Thursday 13 November 2008

One step beyond.

I do like an excuse for a celebration, and here's a corker for you: CHEMO IS OVER. Feel free to break into applause. 

Actually, the celebrations only lasted as long as Friday evening, when P and I counted down the last milliletres of drugs running through my drip, said our emotional goodbyes to the nurses (after plying them with fairy cakes) and bid a final, fond fuck-off to the chemo room. When we got back to the car, we allowed ourselves five minutes of exhausted tears (as opposed to worried tears or downhearted tears or frightened tears – just as eskimos have their numerous types of snow, cancer patients have their numerous types of crying) before taking a detour on the way home to pick up Sgt Pepper, adding a nice full stop to the end of our chemo nightmare. (Told you I should have named her after a punctuation mark.)

But as celebrations go, that was about it. And I can't help feeling that it's all a bit lacking. Granted, I've hardly been up to raising my arms in joy since Friday; I have, inevitably, been a bit on the rubbish side (to put it mildly) and doing congas round the flat isn't all that simple when you're out-on-your-arse ill and feeling like you've been victim to a gangland kneecapping. I look like it, too. You bruise like a peach when you're on chemo and, thanks to the addition of an eager-to-clamber-up-for-a-cuddle kitten, the bruises and scratches make it look like I've spent the past week self-harming.

As rites of passage go, I appreciate that finishing my course of chemo is about as big a milestone as I'm going to achieve, and celebrating the occasion by a week (so far) of enforced illness doesn't, I'm sure you'll agree, quite hit the spot. But I wonder whether, if I were well enough, I'd be marking the occasion anyway? Because, really, how do you go about punctuating the end of the no-question worst five months of your life? Plant a tree? Unveil a plaque? Throw a party? Run naked down Oxford Street? (Which, incidentally, Lil said she'd do if I ever got a pet. Time to get your kit off, love.) Me, Busby, Tills, Weeza and the boys let off a few fireworks in the back garden the night before my final chemo, which I think was a fitting ceremony. Or at least it was until my normally-volume-challenged neighbour (the one who sat in her garden and held court about her chafing nipples all summer long) cut the festivities short by pulling out the sleeping-baby excuse. I wish I'd have been quick enough to retaliate because I'm pretty certain that, in Excuses Top Trumps, cancer beats baby.

I've questioned whether or not it's even appropriate to mark the end of a shitty few months when there are numerous other battles to take on in the probably-similarly-shitty period ahead. But I reckon a small hooray can't be out of the question – after all, what kind of joyless existence would it be if you couldn't pat yourself on the back for completing a course of potentially life-saving treatment? It's a good job I said 'small' there, given the meagre few hours of smugness chemo allowed me before turning my body to bilge and my mind to mud for the last time. Not that the tiny nature of my celebration is the only issue – I suspect that, even without the chemo-ills, I'd have been reluctant to revel for long. It's partly to do with a deviously party-pooping, sadist part of my makeup (that black eyeliner's a bitch), and partly to do with the fact that I've finally asked my consultant to refer me to a counsellor. And, me being me, I've already cut the end-of-chemo celebrations short and set to worrying about that instead, even before I've made the appointment. 

Why can't I just enjoy the moment, even for a short while? Why am I so intent on peering round the corner to anticipate the next shit-pie that's hurtling towards me? Why can't I pause for a minute and bask in the glorious achievement of having seen off an almost impossibly traumatic, utterly exhausting, immune-system-destroying, tumour-killing, total motherfucker of a course of chemo? Because, God knows, now's my time to lap it up. Instead, though, I've brushed all of that aside in favour of fretting about another issue altogether, and forcing my husband to stay up til 2.30am so we can chew it over.

As you know, one of the main reasons (the main reason?) I've asked for a therapy referral (ick, that word still gives me the shudders) is that I'm worrying about the process of moving into a life of remission; specifically, a life that's very different from the one I left behind when I heard the words 'signs consistent with breast cancer'. As a quick catch-up ('previously on Alright Tit', if you will), one of my main concerns stems from the fact that, pre-Bullshit, everything for P and I was geared towards having a baby. But now, thanks to the cancer-creating effects of oestrogen on my body, everything is geared towards us not having a baby. As you'll know from previous posts, it's not as though P and I had never before been forced to consider a childless life: with a number of hormone issues, two miscarriages and a fertility history that reads like a comedy of errors, it's something we've given more thought to than most. But now, knowing that the no-kids issue is no longer an 'if', it's created another hurdle for us to negotiate, and I'm worrying about what to do next. It's time I learned to stop panicking when faced with situations that weren't part of my Grand Life Plan. Because, hell, if getting breast cancer can't teach me that it's impossible to map out your life, it looks like I need to find another way to get a kick up the arse. But, tell me, how are you supposed to communicate that kind of stuff to a therapist? 'Hi, my name's L and I'm a fret-aholic. Would you mind booting me up the jacksie?'

