Girl On Top (Part 7) – Light at the End of the Tunnel

Looking down at my appointment schedule, I smiled.  I had finally turned the corner.  Three sessions of my chemotherapy were out of the way, and there were another three to come.  In this time, I had learned to deal with the side effects (which had included hair, eyelash and eyebrow loss) and I had adapted to a new and different way of living as best I could.  The worst was behind me and my slow climb back to health was in sight.  I had been strong and I knew that I could muster the rest of my strength to get me through the next few months.  The cancer had not and would not beat me.  I was standing fast and ready to take on whatever came my way.  I had looked the darkest days straight in the eye, unflinchingly.  My battle was not yet won, and I may still have been in the thick of the fight, but victory, I told myself, could not be far away now.

As my FEC chemotherapy finished, three new cycles of treatment began, which meant different drugs, method and side-effects. This time, instead of having a nurse physically feed the chemicals into my system via the port in my arm, a drip was installed for the duration of each cycle.  The process made me tired and I would sit in my chair in the treatment room, as the drugs were slowly pumped into my body, my eyes closed, my mind flirting with the first stages of sleep.  All around me, others sat in similar chairs, undergoing various phases of their own personal journeys into chemotherapy.  Every so often, someone would be surrounded with cards and balloons, and I soon realised that these signified a rite of passage:  the final session of a patient’s treatment, which was a day of both celebration and relief.

A positive aspect of my new cycles was that I no longer felt nauseous, although this was perhaps the only saving grace of the three remaining sessions of the drug named ‘T’.  The nature of this stage of my chemo meant that it penetrated into my muscles and bones, and slowly but surely the chemicals seeped through my very being, making every inch of my body ache.  My finger nails hurt to touch, my eyes were dry and I couldn’t climb a flight of stairs without having to stop to catch my breath.  The loss of my body hair also meant that my nasal hair had gone too, which resulted in my nose running a lot more.  My feet hurt (particularly my heels), and my skin was a lot more dry than usual.  However, the up side of this was that I was no longer prone to spots and my face took on an almost luminous quality.

Even though I was in pain and lacked energy, as the spring nights lengthened, the last thing I wanted to do was curl up in a corner and feel sorry for myself, so I spent as much time as I could with friends and family.  I made trips to the theatre, the seaside and days out in London; I wanted to go and explore, as I still had lots of get up and go in me.  Although people around me knew that I had cancer, they never actually ‘saw’ me as being ill as, although I was still in pain, struggling and feeling tired, I didn’t let it get me down.  Because of this, most people forgot, superficially, about my cancer, which I later found out was both a curse and a blessing.  After my fourth cycle, I had realised that it was a good idea to take pain killers before the pain actually started to kick in, therefore counteracting any unnecessary discomfort.  Hot baths also helped to ease the symptoms and relieve the ache in my bones.

Perhaps one of the most significant questions which occurred to me during this time, was how someone older than me could cope with such debilitating symptoms.  Although I was so determined to stay strong, I have to admit to feeling sorry for myself from time to time, even though I banished those thoughts with positive ones, thinking on my relative youth and prior health before diagnosis.

Easter came and, along with the feast of chocolate eggs, yellow plastic chicks and flourishing spring flowers, my godson’s birthday arrived.  My cousin threw a party for him, where a host of children, aged from two to eight, ran around excitedly, eating cake and playing games.  Although a lavish spread and fun activities were laid on, perhaps the most entertaining part of the afternoon, for the majority of attendees, was my wig!

“Pleeeaaase let us see what’s underneath!” squealed an excited seven year old, as she cocked her head slightly, as if trying to imagine what might lie underneath my false locks.

“Are you really sure that you want to see?” I teased “Won’t you be scared?”

“No!”  a chorus of little voices chimed, as the excitement rose.

Laughing, I removed the wig to reveal my bald head.

