I am now five and a half months into living with breast cancer. I’ve finished the first cycle of chemotherapy, which simply means that I’ve received four infusions of two of the prescribed anti-neoplastic drugs every three weeks. They are given between such long intervals to give the body a chance to recover. It has been exhausting at times; my body has become slightly anemic and my immune system took a hit from the last session back in the middle of August. But all in all I found it quiet manageable.
I allayed intermittent nausea much the same way as any pregnant woman, unlucky enough to experience this unpleasant feeling, by eating smaller quantities of insipid foods (like steamed hake and potatoes and stewed fruit for example) more regularly, lying down when the feeling of vertigo became all too strong, drinking lots of liquids and avoiding the culpable foods, which I learned triggered the nauseous sensations (gazpacho, spicy foods and ice-cream for example).
I celebrated this first milestone with a lovely meal and a glass of red wine (containing resveratrol, which according to the anti-cancer flag-bearers have antioxidant benefits on the body but Wikipedia care to refute https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resveratrol. I no longer dwell on the details and enjoy an odd glass of wine, when my weakened stomach allows it, in the happy knowledge that the relaxing feeling it brings me can only benefit my health).
And so Carlos and I prepared the children for their return to school – the familiar-to-parent rush around for suitable footwear, and the memory of an afternoon spent in El Corte Inglés with my two sisters-in-law and Pepe come rushing back. One adult per child, keeping the girls from mauling the sparkly runners and reminding the absent-minded Pablo how to put on a shoe. In my exhaustion, I couldn’t have done it without them. Uniforms, returning wrong sizes (did they really grow that much over the Summer? What were they eating?), books and endless reams of adhesive plastic. (Why in God’s name do copybooks need to be covered nowadays?) The memories of my mother painstakingly preserving our books with cardboard and wallpaper and the happy unawareness then as a child of how time-consuming an activity it really is. I send out another wave of gratitude to the universe for tablets, apps and RTE radio to keep me company.
And in the midst of the hustle and bustle, the second cycle of my chemotherapy treatment began. It was delayed by a week due to my weakened immune system so more rest and more pure food was ordered, which was thankfully served up by Mum. This second cycle sees a change in drug – Taxol, which is a substance taken in the hope of preventing a return of breast cancer and comes from one species of the yew tree, a fact that Pablo is very proud of since it was a variety of this very tree that Esther and José planted in their garden in Tiroco to commemorate his birth over eight years ago – and it is administered through my vein port every Tuesday.
The weekly dose suggests an easier recovery but so far I find the secondary effects more difficult to manage. After the usual nausea abates, I’m thrown to the bed for almost three days with flu-like symptoms and tiredness and then I have a day of feeling normal – today – before starting the cycle again tomorrow. Provided it’s not delayed by a further weakening of the immune system, this is set to continue until the first week of November.
And then I’ll be finished chemotherapy!!!!! The end is in sight and I keep visualizing it in many forms – and now would be the time to insert a lot of conflicting emoticons 😉
The journey with cancer is tough. Each little part of it – diagnosis, tests, surgery, treatment, normal daily life that demands that it must continue, adds its own dimension and brings to the foreground its own challenges. But what I am finding hardest is the sheer length of this trip and the physical and emotional stamina that is required to get through.
Cancer and recovering from it is a marathon. I’m not a runner but I’ve watched my husband train for this challenging event. Chemotherapy is like the months and months of training for the final run, but with fewer and fewer highs. I have to consciously create little buzz moments, like creating tasty nutritionally-dense meals, basking in the warmth of the sunshine raining down on my face when I step out for a refreshing stroll through the park or writing and publishing an honest and meaningful blog post!
But my patience for this state of inaction and what seems like an interminable recovery mode is more frequently tested as the now weekly chemo sessions keep reminding me of the illness as they relentlessly slap me in the face over and over, like the wave that battles to drag you back under, back into the clutches of its powerful force.
The Summer holidays are over, not only are the children back at school, Carlos has returned to work and my colleagues in school are familiarly complaining about the September glut of work. How I long for a glut of anything other than breast cancer! As my cousin said, this cancer recovery is like being stuck in Holland, while everybody else has travelled on to Italy.
I am in some sort of limbo. It is a strange and lonely place to be. Right now, I neither want God’s nor man’s words. All I want is to shut the door and run with my own spirit, coursing through my entire being. I think I’ve “hit the wall”.
Thank God, I can catch some glimpse of the end in the distance. As I write, I’m being reminded to relax, breathe deeply and restore my patience. This is only a drop in the ocean of time in its entirety and as my father keeps saying,
“This too will pass”.
I’ll finish with the song and spirit of our summer, “The Call”, sung by Regina Spektor at the end of Narnia Prince Caspian.