Part 5. Emotional overwhelm…for good reasons.
4.30am Wednesday 21 Feb. Drug induced insomnia gives you all the time to get shit done. I’ve no idea why I’ve enjoyed sleeping as much as I have all my adult life, only to find that if I’d just gone with being half human during the day I’d power through shiz at night. Or, like tonight, write a letter (on paper and everything), lie down in the dark a lot trying to switch brain off, then give up, get fennel tea and blog. Blogging was one of many choices including, cleaning out the fire place; getting rid of dead flowers (good job more were gifted last night!); and taking my kitchen blackboard down to replace it with a wall planner especially bought for cancer treatment – yay! The last option would also require finding marker pens then adding ALL of the key dates to it.
Blog it is, concentrating mainly on one day, Saturday 17th Feb, and likely a bit of a ramble cos it’s the bloody middle of the night.
The previous night, Friday 16th, following the picc line mini trauma, I had dinner out with Trev and Lisa, aka Dad and Step-mum, which was bloody lovely save for feeling like my cancer bubble somewhat dominated the conversation! I was tired but really keen to spend time with them, out of the house, and requested more of the same as and when we can.
Afterwards I’d promised to at least show my face at my lovely friend and colleague’s hen do, right next door to the restaurant. The office gang almost in it’s entirety was there seated at a big table covered with drinks and hen selfie props, and surrounded by smiling, beautiful faces. As soon as I saw them and the music hit my ears and I clocked the other drinkers and dancers, I knew it wasn’t right to be there. It was just too much – too much to receive their loving welcome, too much to be the face that brings both love and sadness to a gorgeous woman’s party, too much to see life REALLY going for it all around me, and too much to pretend I’m not consumed by cancer/appointments/my kids/diet/drugs/money/work/a much shrunken life for now. I know this won’t always be the case but it was on Friday. I had a soda water, chatted a bit, then lovely Georgie drove me home as she had an early flight to catch.
This all set me up for wondering how attending Saturday’s pop-up choir reunion would feel. Would I get the same level of overwhelm seeing familiar faces, most of whom will know what’s going on as I’ve shared this blog on Facebook? Emma (#KnightsArmy of old bffffff) arrived at my house early to have a cuppa and give me a shoulder massage – she’s frigging excellent! We had a chat and I told her if choir was too much I’d quietly leave but she must stay then come back to mine as planned afterwards. Em had bought with her a bag of sports bras on loan from a friend, who’s other friend (I’m doing anonymous now for reasons’s I/she will explain in a moment) had put a card in the bag for me. The note inside was lovely, offering practical help, and contained cold hard cash towards a wig. I won’t say how much but I will say that in her lovely card she requested “…don’t put me in your fucking blog” which made me do a massive laugh then promptly burst in to tears on Em’s shoulder. That was flood gates open moment. Kindness has come in so many forms, all of which have melted my heart. I suppose this really took me off guard as we see very very little of each other but are connected by a woman we both adore and it’s her way of knowing she’s having a positive impact on a shit situation, and showing she cares of course. Big heart!
So I got some slap on and Em and I walked to a fab newish cafe about 15 mins from my house to meet Katie and Anna aka, Robbie and Little Al – Em is Malc, I’m Gary(baldi). It’s a long story. Anna is also chemo sister Anna. I like all the link-ups in my life where possible. Brunch was bloody excellent, and very vegan/gluten free/mushroom free/lactose free – we really pulled a Brighton women’s brunch off. We balanced that out by laughing and swearing the loudest and generally enjoyed each other to the max which I fed off as much as I did the smashed avocado Katie gave me in lieu of cold hard cash. And we agreed they’d be a protective wall at choir if it all felt too much.
