We are GO for chemo this Thursday! Hurray! After a month of poking and prodding since the diagnosis of caaancer, I am quite excited about getting going on the next stage of my adventure. Objectively, this is weird: who the hell gets excited about chemotherapy? Shouldn’t I be scared or worried about it? But you know what? I’ve got a few tumours that need dealing with, and the best way of dealing with them is to blast them away with some very hefty, very expensive drugs.
I’m not a big one for reliance on pharmaceuticals. I don’t even like painkillers. But sometimes things get so serious that they simply are required. I’m a real believer in complementary therapy, but that means complementary to conventional medical treatment, not necessarily alternative to. (I’ve had two bouts of diagnosed depression in my life so far, and both times I used anti-depressants successfully alongside counselling/cognitive behavourial therapy to get my brain chemistry back on track.)
Never having had cancer before, there is the unknown, of course, in that I don’t know exactly how I’m going to feel on the wonderdrugs. I’ve been told to expect fatigue, ranging from mild to extreme, nausea (ditto), taste changes in my mouth that might throw my appetite a curve ball, bleeding gums and an absent menstrual cycle. Sound familiar? Yup, sounds pretty much like both of my pregnancies, which are recent enough to be vivid memories. It wasn’t much fun but hey, I got through it. No baby at the end of the next few months this time, of course, but the outcome expected by my medical team will still be a source of celebration.
I think the other reason I’m not fearful of the treatment is that I am incredibly grateful that it’s happening before surgery. When I was diagnosed, a couple of people seemed to assume that I would just want the cancer cut out immediately ie to simply get rid of the diseased breast. But I was so relieved when my team said they’d prefer to do chemo first, firstly because I thought that might feel terribly depressing, like mopping up when you’ve already had a body part removed (I am quite fond of my boobs and cleavage, actually), and secondly because it felt like I had time. Time to adjust. Time to get started on all my complementary therapy. Time for the chemo to melt the tumours away so the surgery doesn’t need to be so dramatic. And most importantly, time to learn.
Because one of the things I firmly believe is that all disease, illness and suffering happens because there is something for us to learn from it. That lesson might not be immediately clear at a time of distress, shock, pain or grief, but it will be there. I’m reading a brilliant book, The Creation of Health (subtitle ‘The emotional, psychological and spiritual responses that promote health and healing’), which includes the following passage on suffering:
‘Perhaps one of the greatest false goals of life is our belief that we can somehow manoeuvre our lives in such a way as to avoid difficulties. That is impossible, and living as thought it were possible is a belief that certainly leads to the frustration of desiring the impossible, It seems that a more realistic goal is to learn to accept the cycle of Life on its terms, striving to learn from the wisdom built into the natural momentum of conclusions and new beginnings. Rather than expecting life to be something it is not (an unchanging dynamic) it would seem that our tendency to suffer would be greatly diminished if we were able to recognise the spiritual wisdom inherent in the natural, continuingly changing processes of our lives’.
I’m starting to get an idea of the big life lessons this cancer is trying to teach me. And I know this understanding is helping me handle this whole experience, and is part of the reason that I have no fear about starting chemotherapy this week.
Plus there’s the fact that I get to spend a whole day sitting down, reading books and magazines, listening to music and lovely relaxing hypnotherapy things on my iPod and chatting to my mummy, who’s coming with me. Since I normally have two delicious, demanding small people to look after, as well as a husband, house and business, that sound like complete luxury to me! It’s virtually a day at Pennyhill Park spa without all the Russian oligarchs clogging up the sauna.
I’ll let you know how I get on – I may well be eating my words come Thursday night, but in the meantime, bring on the drugs!