Four years ago, I was about to start chemo for the first time. In so many aspects, my life has moved on from that awful point. I am doing well professionally, my boy is now 8 years old and thriving in school, and Dave has graduated and is just about to finish his second year working as a teacher. As a family we’ve been on two overseas holidays, we’ve gone camping, to the outback and to the beach. We’ve driven thousands of kilometres through country towns and spent time in big cities. My Dad died and we’ve bought my family home and are embarking on an enormous renovation project. I’ve connected with some new friends, disconnected with some old ones and stayed beautifully bonded to others. I’ve started this blog, kept at it, bared my soul and my empty right chest, and had the privilege of sharing so many stories.
But for all that moving on and living of life, a part of me remains back there on November 18, 2012. That day before I started chemo, I thought I was prepared. But the thing is, there is nothing that can prepare you for the physical and mental assault of chemotherapy. In the days after my first infusion, I searched our house high and low to try and ascertain where the bad smell I could smell was coming from. I asked everyone who came to the house to try and locate it, until one evening as I was about to get into the shower, I realised the smell was coming from me. I was being poisoned – essentially, that’s what chemotherapy is – and what I could smell was the chemicals attacking my body. It was an incredibly confronting moment, that was the first of many such moments. Hair falling out, feet and hands losing sensation, mind (quite literally at times) going blank. Pain thresholds met and then broken through. Patience and reason gone, sanity on the brink. Constant thoughts of death, withdrawal from loved ones initiated to spare them the pain. My mother commented only recently how quiet I had been during my treatment. Quiet is perhaps the exact opposite of my normal state, but in the vice grip of taxotere, doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide, my usual roar was dulled to a whisper.
I’m loud again now, no doubt, but in a different way. There’s a hollowness to my voice which perhaps only I can hear. I live life with as much gusto as my depleted body can manage, but the pain makes me whimper. I laugh, a lot, but my deepest guffaws are at the blackest of humour. Death is deeply funny, being one breasted and scarred is hilarious in the extreme. My experience of living on the edge of being alive has made me unforgiving of so much, and yet more vulnerable than I care to contemplate. I know what is precious, have seen it in such sharp focus, yet the very reason I know is the reason I loosened my grip on it.
The words I wrote four years ago have never rung more true.
First round of chemo tomorrow. I think this is where I get to say fuck you stupid cancer.
I can’t imagine how harrowing yet at times exhilarating the last four years have been. Life will never be the same for you and your family but in some ways your illness may have given you a kickstart to get moving on the life goals, it brought you to a readership you may never have decided to engage and I for one am grateful for your insights. Just this week one of my close friends has been diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and I hope that I can be a supportive friend using some of the positives and negatives of your experience to support her and her family. Thank you for your beautiful words in 2016, Merry Christmas to you and your family. 🎄
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Oh Nanette, thank you. Your support means so much – you encourage me to keep writing, keep pushing myself to tell my story, keep sharing. Realky, thank you!! And Merry Christmas to you and yours. Life is, with some notable exceptions, good. ❤️