The no-kids issue bothers me for more reasons than never having a baby of our own, though. In all truth, I've never felt that maternal, ticking-clock urge to have kids that you read about in women's magazines. It was always more something I knew I wanted someday, and figured I ought to set about doing once I'd got married. In the same way that I always like to have a project on the go (blogging, baking, kitten... you know the way I work), having a baby would have been something else – albeit infinitely more significant – that I could happily throw myself into, like planning a wedding or moving house. (You're probably thinking that, with this attitude, I was never fit to be a parent anyway.) And so, with no kids on the horizon, what's in store for me? I'm not worried about whether or not I'll be content and fulfilled in the future – once the health stuff and the work stuff fall into place, I've got all the right ingredients in front of me (perfect husband + unbeatable family + wonderful friends = a very happy life). It's more a case of worrying that, if P and I aren't going to have kids, then what, exactly, are we going to do? What's in the Grand Life Plan now? (This, by the way, is precisely the reason nobody's ever arranged a surprise party for me – the shock of not having been involved in the planning would finish me off.) And if you think that I'm alone in this kind of introspection, think again. Because, in our 2.30am chew-over-athon, P revealed that he's been having much the same thoughts (match made in heaven or what?).

At about 1.45am, over a bag of Malteasers, it hit us that the no-kids issue isn't just going to affect us, but our friends and family too. We're in that happy stage of our lives where the people around us are endlessly announcing engagements, weddings, pregnancies and christenings, and P and I are very good at the business of being impossibly interested, enthusiastic and delighted on their behalves. Not because we're trying to be, but because we genuinely are. (Yeah, we're lovely like that. We should hire ourselves out. Rent-A-Reaction.) But what we don't want to happen, now there's no kids on the table, is for people to be anxiously anticipating how we're going to react to their news, or for them to feel they've got to water down their joy because of us. Yes, with every pregnancy that's announced there'll be a wistful window into what could have been. Yes, it's going to hurt. And yes, we'll probably shed a few tears over it behind closed doors. But we're not the kind of people who'll piss on anyone's fireworks (hear that, next-door neighbour?) with the unfortunate reality of our situation. Instead, we want to prep ourselves for the inevitable, and be ready at a moment's notice to dish out all the right hand-shakes, back-slaps, hugs and congratulations whenever they're necessary. So, in true plan-the-arse-off-it style, we set to making a mental list of all the friends and family we're expecting to announce baby news over the next few years, and in what order. Crazy it may be, but it makes us feel better for the moment. And actually, it's quite a fun game. Twenty quid says you're making the same list now.

I wish I could tell you that our worrying stopped there, at the impending few years. But you know me better than that by now, so I might as well admit to us also fretting about future dinner-party situations, when we'll have nothing to add to the birthing/childcare/latest toys/tuition fees conversations. (Sheesh, if I'm ever at a dinner party like that, shoot me.) Our point is, just as some people are defined by their children, we don't want to be defined by not having had them. We never want to hear the words 'you wouldn't understand until you'd had kids' (actually, we never want to hear them again, thank you). We don't want to be the first to leave that dinner party (probably because of the appalling conversation) and for the hosts to turn back to their table after we've walked out of the door and say, 'L and P. Lovely couple,' and then, with a faux-sympathetic, saccharine head-tilt, 'Couldn't have kids. Shame.' This, I guess, is my long-winded way of saying that we don't ever want anyone to feel sorry for us. Because there's nothing to feel sorry for. Yes, life's thrown us a few hum-dingers and no, things haven't panned out quite the way we'd expected, but that's no reason for anyone's pity. If anything, people ought to be envious. Because, while I appreciate this isn't a competition, I don't know of anybody with a happier relationship than P and I. And, kids or no kids, that's quite the lucky break. 

So much for worrying about how to communicate all that to a therapist, eh? Maybe I should save myself the weekly visits and just email over my blog posts, then ask my counsellor to respond in the comments? Hang on, that's pretty much what I'm already doing, no? I think I'd better dial it down on the self-analysis. You'll be demanding an hourly rate before long.


Anonymous said...

You've most likely already thought of this option, but when you really think that kids are for you, consider adoption. All the stress of the kids without the stretch marks. Plus you shouldn't ever get sympathy for the 'no-biological-kids' thing if they're adopted, i bet people would admire you for that. Failing that, there are other options without the cancer scares... much love xxxx

Anonymous said...

