Stories of Cancer
Giving Voice to Real Experiences

The last push

The final four treatments are really hard. Each treatment depletes me further, and each time it feels like I have less ‘normal’ time in between, less time to recover.

I have an unsatisfying conversation with a nurse at the fifth treatment, when I ask if the chemo has a cumulative effect. Assuming the nurse would just say ‘of course’ I was really surprised when the answer is ‘some women do experience it like that’. That phrase again. I am so sick of hearing people say sentences that begin with ‘some women’ – it feels to me as if they are saying that it’s all in your head, that you’re not normal somehow. In fact the nurse probably doesn’t know what to say. She doesn’t know how the chemo causes muscle pain, or the oedema under the skin, or the fatigue, or whether or not it has a cumulative effect. Yet clearly my white and red blood count is in a much worse condition than when I started the chemotherapy. It shows up in the blood tests and on the day I should have been having my seventh treatment I get sent home, asked to return in a week, as I’m not strong enough to take the treatment. Of course there’s a cumulative effect.

As well as getting more and more depleted, just before the fifth treatment we have more blows to bear. Chris, an old friend of Terry’s, dies from kidney cancer. We are both desperately sad to lose the friend we loved dearly. Somehow we manage to drive up to the north-east for the funeral, which happens at the right time between treatments. Shortly after, another old friend commits suicide. We don’t manage to get to the funeral this time. The day of that funeral I wake up to the news that Kylie Minogue has breast cancer. I feel surrounded by cancer, death and suffering.

Somehow I slog on and we just about cope. I don’t want to be doing it any more and at each treatment I tell myself I don’t have to do any more. The oncologist says ‘you’ve come so far you might as well stay the course’ and I do – though god knows how.

And then suddenly, eventually, it’s over. If I had the energy I’d throw a party. Friends say ‘you must be feeling great that it’s over’ – and I do, yet at the same time I’m so knackered and Terry is so poorly, that life still feels too crap for celebration. Also in three weeks time radiotherapy begins. It’s not over yet. However, thankfully it’s summer. The sun is shining and I spend my days lying under the silver birch tree in the garden, reading, resting, recovering and preparing for the next stage in this strange journey across a territory that has no map.