I'm fast learning that you have to be careful what you eat pre-chemo, for exactly the same reason. Last time around, broccoli got struck off the list (actually, make that all M&S salads – it's a crying shame, but better to be off the salads than their mini flapjacks, eh?). And this time, it's cheese. So rank was the smell (not to mention taste) of my cheesy regurgitation on Friday night that I had my Mum take away my sick bowl, despite not being finished with it. (Thankfully the remaining puke has come out of my favourite pyjamas.) And, not that I've been drinking it (honest, docs), but all of a sudden I can no longer bear the smell of alcohol either. Or the thought of chocolate bars. Man, I've changed. Were it not for the sickness and the aching and the exhaustion (and the weird feeling that my hands are constantly growing – how's that for a weird side effect?), I'd be starting to think that cancer was doing my diet some good. Booze, cheese and chocolate are the three things our fridge is never normally without.
I've got other favourites now, though. My chemo survival kit, if you will. Marmite is right at the top (and, Marmite haters, don't knock it until you've been through chemo). It's the one thing I fancy in chemo days 1-3. Ice cubes, too. The relief of an ice cube dripping water onto your tongue when you've been barfing all evening and your mouth feels like the inside of a hamster cage can't be beaten. And then there's ginger. Ah, lovely ginger. Ginger biscuits, ginger tea, ginger sweets, crystallised ginger, even ginger bath foam. (I'm starting to sound like Bubba and his shrimp, aren't I? Shrimp gumbo, shrimp creole, shrimp soup, shrimp salad... actually that's making me feel sick again.)
I'd love to be able to tell you that this survival kit has made Chemo 2 that bit easier than the first. But I can't. I've definitely managed the physical stuff better this time around. During the last cycle, I honestly didn't think it was possible to feel that lousy and come out the other side. But, of course, you do. And that meant less panicking this time around. If not less swearing. Some things'll never change.
What it hasn't meant, however, is less of the mind-messing, or less of the depression. Because Chemo 2 hasn't just brought with it the same old side effects as last time. This time it's taken my fucking hair as well. That hairball picture I posted last week looks really pathetic now (not half as pathetic as the photo of the cuttings on the hairdresser's floor, mind), because far more hair than that has been coming out, morning and night, for the last few days. Far, FAR more. In fact, were I to add a picture to accompany this post, it'd give you a shocking look at my frightening Keith-from-The-Prodigy bald patch with longer Andy-from-Little-Britain wispy bits at the side (told you I'd turn into Matt Lucas). But, thankfully for you and for me, that's a photo you'll never see because (a) I'm just too bloody embarrassed and (b) I fear that even holding a camera over my head to take that photo would make me fall apart.
Don't take that falling-apart comment lightly. As much as I might make jokes and take the piss, there's often – unfortunately – a horrible truth beneath the humour. I've not talked about the depression side of cancer much (whether for fear of it damaging my mental state further, or of you no longer reading this blog, I don't know), but if this is going to be an honest account of my breast cancer experience, it's something I've got to 'fess up to. This blog isn't a performance or a novel – it's my life. My real life. Hence it's doubtless an often frustrating, up-one-minute-down-the-next read (God love you for sticking with it). But that's got to be the way it is, because that's the way my life is. And so, as difficult as this may be to read, I'm going to admit the following: I woke up at 5am today in floods of tears. 'What's wrong, angel? Was it a bad dream?' said P, rolling over to give me a cuddle. 'No. I woke up,' I replied. And I meant it. I didn't want to wake up. I was livid with the world for allowing me to wake up, and for putting me through this shit for another miserable day. At 5am today, I'd rather have packed it all in.
I'm disgusted and ashamed that I woke up feeling like that. That's not how I think. It's not how I do things. It's just not me. I'm even more disgusted and ashamed now my closest family and friends have had to read that sentence from a girl they all know as happy and optimistic and perma-grinned. As you know, I've got more reasons than anyone not to pack this in. And all that 'lucky' stuff I was on about the other day still stands. But I was warned that cancer would come with its trying, dark, angry moments, and this morning was one of them.
That's another worry that keeps me awake at night. I worry that this angriness will change my nature in the same way that losing my hair is changing my looks. And speaking of my looks, despite always taking pride in my appearance, I've spent a lifetime thinking I've always looked just average. Maybe occasionally even good. An 'almost-would' in bloke terms (if hopefully not a '10-to-2-er'). And what a massive waste that is. Because it's not until you're wiping the hair off your pillow, off your sofa, out of your food (hell, even out of your microwave) and then looking in the mirror at a tired, balding woman you just do not recognise that you realise how good you've looked in the past, and never given yourself credit for it. So way down the line, when all of this is over, if you pay me a compliment on how I look, I'm damn well going to take it, thank you very much. But for now, I can't take any compliments, because there are none to take (although P did kiss me on my bald patch last night, and that's pretty damn good for now). I mean it, too. If you know me and it's been even as little as a week since you last saw me, prepare yourself for a shock. Now, I'm not just a cancer patient. I look like a cancer patient.
I know that some days are going to be like this. Some days I just won't have the energy to feel like I can keep going. And, as difficult as that's going to be at the time, for me and everyone around me, I suppose it's just sometimes got to be that way ('sometimes' meaning once every three weeks until the end of November). 'Difficult' doesn't do it justice, of course. Telling my parents I'd burned through my bedroom wallpaper was difficult. My A-levels were difficult. Getting my heart broken as a teenager (and a twentysomething) was difficult. Being told I had breast cancer was difficult. But this? This isn't difficult. It's near fucking impossible. Because, when the shock of the diagnosis goes away and all the initial attention you get dies right down, what are you left with? A big, ugly, horrible, grim, morbid mess to scrap your way through, that nobody can fight but you.
But I'll do it. Of course I'll bloody do it. Right now, that's a begrudging statement, but – despite the low I've been feeling today – I don't mean it any less. Because what choice do I have? This awful, awful thing came along, and it changed the course of my lovely life. I didn't ask for it, I hadn't planned for it, I did nothing to deserve it, I don't want it. I HATE IT. But I'll tell you one thing. I love my life more than I loathe this cancer. And I'm going to get it back.