Posted on October 29, 2014
Yesterday was a very, very big momentous day for me, and one that I was told I would never see – my last day of chemotherapy.
To explain why it was such a big thing, I must tell you a story of how things were when I started on the chemotherapy path. Upon diagnosis of stage 4 cancer, which came 6 days after my initial diagnosis of bowel cancer (ie, stage 4 meant that I had learned that the cancer had spread to my liver), I met my oncologist for the first time. He explained that my scans had been emailed to a liver surgeon to see if I could undergo something called a liver re-section, which as it turned out is the dream of any person with metastatic bowel cancer that has spread only to the liver, as it means surgical removal of the primary and metastatic cancers, and there is a small chance that they don’t return. At the very least, it offers more than 50% of patients a lifespan of 5 years or more, which is significantly higher than the usual stage 4 survival rate which sits around 5%. He said however that the liver spread was “very significant” and in his opinion there was just too much liver involvement for a resection to be possible. He said that I needed to start chemotherapy “immediately”, and alluded to the strong possibility that the chemotherapy would have no effect on the cancer at all, as it was so advanced that sometimes it just got “too big” for the chemotherapy. However, he did feel that most had some response. Then he said the words that really sucked the breath out of me: “Once you start chemotherapy, I need you to understand that you will never stop. We might give you a break for a few weeks here and there, but you will be on chemotherapy for the rest of your life”.
I can’t tell you what this did to me. All my life, I had been terrified of contracting cancer, not because I might die, but because i might have to have chemotherapy. I have a borderline phobia of vomiting, and I imagined a life lived over the toilet bowl, and not much else….and hey, doesn’t everyone lose their hair, their eyebrows, and all their dignity? What sort of a “life” is that, really? My friend Kerry took me to chemo for the first time and sat at my side for more than 8 hours, while I had my chemo “education”, and my infusion. It was not an auspicious start. I had a panic attack walking through the door that boldly said “chemotherapy”, and cried so much that in the end they had to sedate me so that we could get the day underway. All this came to some good, when I realised that everyone else seemed to be basically ok, they weren’t sitting in their chairs crying, in fact, most were quite upbeat. Maybe it couldn’t be as bad as I had built up, and it was the only defence I had.
This was the first day. No one would have dared taken a photo of my shattered face and tear stained eyes, so I marked it like this:
A lot has happened since this photo. And because you know a lot of the bad stuff from other posts, I am going to list the huge events that led me to yesterday.
Considered for liver surgery on the grounds that chemotherapy controlled the cancer.
Chemo shrunk tumours 50% in first three cycles – a huge response
Accepted for liver surgery (which had to be postponed due to bowel obstruction)
Had bowel surgery which cleared all the cancer from my bowel, and lymph nodes were clear
Accepted for liver surgery for a second time.
Had procedure in hospital within a week of being accepted to prepare my liver for surgery, which will be in the second week of December, it’s HAPPENING.
My last conversation with my oncologist went like this:
“So, this is the last dose of chemo you will be having”. Me: speechless. I knew that chemo wasn’t going to be for life anymore, but I expected at least 6 “mop up” cycles after surgery, where the aim is to clean up any cancer cells that might be lingering around. But my onc says that there is no proof that this works, and that chemo is becoming somewhat less effective for me now, so we are best saving it’s usefulness for another time where it might be needed down the track (of course, I have no intentions of THAT). And like he said, I need a break. The last nearly 11 months have been seriously intense, heartbreaking, draining…there are just not the words for it to be honest. So, the plan now is to operate the rest of the cancer out of me, and……wait. Watch and wait. Hear the word remission, and watch and wait for fucking EVER if you don’t mind.
So, this was me, yesterday:
That is my happy face. That is my they just hung the LAST BAG of this shit, and this part of the journey is over, face.
Let me tell you a little bit about what I am fighting for here. I am fighting for this:
This. These are my people – mine. I nurtured a love with a beautiful man, and we made a life together, and we made this family. And to say that they are everything I ever dreamed of would be an understatement. I will fight to the ends of the earth for this. They can stick every needle they’ve got into me, cut me with their scalpals, slay me with their words, pour their poison into my veins. I will do anything I need to do, I won’t complain (often). I’ll fight forever for this.
This. I fight for every day that I can see this man be a father. He is a magnificent one, and the way he looks over his girls with so much love and pride, as he does in this photo, and many others, well, it’s something special to see. I made him a father at 49, but there was never any reason to wonder if he would be a good one, coming to fatherhood so late. He threw himself into it right from the start and he never looked back. We often say to each other “you made me a father” and “you made me a mother”. And we say it with great affection, because we know of all the gifts that we have given each other, this is the biggest.
This. I’ll fight to grow into a too much wine drinking geriatric with this lady, this soul friend at my side. She was there the day I first met cancer, and witnessed the rocking and screaming and horror and somehow got my whole family through this wretched night, while in the midst of her own grief for her friend. We’ve been together through the best of times, and the worst of times, and there is so much more fun to be had.
This. I’ll fight for many more than the 14 (nearly 15 – you get less for murder babe) that this man has stood, unshakingly, by my side. Through 2 hip replacements, months in rehab due to medical error, one gall bladder, 4 babies, and cancer, fucking cancer. He always jokes that he has never been in hospital as much in his whole life as since he met me. Hard to argue. We’re not perfect. Two clashes with cancer in three years (Gaz survived prostate cancer in 2011, but it took a year from our lives) has taken it’s toll. We need to get to know each other again, and we need some peace to do it. We don’t have that yet, but it’s coming. If anyone tells you that that they can sail through two cancer battles, where there are four small children involved, and not argue about the housework and the cooking, and argue the point relentlessly about who is more fucking tired, the person on chemo, or the person that hardly slept last night because they were too worried about their wife dying, and then had to go and work a 12 hour day, they’re a liar. It’s fucking TERRIBLE. Diabolical. Some would say that no relationship could survive it. But ours will. We’ve already done the hard yards, but we love each other too much to give up. We fight for US.
This crazy lady – ME. I fight for her. As I have discovered that there are a lot of things I like about her lately. And I’d like to get to know her a lot better
And lastly, but not leastly (lol), I fight for all of you. All of my friends who carry me through every day, and have brought me untold joy over the years. I was a very lonely child and teenager, and I didn’t have many friends. All of you have shown me how richly you can be rewarded if you open your heart and let people close. I have so much faith in human nature now, I know there is so much good in the world. And I’ll fight to see it.
Keep fighting with me, won’t you? I know you’ve all got my back, and that’s a very good feeling.