My third chemo cycle starts tomorrow and I’m scared.

You’d think the fear would have hit me late last night, or early this morning. Instead it stabbed me the back of the head while I was having lunch with a friend and I suddenly managed to articulate how I was feeling. It wasn’t just fear in its raw form, it was this thought:

‘What if this doesn’t work?’

I've just realized that those blue things in the background are drywall screws, so that spider must be tiny. Please scale up spider to your own pre-set 'oh shit' limit.

In terms of adrenal dump it was sort of like finding a black widow in your underpants.

 

It’s not like it’s the first time I’ve wondered that, but it was the first time the I felt the deep down ‘oh shit I think I just stepped on a sleeping bear’ fear that made my stomach clench and my breathing go shallow. It’s not like I’m out of options if this round of chemo doesn’t work, but it does mean my options get very narrow very fast and the part of my brain that still thinks I live in a world where stepping on bears is a day to day problem freaked out a little.

Having an internal freak out in a public place is a weird thing.

Then I actually said out loud to my friend that I was frightened, and we talked about that, and then we drank coffee and ate some spectacular food and I found myself laughing and cracking jokes. I felt, and still feel right now, really good. It’s not like the fear went away, I can still feel it sitting there, but I had a great morning despite the fear and perhaps even a little bit because of it. It was a stark reminder that no matter what is happening, I can still have good days. If I’m scared I’m scared, if I’m sick I’m sick, but sometimes there’s a damn good day to be had anyway.

Now I just have to remember that next time. And avoid standing on bears. That seems like a solid life goal.

 

 

Yesterday, while I was feeling a little bit sorry for myself, I went online for some retail therapy and I ended up buying myself a giant blue plush testicle from I Heart Guts. This happy dude right here:

TREMENDOUS-TESTICLE_lrg_1024x1024

It made me happy to know it was on its way to my house. Buying something like that, or in fact buying anything isn’t supposed to make you feel better. If you read any books about cancer a huge number of authors advocate letting go of the material and focusing on the spiritual. Good for them, but they don’t have a giant blue stuffed nut and I do, and with the ineffable air of authority that gives me, I say do whatever makes you happy. If that means mainlining stand up comedy shows or soap operas then go for it. If that means getting into (or back into) religion and that makes you happy, then do it. Screw everyone else, most of the advice they give will be advice that works for them, not necessarily for you. You should never have to feel embarrassed for bringing a smile to your own face no matter how you go about doing it. Retail therapy won’t be right for, or available to, everyone but just about everyone I’ve spoken to with serious health issues has that one thing they’re sort of embarrassed to talk about, but that they like to do to keep themselves on an even keel.

I’ve heard of everything from regular one am snacking to fancy dress to a person that taped a picture of someone they hated to the inside of their barf bucket so they had something to aim for when they were sick.

Personally I think that last one is a stroke of genius.

There is another side to this which is that taking back a little control and doing nice things for other people can make you feel pretty good too. That’s not what this is about. This is about taking care of your own mind while your body gets busy stomping on cancer’s face.

Cancer sucks. That’s not in dispute anywhere. It just sucks, and the treatment sucks too (except for the part where hopefully it keeps you alive, that part is pretty good). So if there’s something silly or stupid that you can do to make yourself laugh or smile or feel good about yourself while you’re low then I say go for it. I’ll be over here playing with my giant blue ball.

That…that  sounded better in my head.

I was talking to friend of late who was telling me that they had to go in for some surgery. The surgery wasn’t life or death, but it was enough of a big deal that they were scared.

Their fear was perfectly reasonable; in their situation I would have been scared too.

As soon as they’d told me that they were scared, the friend immediately said it was nothing compared to what I was going through. Another friend confessed they were having some bad mental health days before telling me they felt they shouldn’t be complaining to me about anything. A third person had simply had a very bad week at work, but hadn’t wanted to tell me about it because of the whole cancer thing.

To which I say this: please tell me about your bad day.

