An update, and an apology.

Hello there!

I’m sorry: in my thinking that I would update my blog while undergoing chemotherapy, I fooled you all, and myself. Turns out it’s a lot harder to write when you’re exhausted, and when you’re doing chemo, you’re mostly exhausted. Like, too-tired-to-cook-so-let’s-get-takeaway-again exhausted. I’m not sure I ever want to see a spicebag again.

So I have not written anything in some time: months, in fact. Instead, I have been having chemotherapy, puking (sorry), finishing chemotherapy, watching Game of Thrones, swimming and willing my hair to grow back. A mixed bag of activities, but so it goes.

I don’t intend to let this blog slide: when I’m ready to talk some more about it, I’m going to write a bit more about the ~the cancer journey~. I’m going to write about recovery, though I don’t know how I can say it better than Anna did. I’m going to write about my specific experiences with this disease, because I don’t want to talk for anyone else who has had cancer, plus cancer is a bizarrely specific disease. It’s different for everybody, which is enlightening and terrifying in equal measure.

An aside, and a list – some of the stranger things cancer has done for me:

  • Turned me off coffee. I miss it so.
  • Given me an intense aversion to long car journeys, the word “infusion” and any beeping noises that sound like chemo machines.
  • Given me a new appreciation of those halcyon days of having hair. ( I stand by my claim that losing my hair was, for me the worst part of chemotherapy)
  • Kicked a good chunk of my friends to the curb.
  • Given me an intense appreciation of those friends who chose not to fuck off.
  • Turned my toenails black. And not in a cool, goth way.
  • Wrecked my lungs (possibly).

So I’m a long way from better – my last chemo treatment may have passed, but like Fianna Fail in 2002, I have a lot done and more to do.

In my case, the “more to do” is not wreck the country, though. 

So maybe I’ll use this blog to chronicle the recovery process, rather than the chemotherapy one. I’ve been warned that recovery can be every bit as tough as chemo, especially that I have to face up to the reality of my being a “cancer survivor” now.

You can only really write “today was great, I didn’t puke!” so many times, anyway.

Let’s leave it there, for now. But expect more thoughts and words soon. I continue to have nothing better to do.

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2: I love the smell of chemo in the morning.

The difficult second post syndrome is strong in this one. Not only did Twitter send outpourings of love and well wishes to me, but the lovely gang at The Journal turned my post into a column — I’m so grateful to everyone who has tweeted/texted/called/commented since. But by god, has it put the pressure on this post!

 

“So, Áine, what’s new with you?”
“Oh, the usual, I’ve spent the last six weeks getting literal poison injected into my body.. No big deal”

Here’s my take: chemotherapy is a very good treatment, but it is ZERO FUN TO BE ON. And having chemotherapy when you felt perfectly fine before hand is even less fun. It is like being completely sober in a pub, walking up to the drunkest asshole there, and asking him to punch you in the face, then returning every so often to get punched again.

I’ve had three chemos now, over the course of six weeks. So I feel reasonably ok about it now. Well, as ok as anyone can feel, I think. It’s not at ALL like movies. I haven’t puked even once, and I’m not completely bald with perfect eyebrows (yet).

I’ve been talking about it plenty – it’s hard to talk about other things, to be honest – and a number of people have asked me what chemotherapy IS. I thought it was strange, at first, but if I wasn’t in this boat, I wouldn’t either! So here’s a definition for anyone wondering:

Chemotherapy is a treatment for cancer that involves (in my case) a twice-monthly infusion of a cocktail of drugs, designed to kill off rapidly growing cells – like cancer cells! But also, stomach, skin, nail, hair and mouth cells. Fun. 

My first bout of chemo was done as an inpatient, and it took about four hours, an IV change, and a lot of hugs/arm massage, as mine had gone pretty much numb by hour three. Second was a bit better. The third, featuring a newly-fitted plastic line travelling to what a nurse charmingly called “The River Liffey” (a big vein near my heart) was much easier. If easier is a word we can apply here.

