison had dripped into my vein, three and a half weeks ago. You must be so pleased!

But it's hard to feel pleased when you're laid low, which you are, in the post-chemo weeks. I knew in my head that the worst was over, but it still felt bad. You, faithful readers, know all this. The deepening exhaustion that follows each bout of chemotherapy; the tears when things just don't seem to get better. 

Only now do I begin to realise, and believe, that the chemotherapy really has come to an end.

Since the beginning of August, "recovery" meant: hide yourself away during the worst of the side effects (about ten days, usually); then take a deep breath and keep going, because you have to recover just enough to cope with the next dose, which is just around the corner. It's always - always - just around the corner.

Perhaps that's one reason why I felt so low and weepy recently. I think that in my mind, I had to be better three weeks after my VIP session. You always have to be better three weeks later, because that's when the next blow comes along. So you do your very best to stay positive, because if you don't, you just can't cope with another chemical attack. But it gets harder every time, and recovery takes longer every time. I started to wonder whether I'd make it to the three-week-date. Wouldn't I still be too exhausted?

This time, the magic three-week-date came and went. It was four days ago, and it heralded a subtle but significant shift. It was only then that the end of chemotherapy became real.

No more chemotherapy. 

There I was, feeling too tired to do much, but this time, it didn't matter. If I had needed eight cycles (as some women do), I would undoubtedly have pulled myself together, taken that deep breath, put on my smile, gone back to the VIP lounge, here's my arm, I'm ready. You can force yourself to be ready, if you have to.

But I don't have to. Not anymore. So the recovery and the tiredness take longer, simply because that's OK now. And boy, the relief! That feels good! It didn't, three weeks ago, because my body didn't quite believe it. But now, hurray and hallelujah, I can just sit back and watch my energy seep back in, and not worry that it's going to be knocked out of me again by an ever-imminent trip to the VIP lounge. 

(You may note that I am conveniently ignoring the radiotherapy-induced tiredness that I've been promised. I just can't believe it will be as bad as the chemo. Famous last words perhaps, but hey, just leave me with my illusions for now.)

Slowly, slowly, things are getting better.

Every day, I can sit up a bit longer, walk a bit further, talk a bit more sense, do a bit more Christmas shopping.

I am clawing back my old life.

Yesterday, I picked up my guitar for the first time in, oh, months and months. Everything needs building up again. My calloused fingers have softened with the non-playing, and softened even further with the chemo-induced skin-peeling. One song, and the guitar strings were imprinted deeply and painfully on my baby-soft fingers. Never mind: my muscles will strengthen. My hair will grow back (one day... at the moment I'm still losing it). My fingertips will  harden.

I almost cried, sitting there, plucking the strings and singing. Singing! I can get through a whole song without fainting! Oh, the joy music-making can bring.You know what? I'm going to sing in church tomorrow, guitar and microphone and all! Before I could change my mind, I emailed my fellow musicians with this plan. 

And I did it, this morning. Ave Maria and Oh come oh come, Emmanuel. And unlike last time, I didn't collapse. I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to be back playing music and basking in everyone's delight to see me.

Last night, I went to a Christmas drinks party. Haven't been to a party since the spring. I needed an afternoon snooze in order to manage it, but still, it looks like I don't have to keep saying Sorry, I can't.

(And the compliments keep coming. You look wonderful! Nice skin! Nice scarf! Nice everything! I don't know how you do it! I can tell them how it's done: a steroid-induced moon-face and a make-up lesson combine in covering up cancer-induced misery. But it's nice to hear, all the same.)

The thought of doing the MoonWalk has really inspired me.

It is giving me hope and something to aim for. The Night Owl Team has grown to 12 walkers, with more people planning to join or sponsor us (which you can do here... hint hint), so I can't let the side down. I've even bought myself a new pair of walking shoes.

These shoes are made for walking...

So here I am, facing a rather lovely Christmas break because there is nothing to worry about.

I look back at 2014 and see some pearls shining in the mud. I won't go as far as saying that cancer has been A Good Thing. It is never a good thing. It's bloody awful. I would never, ever choose to have it. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

One day, a while ago now, I made the mistake of looking at blogs of other breast cancer patients. Mistake, because those blogs absolutely don't help me have a better understanding of my own situation. I don't really want to hear other women's stories, because my own is quite enough, thanks very much. But that day I couldn't help myself, and once you start blog-browsing, it's rather hard to stop.

I found the blogs that were full of Cancer has been a wonderful thing to happen to me! I have discovered what matters in life! especially annoying, however true I know it is that cancer helps you (re-)discover what matters in life. I can think of better ways of discovering such truths.

I am saying this to validate the rotten feelings of other breast cancer patients reading this blog, before I dare go on to say...

...there have been definite pearls, in the shape of the love and support I have received from family and friends and even relative strangers. 

One woman's response to another blogger has stayed with me, because it was so very sad. Sadder, almost, than the blogs by women who are looking at incurable cancer or even imminent dying. (Warning to other women with breast cancer: Do Not Read Such Blogs!). Here it is.

"I am almost 69, live alone, divorced, childless and - unlike most bloggers it seems - I don't have the requisite army of friends and family waiting to rush to my aid! All the self-help books and general info seem to stress the importance of a support network, but surely there must be SOME folk out there who don't have one? Friends are ok for one-off stuff, but regular visits? Not really. It's bad enough having to deal with this vile disease without having anyone to rely on. People tend to make vague promises but don't follow through, so I will likely have to rely on paid professionals to help as I daren't assume anyone is going to step up to the plate! It's a bit difficult to feel positive or hopeful right now."

I look forward to Christmas, knowing that I am loved, and that I have not had to face this devastating disease on my own.

Last year, I might have hoped that to be true. Now, I know it. How lucky is that?

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