I understand the impulse to keep quiet, I really do. In fact I’ve been the person holding back on telling someone about what I was going through because I knew what they were going through was worse. It wasn’t until I was on the other side of it that I realized that there’s no comparing things that suck, not really1OK, sure, don’t go overboard complaining about your hangnail to someone who is recovering from a heart attack –  common sense people. You can have a bad day no matter what is happening to me…and mostly, I still want to hear about it.

Cancer and other life threatening illnesses, even the ones that come with a good prognosis, are incredibly isolating. No one wants to bother you with their crap and because of that you end up not really knowing what’s going on beyond what you read on Facebook; so unless you have jaw droppingly2it’s a word honest friends, you end up seeing a very sanitized version of the world around you…by which I mean Facebook is lies, damn lies and cat pictures.

But mostly lies.

Actually I went and checked and it’s mostly cats now, but lies are second.

By telling a sick person about your life, both the good and the bad bits, you let us get out of our own heads for a little while, and even if all we can offer you in a friendly ear you’ll let us feel like we can be at least a little useful. So by all means tell us how much your boss sucks, or why you’re hurt. Or tell us how great things are and how well you’re doing. It doesn’t matter, because no matter where we are at in our treatment, we aren’t dead yet, and hearing how you’re doing lets us feel that3I’m going to ruin that profound last paragraph by adding that this is just how I and a few other very sick people I’ve spoken to feel. There will be times where you need to do some listening too, and not everyone is going to feel the same way I do. Also I just learned how to do footnotes and couldn’t resist adding a few.

This wasn’t such a funny post, but I think this kind of thing is important. I could have posted a really disgusting photo of the blisters on my toes that seem to have come out of nowhere4I call them ‘holy shit’ blisters because that’s what I said when I first saw them. but I didn’t, so I think we can say we’re even.

 

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. OK, sure, don’t go overboard complaining about your hangnail to someone who is recovering from a heart attack –  common sense people
2. it’s a word
3. I’m going to ruin that profound last paragraph by adding that this is just how I and a few other very sick people I’ve spoken to feel. There will be times where you need to do some listening too, and not everyone is going to feel the same way I do. Also I just learned how to do footnotes and couldn’t resist adding a few.
4. I call them ‘holy shit’ blisters because that’s what I said when I first saw them.

I just scared a courier away from my house by burping.

In my defense the burp caught us both off guard, and I didn’t know he was there until it was much, much too late.

If my throat hadn’t been occupied I like to think I would have screamed DUCK AND COVER before unleashing hell, but as it was the burp ripped its way out of me like I was Ellen Ripley having a bad dream.

There was a moment of silence afterwards. The spiders dropped off the ceiling.

The cats hid under the bed.

The courier stared at me. I stared back. He very slowly put down my parcel on the ground by the front door.

“Uh…” I began. I was going to apologize as best I could but he didn’t give me the chance. With an expression on his face somewhere between disgust and abject terror this professional deliverer of things turned and ran away. It wasn’t a professional ‘I have places to be jog’, it was a ‘Oh Lord what is going to come out of that guy next?’ run.

I’m not proud…but I am a little amused especially as now we’re going to have to move house so I never have to see that poor, scared little guy again.

I wish this was a cancer euphemism of some kind, but it isn’t. My smallest cat Connie just sauntered up to my largest cat, a giant placid tabby named Harry and…uh…’spritzed’ him. Harry, for his part, did not see the comedy inherent in the moment and promptly chased Connie out of the house. I don’t really blame him, getting peed on doesn’t seem like a fun way to get woken up from a nap.

I want it noted that I tried really hard not to laugh, and I did wipe Harry down once I managed to get him to hold still. Most of the time I’m OK with the cats cleaning themselves with their tongues but by giving Harry a bath with a damp towel I felt like I was doing him a solid. He’s now watching the cat flap to make sure the Phantom Widdler doesn’t come back in. I don’t have the heart to tell him that the Phantom Widdler already came back in and is now sitting in the spare room.

