General status update
FEC cycle 6, day 19
State of mind: I went swimming today, so …’ecstatic’ pretty much sums it up
Anxiety level/insane euphoria (+/- 1-10,000): today I have the insane euphoria WITHOUT the Dexys – how good is that?
Fatigue/weakness: tired after the swimming, but in a good way. That makes a nice change.
Nausea demon: he LOVED his surprise party last night, especially the Pimms and home-made macarons (salted caramel and rhubarb flavours, to die for, thank you again Christina and Jecca, my Scottish macaron-making friends). Pimms was a new experience for him and I explained that it is a particularly English drink, and will probably not be available at his next gig chez the Russian oligarch. I told him he is welcome to pop round here for a glass; we will always be glad to see him so long as he is OFF DUTY.
Despair Demon: he’s fading round the edges, starting to look a little insubstantial. He’ll be hanging on in there for another couple of days in case the tooth extraction works out badly, but he knows he’s on the way out now.
Chemo Muse: we had an EXCELLENT time at the pool today, although the other swimmers must have wondered who I was talking to. Probably just as well they couldn’t see her jumping up and down by the side of the pool with that head full of snakes writhing about, though. I wonder if she’s ever considered having a perm? Can you perm a cranially-attached viper? She has them highlighted, but I think that might just be paint.
Chemo Brian: we had an EXCELLENT nap on the sofa together after I came back tired out after the swimming.
I’m not a great one for war movies, but there’s one I saw as a child that always comes to mind when thinking about endurance and delayed gratification: it’s called ‘Ice Cold In Alex.’ Set in north Africa during the Western Desert Campaign of World War II, it stars John Mills as Captain Anson, a transport pool officer leading the crew of an Austin K2 ambulance as they drive across the desert back to British lines, whilst trying to avoid the troops of Rommel’s Afrika Korps. Anson motivates himself by thinking of the ice cold lager he will order when they finally reach the safety of Alexandria - the 'Alex' of the title. When they finally get there, that glass of Carlsberg is the best thing he has ever drunk in his life.
‘Going for a Swim at the Charing Cross Sports Club’ isn’t quite as snappy as ‘Ice Cold In Alex,’ but the mental process has been pretty much the same for me as for the tired soldier negotiating all sorts of obstacles and dangers in the heat of the desert (the film was based on a true story): you get through what you have to get through by keeping your head down and motoring on, but one of the things that helps you keep going is that image in your head of what it’s going to be like when the nightmare ends and you can just STOP, and then do whatever will make you feel better.
My ‘ice cold beer in Alex’ equivalent was thinking of the moment when I could get back in the swimming pool, push off and glide freely through the cool silky water, feel my arms and legs moving properly again and re-inhabit my physical self in a way to do with health and pleasure, not ill-health and pain.
That moment came this morning and after swimming a few lengths I had to stop for a minute, not because I was too weak to continue, but because I was crying and my swimming goggles were misting up from the inside.
I’ve cried a hell of a lot during the last eight months - which have featured an abundance of very bad news, pain, unpleasant and invasive medical procedures, fear and despair – but today I was crying tears of happiness, knowing that the worst of the cancer treatment is now over, and that I am free to swim and get strong again.
Cancer no longer owns me, and I’m starting to reclaim my life, and my self.
Once my goggles were demisted I got my head down again and went on to swim 22 lengths in all, which is 550 metres - not bad for the first time back in the water. I didn’t overdo it; I just kept swimming, slowly, until I started to feel a bit weak. It’s left me very tired, but it’s a healthy tiredness, the tiredness of physical effort. It’ll be a while before I’m back to swimming 2 miles at a time again, but it’s a good start.
And now I’m going to sign off for the time being: tired but happy, getting stronger both mentally and physically every day, and looking forward to the future again.
I’d like to thank all the staff at the Charing Cross Hospital for their dedication and patience in treating a very reluctant and sometimes less than compliant patient, and in particular the wonderful Rebecca Johl – aka Matron Becky/World Mum/Mother Goddess/PICC line Wrangler Supreme – Matron of the Chemo Day Ward on 6 East, who transformed my chemo experience for the better once she became involved in my care. Becky, I am eternally grateful. You will get your reward in heaven, but in the mean time I will fulfil my promise to bake cakes for the chemo ward in due course.
My partner, R, has suffered along with me during chemo in a very real sense, as will be evident to anyone reading the blog. He, too, is physically and emotionally exhausted, and has done so much to look after me – whilst also juggling a full time job and other family responsibilities - with very little support coming his way, as often happens to carers. Now it’s my turn to look after him, and I will. Thank you, R. You are the best of men.
My family – particularly MamaFo and BigSisFo – have been mercilessly mocked on the blog throughout but are still talking to me, and were a huge support in every way, as were my stepfather and stepsisters (and my other sister whom I am not allowed to mention on the blog). Thank you all.
Many friends have been incredibly generous in finding ways to cheer me up with visits, outings, and lovely presents, which I’m sure I didn’t deserve, but enjoyed hugely nevertheless: thank you Clare Paterson, Gill Carrick, Kirstie Hepburn, Andrea Gillies, Emma Beddington, Fiona Laird, Henri Hunter, Lynette Szczepanik, @Madame Nottingham, Christina and Jecca Maxwell, and Sasha Wilkins (aka Liberty London Girl fashion, food and dog blogger supreme). I’ve a horrible feeling I’ve missed someone out, and if so you are fully entitled to come round and berate me.
My Ayvalik friends have been cheering me on with emails and lots of photos to remind me of what I'll be seeing again soon in the Aegean - thank you Dor, Tara and Bridget, and also Jed in the UAE. I will see you all very soon at the Camel Barn.
My American friends Jen Fishler, Glenn Pence and Janet Paraschos have all been regular, very cheering commenters on the blog, something which was much appreciated.
Finally, a very big thank you to all of you have been reading the blog – old friends and new, real life and virtual, Twitter and Facebook, fellow cancer and chemo patients, medics and bioethicists - for keeping me company on what has been a rather gruelling ride, for sponsoring my chemo and, most of all, for sending me so many messages of support all the way through, via so many different media – every one of which helped me to keep going with the chemo when I wanted to give up which, if I’m honest, was pretty much all of the time. You helped me get there, and I am extremely grateful for that.
Thank you, all of you - I'm a very lucky woman xx
And I really can't finish this post without a final blast from Bruce...so here you go: