This is the ninth post of a series which is introduced here.
Wednesday 5 – 25 April 2017
I was sitting back in the chair ready for the third chemotherapy session. The end of this cycle would see me at the halfway point.
The nurse failed to insert the cannula into the vein in my hand on first go. It ended up being put into the wrist near my bone. Being ‘plugged in’ is the most stressful part of treatment day; it’s the nip, push and sting; it’s the fear that something will go wrong. I don’t settle till I know the drugs are flowing through okay.
The man in the chair next to me took a funny turn. Two nurses calmly approached and pulled a white screen around him. I heard the man say that his heart didn’t feel right, but the nurse reassured him that everything was okay. I must admit that I found the episode unsettling: it was a reminder how seriously toxic chemotherapy is.
At home the evil fug descended and by eight o’clock Paul was helping me up to my bed. My head was thick and laden, and nausea seized my stomach once more. This session seemed harder than the last, or perhaps I felt it like that because I knew what lay ahead over the next week. Either way I felt utterly diabolical.
When Paul left I cried quietly, but suddenly stopped: pointless sorry-for-self tears. Instead, I pretended my mum was sitting at my side watching over me and imagined up a conversation between us till sleep finally carried me off.
The lack of sleep during the first week of each cycle was now getting on my tits. And coupled with the seemingly interminable nausea there were days when I felt thoroughly ground down. I hated doing my injections. I hated taking the anti-nausea pills and was sick of taking laxatives to keep on top of constipation that all the medication caused. My brain was all muddly and it all got me feeling so melancholy. But I refused to give in to it because I knew it was the drugs fucking with my head: I won’t let those chemicals beat me and in spite of it all I force myself outside to walk the mile and a half down the beach to Fort George; I feel a deep attachment to the place. Its walls are steeped in my family’s history. My grandad was quartermaster there. My mum worked there, was married there. I was christened in its chapel and my name is on the cradle roll that hangs on its wall. The Fort and its beach were my playground. And though my family are now gone the Fort is still there with its memories. Nostalgia wraps me up in its arms. The smell of the sea mingled with the coconut scent of gorse, a westerly breeze on my cheeks, the sound of the waves washing the shingle shore and birds nesting in thickets, all of it lifts my spirits. I look across the water of the inner Moray Firth to the mountains and look forward to climbing high again.
Until the weather improved I carried on with workouts in the house.
On day fourteen I was called to Raigmore to get some scans. The doctor took ages over the ultrasound and I felt that was a good thing. After a long silence he said, ‘It’s impressive! The tumour has shrunk so much it’s tricky to locate.’ I was elated. Till now I’d had an aversion to even touching that part of my breast, but I pressed my fingers onto my skin. I could not discern the lump! Anger I’d initially felt all those months ago for not noticing it dissolved. And now I was ready to ask for some stats on ‘it’.
The doctor said the tumour had started out at 3.5 – 4cm big. It was now 1.3cm. This news was the extra psychological boost I needed to face the last nine weeks of chemotherapy.
I did the Clava hills on day fifteen of this third cycle. The great news about my shrinking tumour made me feel lighter than air and I was super happy on my own as I trotted back out down through the trees to the sound of Credence Clearwater’s, ‘Run Through the Jungle,’ pretending to look for snipers in the woods and laughing to myself. I was enjoying being alive…until I got home…
My boyfriend came over and asked me what I’d done with the day. I told him I’d gone for a walk. When he asked me where I’d gone I felt my face flush red. Deep down I suppose I knew I should have not gone off alone without saying to anyone, but I had justified the situation to myself; the Clava hills weren’t far from home or hospital; the hills were popular so if anything had happened help wouldn’t have been too far away; I’d had my mobile phone. But Paul wasn’t happy. He said he was concerned for my welfare all of the time, but now he didn’t know why he bothered. I told Mel and my neighbour and my older son, hoping for some understanding and support. I didn’t get it.
I felt bad for causing concern and I felt bad for myself.
To get out onto the mountains is one hold cancer doesn’t have over me. I’d taken due precautions; I was kitted out with appropriate gear, my bag packed with emergencies in mind and my mobile phone charged, in credit and with signal. I’d chosen a single hill over easy terrain. But the concern I’d caused in the people I love most made me question whether I should be doing what I was doing.
I looked up cancer websites and most suggested things like riding a stationary bicycle or taking a daily walk; doing light housework or gardening. Then I discovered an article about a woman called Jenny Baker, and guess what? She kept up with exercise during treatment and also ran the seven miles to hospital to each of her chemotherapy sessions. I decided I should definitely be doing what I was doing so the following day, day sixteen, I threw caution to the wind and went off to do another hill. Okay I was out on my own again, but I did tell my friend Mel where I was going. It was windy at the top but I was well sheltered at the cairn where I stretched out to eat lunch.
Listen to your own body. And even when you feel like it’s all too much just pull on your trainers, get outside and put one foot in front of the other – just make sure you let someone know what you’re up to, whether you have cancer or not.