I can only assume she’s plotting something.

Eeeeevil.

Just look at this little monster.

I can’t sleep again, although this time it’s because I’m hopped up on post treatment steroids rather than having a bad case of night yips.

And my nose keeps bleeding which is a pain.

It occurred to me that now would be amazing time for someone to try and rob our house. I’ve always liked to think that I’d be a horrible surprise for a burglar (autocorrect thought I meant to say I’d be a horrible surprise for a burger and… well, it’s not wrong. Goddammit.) but now the horrible surprise would be so much worse.

Imagine you are breaking into a house and a massive, puffy, sweaty, almost naked man lurches out of the darkness at you bleeding from both nostrils and shedding enough hair to make himself a guard dog. Said man garbles something unintelligible at you, then grabs you and won’t let go.

Maybe he cries. At this point I wouldn’t rule anything out.

It’d be enough to put you off burglary for life. It’d definitely put you off your breakfast.

I wrote this a few nights ago in the depths of what a friend described as ‘night yips’. I believe it’s a pretty accurate representation of a low moment in my cancer treatment…one I tried to brute force my way through with humor:

So it’s almost 3 am and I can’t sleep because I’m thinking about dying. I’m not sad, or scared or depressed.

I’m mostly embarrassed.

The whole cancer thing does come with a side order of thinking about dying, because no matter what your prognosis, as far as I know no metastatic cancer is 100% curable. So sooner or later you end up considering your own end. And because that sucks, if you’re anything like me you end up thinking about your life instead and come to the immediate conclusion that you are an incredible dickhead.

No autocorrect, I do not mean dixhead.

I don’t know about you but my brain seems to want to take a scenic tour through all the times I’ve been selfish, or stupid, or thoughtless or cowardly. I haven’t uncovered a lot of malice but selfishness and thoughtlessness take very little dressing up do a really good impression of malice so I’m covered there too.

It’s absolutely cringeworthy. I am actually red in the face right now remembering some of it. It’s not like this is all old stuff either, some of it’s fresh enough to sprinkle some hot fresh guilt in over the shame and embarrassment.

Did I mention the embarrassment? It’s like being wrapped in an itchy blanket made out of your own failings. It is a substandard warming device.

So, in a mental effort towards not feeling like a shitheel tomorrow, I try to remember the times I’ve been brave (rare but not non existent. And I mean actually brave in terms of choosing to be brave instead of cancer brave where you get no choice), or I’ve been kind or smart or funny or anything else I actually aspire to be. Those times are there but my brain sort of slides around them. Sometimes I can hold one for a few moments and I think ‘dang, that right there was when I actually was the person I pretend I am’ as opposed to the bad stuff where I’m being the person I’m scared I *actually* am.

And as three am proper rolls around, it occurs to me that while I wish the good stuff I’ve done cancelled out the bad it doesn’t work like that. Good me doesn’t get to dispose of bad me, they’re just two fat blokes stuck in a doorway clawing at each other while the rest of my psyche looks on in horrified silence.

In this metaphor the rest of my mind is eating something delicious, becuase if I have to freak out at three am then at least some part of me gets to have some icecream.

So what’s the point of all this? I don’t think there is one, I’m just rambling around in my shame blanket (once again; poor heating device, itchy, would not buy again). Although, crap when I look back this is really really long…

Shit there should be a point. Quick make one up….

Uh…

Actually here’s one: at some point you’re going to end up at some ungodly hour of the morning, alone because you don’t want to wake anyone else up, because God knows the only person you can wake up really needs a good night’s sleep no matter what they tell you about waking them up if this three am thing happens, and you’re going to think about your life and you are going to fucking wish there were more times you can remember where you were actually the person you pretend to yourself that you are.

That’s the point. Because I promise you three am is coming.

And as I wonder about the wisdom of posting this online, the cat has come to remind me that it’s now closer to four am, and really that’s practically breakfast time.