“Wow!!!  That’s sooooo cool!” gasped a little boy “Can I try it on?” and with that, my wig and bald head took centre stage in the birthday celebrations; a game of ‘Pass the Parcel’ being exchanged for a round of ‘Pass the Wig’!

Strangely I had begun to find that, although it was uncomfortable and difficult to look at my refection in the mirror ‘bare faced’, I was happy for others to view me that way; but I would never go out without my wig, or wear a scarf or bandana, because I didn’t want strangers to stare at me, or feel pity.  I felt that the image of a young woman, adorning a scarf around her head, subconsciously represented a ‘cancer sufferer’ for many.  However, the minute I got in the house, I would take off my wig and pop on a woolly hat.

My passage into cancer had been revealing thus far, and certain everyday things which I had never before considered, had become apparent to me.  The cooler evening and nights meant that I finally realised why the majority of bald people wore hats.  I had always assumed that it was because they were conscious of their lack of hair but, lying awake, my body heat escaping through my bare head, I suddenly realised that it was for a very different reason!  I quickly became accustomed to wearing a snug hat to bed, in order to keep nice and warm, along with putting it on my head whenever I took my wig off.

My penultimate cycle of chemotherapy came and went, and I enquired with my oncologist as to whether I might be able to take a short break abroad, between the end of my chemo and the commencement of the radiotherapy.  Approximately four weeks had been scheduled between the two, and I was desperate to get some respite and visit my dear friend in sunny Spain for a week; to enjoy some sangria, tapas and beautiful sights, while relaxing and recovering.  As soon as I was given the green light by the doctor, I hastily booked my flights and began planning my mini Mediterranean adventure.   But there was something that I was also looking forward to almost as much.

I had observed the celebrations of other patients on their last day of chemo and now it was my time to turn over new leaf and start a new chapter in my life.  During my chemo, I’d been lucky enough not to contract any infections or have to be rushed to hospital, and my body had always recovered enough for the next cycle.   As the smiling nurse slowly removed the PIC line from my arm after my final session, I felt a sense of intense relief.

“Just think, you’ll never have to have this ugly thing in you again.  No more hiding it under baggy clothes, or trying to keep it dry in the shower.” the nurse bubbled “You must be so pleased.”

I nodded, as my gaze fell on the empty seat beside me.   For me there were no balloons or celebratory cards surrounding my seat, nor were there any happy visitors accompanying me on my last day.  Although I had never directly asked anyone to come with me on my last session of chemo, I still felt slightly alone in my celebrations.  I had received a few texts congratulating me on the completion of my treatment, but nothing more.  I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for myself.  Looking back down at my arm, I watched as the final part of the PIC line exited my body, before being tossing it in the ‘hazardous waste’ bin.   There was nothing attached to me anymore, the line was out.  My face broke into a big smile.  It didn’t matter that I was on my own, I had done it.  I had faced and overcome the one thing that had scared me the most in my journey into cancer.  It was over.  I was free of chemotherapy.

As the days passed, I was wanting, hoping and waiting for everything to be back to normal, but I still physically looked the same, and the last of the side-effect had begun to kick in.  I was determined that this wouldn’t pull me into the dark abyss of self-pity, and I busied myself in preparing for my trip to Spain.  Around three weeks after my last cycle of chemo, I was deciding which bikinis to take with me, and which would cover my scar best.  As I tried on a bikini top, my hand touched against something similar to what I had felt before.  There was a small but definite ball underneath my skin, which felt exactly the same as the cancerous tumour had done eight months previously.  Slightly bewildered, I looked up my symptoms on the internet, along with making a few enquiries to friends who had previously undergone lumpectomies.  The general consensus of opinion was that it was scar tissue, but I decided to call my breast cancer nurse the very next day, just to be sure.  After I had explained my imminent departure to Spain, the nurse booked me in for an appointment with my surgeon that very day.  Trepidation suddenly filled me, a sense of déjà vu slowly flooding in.

