I've heard new mothers say that childbirth was so awful that they can't completely remember the horror of it all – as though their brain recognised how hideous it was and did its best to blur the memory, otherwise they'd never put themselves through it again. And given that I'll never have the luxury of knowing what childbirth feels like, I'm instead equating this description with chemo. My brain has done me the favour of making it impossible to remember just how horrific I've felt this past few days, but know this (and know it good): it was horrific. And while I might not remember enough to tell you about every pain and symptom and effect, I do remember enough to tell you that I just don't think I can go through it again.
I can hear what you're thinking. I'm almost there... nearly done it... just one more chemo to go. But that's not just easy for you to say, it's also no comfort whatsoever. It just serves as a reminder that I've got to endure this hell again. 'You're almost there' is indeed a nice thing to say, but it's also the wrong thing to say. And yes, I'm aware how much of a bitch that makes me sound, particularly to all the many people who've said that very thing to me lately. (At the expense of whingeing even more, this warts-and-all honesty is difficult when you have a compulsive need to feel liked. Last night, unable to sleep, I lay awake drafting letters in my head to all the people I've liked but, I suspect, didn't like me back, asking them what it was about me that made them keep their distance. Does everyone who has a life-threatening illness do this kind of soppy, confessional soul-searching? I know, it's pathetic. It makes counting sheep look cool.)
But on with the bitchiness (I've started so I'll finish). I've had a similar problem with all the messages I've received while I've been laid up this past week. It's a damn good job I was too sick to pick up my phone until last night because, in my state of mind over the last few days, I don't think anyone would have liked the sarcastic replies. ('You've been quiet lately, how's things?' 'How's things? Well, I've still got cancer, I'm in such excruciating pain that I can barely move, I'm suffocating from constant hot flushes, I can't swallow for lumps all over my tongue and, despite being 29, my Mum is having to take me to the loo, which I'm going to pretty often thanks to the fact that I've got the raging shits. So yeah, things are pretty peachy, thanks.') I don't like reacting like this, I don't like P and my folks seeing me react like this, and I don't like you reading about me reacting like this. I like to keep as many people as possible sheltered from this stuff, in just the same way that I don't let anyone other than my immediate family see me during my sickest weeks. I'm worried that the sight of me looking like a cross between Voldemort and the Albino Monk will taint people's perception of me in the future, however better I manage to make myself look after The Bullshit is over. My folks have no choice about whether or not they see me that way because, well, they made me. And P signed up for it with the 'in sickness and in health' stuff (more fool him). But nobody else should have to be around me when I'm in that state, be it the bitchiness or the sarcasm or the assisted toilet trips or the rotten way I look. So, in weeks like the last one, I tend to hide myself away and instead go contact-cold-turkey. And, given my aforementioned reaction to innocent 'how are you doing' messages and 'you're almost there' encouragements, it's probably a good job I do.
Which begs the question, then: what, exactly, is the right thing to say? And there's the trouble. I'm as clueless as you. (I'm a great help, aren't I?) But surely the answer to what's best to say has got to be different for everyone, right? Some people might want to be ignored. Some people may want fawning sympathy ('poor you, must be awful'). Some might prefer outright anger ('I can't fucking believe this is happening to you'). Others might want complete medical understanding ('so was it day three or four that the thrush hit this time?'). Me? Generally, anything that's either quietly understanding ('love you, thinking of you, no need to reply'), funny ('it could be worse, you could be a McQueen on Hollyoaks') or puts gossip above cancer ('I heard today that Cher has her arse vacuumed') pretty much hits the spot. (All actual texts, by the way.)
Among all the messages I had this week, though, was one that even I haven't got a smart-arsed response for. It was a lovely blog comment from a 20-year-old lass with a clearly terrific sense of humour. And ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer. At 20. How fucking rubbish is that? Since I read her comment about having just started chemo, I've been wondering how best to respond, knowing what I know. Four months into this blog, I can hardly go back on everything I've written, play down the effects and tell her it's not as bad as she might think. It'd be equally foolish to take it upon myself to prepare her in some way by detailing the full, no-holds-barred shitness of it all. I want to tell her to hang in there, to put one foot in front of the other, to keep calm and carry on. But what use is that? Everyone's got to play The Bullshit their own way. And there's no bloody way I'd fob her off with the save-for-an-awkward-moment cancer quips I've previously talked about ('think of all the money/time/effort you'll save on mascara/your hair/shaving your legs') because, well, they're just not fucking funny, are they?
So instead, anonymous (and any other amazing Bullshit Babe who's emailed or commented on here), I'll just keep it simple and say this: cancer may do all manner of shitty, shitty things, but I promise it won't even so much as make a dent in your brilliant, gutsy, can't-keep-a-great-girl-down fabulousness. Unless you start vacuuming your arse, that is. After that, you're on your own.