Nothing annoys me more than the 'well you don't have kids so you wouldn't understand' comment, no matter what the context - having kids is not the only experience in life! (Sorry that's my own bitterness there!) Although I can't imagine anyone ever pitying you L. Although you've been brave enough to share with us your rough patches and awful moments with The Bullshit, your inner strength really does come across. And it's quite a strength to ask for counselling too. I know that sounds like a trite nothing comment, but I can't articulate much better than that. I have a lot of admiration for you, and I doubt anyone would dare utter that line to you unless they want a face full of your latest baked masterpiece!

Stay with it, keep going, and enjoy your sadistic kitten. Xx.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Hey. You write beautifully. I admire your strength too. A link to your blog was in a South African magazine, Cosmopolitan.Thats how i got here, and im glad i did!


Station Supervisor said...

Congrats on finally getting through your Chemo, I've had relatives go through it and my mumhas said, if she ever has a relapse and they offer her Chemo, she would rrather die then go through that torment, so hopefully things will now be on the up and you and your other half can wait for the follow ups and hopefully some good news.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I actually sat here and clapped! Such fantastic news that your last chemo is over with. So so so pleased for you. I know what it feels like to walk out of those chemo rooms for the last time. You truely are amazing!

Pernilla said...

I had great plans for last chemo. I said that I was going to shout out of joy from our terass so that all the neighbours could here me.
After my third chemo I kind of collapsed. It was to much for me. I forced myself to go through the fourth one then I had to stop...
I kind of celebrated, but...
I was just chocked, traumatised and tired.

...but soon, all of of a sudden, you' ll discover and recognize happy thoughts, good n warm feelings, the smell of nice food. Find a smile on your face...Day by day you'll slowly get better. And better.
You have reached the lowest point (ever) and are on your way into the future. (Not back)

You seem to be a very intellegent person. Warm and kind. I think that you and your husband will make some really good plans and choices in life.

Maybe it will involve adoptive kids maybe not.

Now you should just rest. Eat Icecream. Don't think to much.

Love and Hurray from Stockholm!

Anonymous said...

I'm so pleased for you. Of course you're right to prepare for the next onslaught, but I am SURE that you have plumbed the depths and are now on your way back up, even if a there are a few little slides back down the odd come across as an extraordinarily strong, humorous and articulate person, supported by an exceptional relationship with your husband, family and friends which you much appreciate. Previous comments are right: enjoy your kitten, eat icecream, or whatever rocks your boat, and live in the day. I remember being told that it is a sign of strength to show your weaknesses and it was a very important moment for me, "the coper". I admire you very much.

Anonymous said...

Bloody hell L. What a woman you are. No pity, no 'considering', just what a truly wonderful, amazing, kind, genuine, fantastic lady you are.
People should not feel sorry for you; instead I think 9/10 people reading this blog would consider you to be made out of sterling stuff.
You're top of my 'wish I was more like them' list.
Have missed you. We all love you. Glad chemo's over. You can get back to being you.
Huge loves x x x x

Anonymous said...

hey, i don't know you but i had a hysterctomy when i was 26 due to ovarian cancer, i've since adopted THE most amazing little girl. whether thats an option for you i don't know, but i just wanted you to know that there is sometimes another way xx
glad your chemos over and also your blog is fab! x

MBNAD woman said...

Alright you, alright tit. You made my MBNAD woman have wet eyes and nose even though she don't know you. Grand that you're through the chemo and now you can plan your way through the rest of it. She's always making lists and that seems to help her.
You'll make the Best God-Parents Ever (take no notice of the religion stuff). Support your friends when they're going through crap, bake them cakes, take their sons to unsuitable gigs, introduce make-up to their daughters at an unfeasibly young age and generally remind them of their wayward younger selves when they show signs of becoming middle-aged.

Anonymous said...

....alternatively you could move to Barbados and open a cattery - he he.
I'm celebrating the end of your chemo - take that Bullshit xxxx

Anonymous said...

You can be Cool Auntie L to kids of your friends - the one that they turn to when they want to try beer. Hehehee

Anonymous said...

You and P really are a tip-top-tabulous couple, and no mistake

Anonymous said...

I know this is an old post but I just wanted to add my two penn'orth about adoption. Obviously it's a very private decision whether or not it's for you. My brother-in-law and his wife are currently adopting (they've been approved and are waiting for the right kids). After taking a few years to absorb the crap that was the discovery that they couldn't have their own, they are now the most hugely excited parents-to-be that I know. My other half and I can't wait to be uncle and aunty to their littl'uns.

As I said, no one else's advice or experience is really relevant here but I thought I'd share anyway.