That afternoon, after a space of five months, I sat facing my surgeon again as he assessed the situation. We chatted about various things as he examined me, and reassured me that the lump that I had felt was probably just scar tissue, as I had previously been told.  Just to be sure, he sent me for an ultrasound in the room close by.  One of the nurses recognised me from previously and we talked along while the procedure took place.  As I told her of my plans to go to Spain, my eyes focused on the screen, and I saw a mass of black and grey shadows dancing before my eyes.  I continued with my chatter, until I noticed a look of seriousness on the face of the doctor, as she turned to me.  I swallowed hard, as the nurse took my hand.

“We’re going to have to take a biopsy” the doctor explained.

I joked that I had already gone through the procedure and that I knew exactly what I had to do.

Back in the surgeon’s office, he broke the news.  The ultrasound had uncovered a lump which, although small, looked exactly like my previous one.  The surgeon wanted to see me the next week, when my results would be in, and advised me not to take the break away, but to remain in the UK instead.  However, I was determined to take the vacation, even if it meant that my holiday would have to be cut short. I made a decision; I would return to the UK three days early instead and see my surgeon just a day before my radiotherapy was supposed to start.  A slow, dull fear crept into my thoughts, pushing its way to the forefront of my mind.  This was more than just déjà vu; this very scenario had most certainly been played out before.

On my arrival home, I flopped down onto the sofa with my housemate, a sense of injustice overwhelming me. I had hardly cried during the whole of my treatment, but now tears came pouring from my eyes, as she held me close.  Wiping my cheeks, a feeling of certain dread churned in my stomach.  Just as I had turned a corner, I had come up hard against another brick wall.

After a restless night, I resolved that I would put it out of my mind, for the moment.  Something inside me had already confirmed what was to come.  I had been here before.  My journey through the tunnel was not yet over.  Just as I thought that the light was within touching distance, it had been snatched away.  Someone had flicked a switch and shadows now surrounded me.

I took a deep breath; whatever it was, I would face it when I came back.  I had confronted quite a lot in the past months and another set-back wouldn’t ruin the holiday that I had been anticipating for so long.

For the moment, my cancer was at the back of my mind and I looked forward, towards the light, regardless of however dim and however far away that seemed to be.

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “Girl On Top (Part 7) – Light at the End of the Tunnel”

  1. Cancer is that awful word we all fear when we go to the doctor for a physical exam, but in that brief dark moment , Laura, you heard it, the world you live in and the people you share it with, begin to illuminate things you (and us) did not even pay attention to. Very energising, revitalising, brace story , that the last paragraph left our heart’s bumping faster and stronger. Very profound, fervent, also so positive, strong, cheeky, funny, plus spoiling yourself with a trip to sunny Spain!!! Looking forward to hearing more details! :-).Besitos,Kisses,Bučkis. Lots of love! x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Almost speechless again!
    Just love reading your blog Laura. You’re an amazing lady and know that you have much more to share.
    Can’t help but wonder what you’re thinking whilst you write (knowing what else you’ve gone and are still going through) whilst being courageous enough to speak out of your past treatment.
    You have so much strength and your writing always seems effortless… This I know isn’t true. Thank you for sharing. You’re truly amazing, keep going. Lots of love xx
    Ps if you want balloons – I’ll get you some xxx 🎈🎈🎈

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My dear Laura, as I’m reading this all in one 5 minute sitting when it represents so many weeks and months in your life, it really has hit me just how relentless this journey has been. You’re right about it being a blessing and a curse, the fact that you have weathered every challenge with such verve- you probably didn’t get the outpouring of gifts that others may have received. For that I am sorry xx But rest assured, we all carry a little bit of you with us every day, and your utter strength and determination has inspired so many. Thank you again for sharing your story. Pass the Wig? Love that image. Love you xx

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Brave, inspiring and amazing story of one woman’s journey through what must have been the darkest days of her life. Her true spirit shines through and it is this which is the ultimate light at the end of the tunnel.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s