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A year ago, test results confirmed the specialist suspicions; I have terminal cancer, Multiple Myeloma. There is no cure. A year ago. Already. The last year has flown by. Three 2017 dates are now seared into my mind; January 30th, February 10th and my 48th Birthday.
A whirlwind of the new; hospital visits, medical terms and interventions, a community of haematologists, nurses, and Macmillan, a new language of cancer, psychology for self, learning, crying, toughing it out. Some days I said everything was fine, It’s OK that a hash was made of my cannula or I was waiting over three hours, again. Other days, I said ouch or OMG or Sh*t, that hurt, get me someone else please, you have not found a vein, this drip is not working, you don’t seem to be following protocol. I found and used my voice.
Every day I have appreciated the NHS, the team, the help, the efficacy and efficiency of Nurse M, A, and L and others M, J and J; their smiles, their hellos, the added lengths they have gone to and extras they have sent my way, a mask when I’ve needed it, a blanket, a ‘let me know if you need anything’, to ensure I felt kindness, cared for, human, me, Janine.
I’ve had a year of being on the other side of the badge. It’s not been me with the NHS credentials around my neck; they have had them. I walk the hospital halls that are so familiar but I’m not visiting a client, attending a seminar or meeting colleagues. Instead, the appointment is for me, the thick brown file of clinical notes are about me and the graphs and charts on the screen show my body, me, mine.
A year ago. Wow. I still find it hard to fathom. Things are normal but not normal. We get up in the morning. I go to hospital. Hubby goes to work. I rest. I tinker on projects. We go to the gym. We pay bills. Make dinner. Eat it. Watch too much Prime, too much Netflix (Vikings and The Crown, great, aren’t they?!). Life goes on. Yet it is all different, and the same.
I keep saying it ‘a year ago’ because it sounds so strange. It feels like I’ve been managing this for a few months, not a whole year. Last year on my birthday, I was getting second opinions. This year, on my birthday, I will be bunking off one week of Chemo to fly to sun, sand and sea. Thank goodness for that. Can’t wait.
Stress and Urgency
I’ve packed in quality moments in planned more. I’ve had a year of panicking that I may not get the opportunity to see that person again or go to that place. A year of thinking, ‘don’t delay’, get on with, the before I die, I want to, list.
Deep breath. The year has passed. My urge to live life urgently is still there yet the urgency has evolved, is more measured, less reactive, calmer, I think. I hope. I discovered my need to move to Italy (a lifelong dream) is not so intense and possibly not what I want at all. Instead, to be able to travel there frequently and for longer periods of time may suffice and be less stressful (more affordable, more flexible, without the bureaucracy and difficulties of moving to a new country). Or am I compromising too much? Time, I’ve decided to give it a little more time. The right thing will become clear. I’m lucky, I’ll be here tomorrow.
Stress in life is normal, even needed. Now, as my own therapist proposed, the best question is, which stress is worth it? I do still worry (in line with what we currently know about the likely progression of Myeloma) that the next two years will be my best, my healthiest, my most mobile. I do hope to plan and pack in lots of lovely adventures with great friends in 2019 and 2020; ski, sail, bike, travel. Maybe even have a big party or escapade when this 18-month round of Chemo is over. Although, I’m not wishing my months away just yet.
It’s also OK to not go crazy; spend everything I have on adventures or abandon everything I had already planned and put time in to. It’s ok to think I’ll be around for a long time (15 years would beat the odds) to invest in our home, our future, and believe, I will have time to enjoy the benefits of the investment.
I feel a bit weird yet I don’t really know how I feel, one year on. A bit unnerved, numb, maybe? Strangely alive at other times. I haven’t really worked it out yet. I wonder if I’ll ever know? What will show up if I let it? Over the next few weeks? Over this entire journey? The new, yet strangely same life of mine, of ours, that now includes and accepts cancer yet is a life, lives, that refuse to be made invisible, small and weak.
A year ago. What happened to you over the last year? Did you grow? Flex? Build resilience? Laugh, love, cry and learn? I hope so (more laughs than cries with luck).
© 2017 Janine Hayward www.psychingoutcancer.com. All rights reserved.
Music: Where is the love (Black eyed peas), Beautiful (Christine Aguilera) Living On a prayer Bon Jovi, Me – I’m killing killing cancer, sorry good cells
Full dose Chemo started (only half last week)
Glucose test: ‘Brilliant’ according to Dr L; normal=awesome pancreas
Dr L’s comment ‘I’m very happy’ with the way things are going
Blood summary (for normal levels see Chemo Wk 1 post):
|Total Protein||93 H||Same|
|Albumin||36 N||Yes, up from Low|
|Kappa light chain||15.02 N||Yes|
|Lamba light chain||4.7 L|
|White Cells||3.48 L||No, as expected (AE)|
|Haemoglobin (Hb.)||118 N|
I thought I had it handled: the meds, the new schedule of hospital appointments, new food regime, my admin. I’d written everything down: what to take, when; how to take it (with or without food, with or without gloves, morning, midday, night, once, twice or more times a day), listed things to get done, was recording my temperature twice daily and all experienced symptoms. I thought I was keeping on top of it all. I was feeling clever and calm. I was. Then I wasn’t. I felt angry and then a little stupid. I had missed a key drug.
It was Tuesday morning, I was waiting for my cannula to be inserted. A light bulb moment and then a wee bit of panic; I realised I had not taken cyclophosphamide yesterday. Why didn’t the nurse tell me to take it? Was I meant to take it as soon as my consultant gave the go ahead for Chemo? Yes I think I was, yet the instructions were to bring the drug up to hospital so I had expected the clinical team or nurse to tell me when to take it. Oh what a f**k up. I explained what had happened to the Nurse and she said there is no mention of Cyclophosphamide on her medication chart. Later she mentions there is usually a check box for that kind of thing. How much of a calamity was this? It’s a strict clinical trial protocol isn’t it? What happens If I don’t take the right med on the right day?