I am not going to lie to anyone who hasn’t been through chemo: it’s really rough. You know the Monday morning of a music festival weekend, when you’re packing up your tent in damp clothes, hungover to the extreme and willing to trade your left arm for a bed and a bottle of Lucozade Sport? It feels like that for about a week. But without, you know, seeing LCD Soundsystem, eating chips at 1am or morning cans.

It also messes with things you never thought of. My mouth is sore a lot. When I sweat, it smells different – more like chemicals than before. And I’ve been totally turned off coffee and the humble fry, two things I really loved before chemo. However! I am getting good at finding out what makes me feel better –  it’s a mix of medications and hugs, physio and bright lipstick. Oh, and post. Post is perhaps the best part of having cancer: major props to my friend Alice, who sent me a goat teddy bear. Why?

 

Because the goat was tagged with the pun “You’ve Goat Mail”. Ridiculous, but anything that makes a chemo patient smile is good in my book.

 

1: on getting into gear, diagnosis and playing the waiting game.

(I’d love to tell you that these posts will be well-written, lyrical and introspective pieces on life, death and illness. Unfortunately that’s not what I’m going to write here — I’ve tried, and it’s just not my voice. Also, as I’ve been repeating to myself for weeks now, I’M NOT DYING)

It’s been three weeks since I was diagnosed with stage one Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and I look forward to waking up from this highly elaborate dream of hospital waiting rooms, tiny vials of my blood and upset relatives.

It’s been three weeks since my biopsy showed surprise swellings in my neck; happy birthday to my boyfriend, who turned 25 two days beforehand. Welcome to the Cancer Club. It’s been three weeks since I sat in St Vincent’s Hospital eating a Mint Crisp, wondering what the fuck to do next.

It’s been three weeks since I, a reasonably healthy young person, got slapped with Arguably The Most Famous Disease Of All Despite Feeling Absolutely Grand.

I’ll try limit myself to one Drag Race gif per post, I promise

Not a single symptom has slowed me down the past few months, and the small lump in my neck was something I cheerfully ignored for weeks. And yet, I’ve been subject to numerous tests since D-Day, from a scan that made me radioactive to a breath test that had me sit in a box breathing into a space age looking tube. I’ve had surgery that left me nauseous and in pain for weeks. And in a few days, I am starting literal chemotherapy.

In between these super fun appointments,  I’ve called friends, something so comically terrible that I may need to write another post about it. I’ve read books, I’ve spent more money than is justifiable on clothes and makeup. But mostly, I’ve just sat about waiting for chemotherapy to start. Counting the days.

The nurses have been very kind, telling me to take this time to “get my head around things”, but to be honest I’m not sure where to start. i don’t know how to focus on this one big thing so instead I think about the little things: will yellow still suit me when I lose my dark hair? What can/can’t I eat? How will my Leaving Cert History Teacher feel when he hears?

Cancer as a freewheeling, space-invading concept feels impossible to think about: as someone who has always written problems down, this one seems insurmountable, a much bigger deal than terrible boyfriends or dissertation deadlines. I can’t journal about it, and right now I feel almost light-headed at my need to abandon this stupid blogpost, because “I don’t need the stress”. Talking about it is hard, too — once you start, it becomes very hard to stop, and suddenly people are avoiding you, their cancer friend. Which I totally get, tbh.

But I have to climb this insurmountable hill. I have to get my head around it, as it were. Because one of the many things that bother me about my new situation is that I don’t have a choice in the matter. I have to get my head around things, things like self-administered injections, things like losing my hair, things like losing six months of my normal life to various different therapies. Yikes. But all I can do is keep normalising it, keep talking about it, keep writing about it.

Sure what else have I to be doing?

This week I’m reading: I love to read, and a nice upside of cancer is that I’ll have plenty of time to do that over the next few months. Some lovely friends have sent me books over the last few days, so I now have about thirty novels, anthologies and comics to get through. I’ve started with Emer O’Toole’s Girls Will Be Girlsa wonderful exploration of gender, feminism and philosophy that I’m really enjoying. It’s like How To Be A Woman but considerably more self-aware.