We wandered up towards the church and I merrily greeted someone in the street who I’ve never met before thinking I knew her. We exchanged awkward mini stares, confirmed we’d never met then did a bit more greeting action – and that’s before chemo brain. When we got to choir everyone was seated in big circles, drinking tea and catching up. Choir goes back 8 years and for many of us was a powerhouse of therapy, joy and huge soulful voices. Many friendships and a marriage came of Souled Out! Fortunately, for me, nearly all faces were familiar and numbers were relatively small. Soon as I’d signed in and greeted my friend and man at the choir helm Neil, Tabitha pulled me to one side for a hug and to show me the rucksack she’d bought and filled with all she’d researched that might come in handy for chemo. Massive tug on heartstrings again. The bag itself even had XXX (triple X/triple negative) and a neon outlines of naked women i.e. tits! I resolved to unpack it when I got home which was a good plan as it was so perfectly thought out it got the eyes going again. She’d even included books for the girls to write their feelings in and her number if they ever want to talk. The subsequent greetings from the rest of the choir were similarly gentle and I only had to tell two lovely friends what was going on with me.
When we got going with singing, directed by fab choir leader Gareth, the use of my breath and voice made my emotions swell inside me. Singing does that when you allow it to. We had a song list and if I’m honest I can’t remember most of it. I was seated between Tabitha and Emma and when we weren’t singing we were having fun and eating various treats Tabs had in her bag. Then Gareth announced we’d sing Spotlight and Emma (Malc) decided me and Tabs had to sing it. We did 8 years ago and it was a poignant song at the time, especially for me. In order to make us (hesitant me) get up to the front she came too. She’s a primary school teacher – she knows how to get people moving. So up we went and Em did the first verse brilliantly, the choir, facing us, followed with the chorus and I took the second verse. Tabs did the last verse and took the roof off. It was wonderful. So much so that as I walked back to my seat I burst in to silent tears. The lyrics and the fact that the song is about pain means you can’t help but feel it and the flood gates had already opened. Fortunately Gareth called tea break and I asked my lovely mates for a cuppa as I needed to sit alone for a moment. Later we sang a song written by our first choir leader called I’m going to Live Forever which is pure, uplifting, inspiring gospel. I sang my fucking heart out – I’m strong, and I’m brave, I am all of these things, I can mount up on wings. No tears just all of my voice – until I looked at Tabs towards the end, welling right up, who set me off again. Finally Em almost instructed Gareth that we needed to revisit Proud Mary and he indulged me as I have always sung the lead. I did feel indulged but I also felt massively loved and I adored belting it out and doing some Tina moves. That was a massive high!
A handful of us went to the pub afterwards having said lots of very appreciative goodbyes. Pub was more rock n roll with soda water and teas all round. Dominated again by cancer and treatment conversation, but also of cycling to the moon to fundraise – if Charlotte has anything to do with it, this will happen! Then Em and I wandered back to mine where I was greeted by more post. A ‘crumpet of courage’ card from all my colleagues with messages that made me lose it again and a card from my aunt and uncle containing a cheque to help with all the additional costs this diagnosis brings. And there are many. Sobbing on Em’s shoulder happened before I could phone my aunt who put up with my waffling, overwhelmed gratitude, while freezing in a garden in Kent trying to get a reception.
Em ordered us a super veggie Thai take out, we watched The Voice and I sipped half a glass of organic red and farted loads, because of the huge, ongoing consumption of green, raw food, and because it’s Emma/Malc so I knew I could. And she gave me a massive cuddle. Nothing is private here is it!!
Cancer impacts on a person and their kids, home life, immediate family, friends and work more than I had ever fully realised – and I work for a hospice. Now it’s happening to me I see that the worry and fear extends way way beyond one’s health and the ‘joooouuurney’ you have to undertake, with all its potential vile side effects. It hits everything else straight in the face too, meaning, for me, a very real fear that the balancing act I’ve been doing alone for 8 years could all fall apart. And that’s why words, actions, practical help, meals, cleaning, massage and kindness mean so much. Every type of support takes some of the physical and mental pressure away from me so I can give my all to the weeks and months to come while still trying to be a mum and go to work – at the very least.
I feel #KnightsArmy and all the people supporting me near and far are a net under me ensuring I’m caught if I fall while I take on this extra, all consuming job for a while. And that’s a feeling that will stay with me always. Thanks to everyone I’ve mentioned and everyone I haven’t, you’re all stunning humans. xxx