Nurse M had given me a table chart mapping out which med needed to be taken each day though it doesn’t account for daily frequency nor all of the supplements I’m having to take as well so I had written out a Janine version. Ha! Obviously I’m not quite as on top of everything after all. I spent the end of Chemo day 4 waiting for my consultant to advise the nurses what happens to me now and if and when I should take Cyclo. Dr L comes by about 4pm: “don’t panic, it’s fine, of all the meds to miss, this one was probably best”. He is such a sweetie and seems to say all the right things.
My heart rate (up to 90 bpm) began to return to normal. Dr L suggested I don’t take Cyclo straight away: “it’ll keep you up all night, take it in the morning if you don’t have an infection, fever or high temperature”. Phew. Not a complete disaster then. We talked about the email he’ll send, about it being ok for me to travel (hmmm, hoped he still trusted me to take the meds on time while I’m away) and he checks again that I WILL be back for the start of cycle two. I reassured him I would be.
I felt awesome on Wednesday; the sun was out drenching the garden, I felt pain free and full of energy. I thought; “This is good! I even feel a bit high”. I wondered what was causing the euphoria. Drugs, no doubt. Relief, probably.
A superb short piece of consulting work through a team I wanted to work with had been offered but the start date was yet to be confirmed. Wednesday ended up being a bonus day as I had thought I would be working. It was a cracker of a day. I sat in the garden with S, ate well, relaxed and revelled in not having to race off to a hospital appointment or have saline, glucose and meds shoved into my arm. However, the next door neighbour’s kitten, T, was driving me bonkers.
Psychology – Behavioural Training
I’m chilled out in the sun then out of the corner of my eye, on the garden wall, a flash of white and then another and then a flash of black and white; two paws and a head. A Kilroy moment. Here comes T. He must be dangling down on the other side of the wall, its so cute and funny. I sigh and laugh simultaneously knowing what is coming. I am trying to complete behavioural training with T as he and our cat, Mason, get on well and race around each others’ gardens but T is like a V8 4WD diesel vehicle (a right guzzler); he’s all paws and stomach, bounding around and eating everything in sight.
We like to leave our back door open when we are around. I was trying to enjoy the sun yet train T to stay in the garden and not go into the house (with our neighbour’s permission). The key to any behavioural training is consistency so I told myself I won’t have to do this forever and he’ll get it eventually. I took a deep breath and for the next two hours felt like a yoyo or space ball; up down, up down, up, in out, in out, chase, hiss, “back away from the cat food T”…eventually, though mostly when I WAS looking, he lay down outside, a foot from the door, making a pathetic though cute meowing sound. It could have been a request for Mase to go out to play though frankly, I suspect it was a master manipulator tugging heart strings saying “come on, you love me really, you don’t really mind if I eat you out of house and home”.
Metaphor for Crisis
The up and down with T seemed to be the metaphor for my rollercoaster week. Next thing I know its 3am, I’m awake with an awful thought. It’s always been in my head that we are flying back on the 2nd but I had better check. Sh*t, sh*t and triple sh*t. Yes we fly on the 2nd but we don’t get back in to London until the midday on the 3rd. This can not be happening. The 3rd is a Chemo day and midday does not allow enough time to get blood tests done, consultant review, pharmacy to make up the drug and to get the chemo done. Now what? I scramble around trying to see if the flight can be changed and sure enough it can – if you have a cool £6000. No I don’t think so. I check the site again; hold on, they are still showing as having economy flights back from Calgary as available, albeit for the full price around £900-1000 (a whole flight price again on top of what we have already paid). While not pleasant, it was an option. Si woke and asked me what was going on. I told him and he said “leave it to me”.
Si rang me later saying they can get us back on the 31st for a change fee. I said I can stomach losing one day of our holiday but two is too much; there must be another way and why can’t we get the flight that is showing on the website. Eventually Si gets it sorted and we fly back a day earlier, arriving in time for Chemo the next day. We pay an extra £300 plus for the change instead of £1000 thank goodness though it is for the privilege of flying back economy instead of the premier economy seats we had pre-paid for. I have my first “this is unfair” melt down. Though with the crisis averted I start feeling normal again. I had not been looking forward to saying to Dr L that I’d stuffed up again.
I’d been chatting away to Dr L by email in the evenings and early hours about various little things that needed sorting (who’d of thought an NHS service would include this?) and he pointed out the importance of getting more sleep. Apparently afternoon naps have been proven to “prolong survival”. With the week’s crises thus far overcome, I finally fell into a deep sleep on the couch in front of a random programme, Forensic Detectives (which I secretly like for watching as you don’t have to concentrate; everything is repeated multiple times and it often sends me to sleep).
I wake up with my clever clear and calm possibility renewed and the thought “I have done 4/6 days of Chemo for this month already”. I also wonder if Chemo is tanning me as my bright red cheeks and chest of the morning now looks tanned. Strange, made note to self to ask Dr L about it.
In the mean time, the work start date was still to be confirmed so it looked like Thursday may be free too. Life didn’t wait just because I have cancer or because I was trying to deal with loads of new information and activities; the house insurance renewal turned up, washing still needed doing, bedsheets needed changing…No further crises thankfully.
P.s. S nicknamed my intravenous drip holder C3PO so I gave him some headwear for his trips to the loo…and it kept my scarf clean while in the loo!
Images: Stephanie Kemp and with Nurse Amy’s and T’s parent’s permission
© 2017 Janine Hayward www.psychingoutcancer.com. All rights reserved.