Part 6. When Harry met Gary – Chemo Round 1.
This is Harry (main pic). She was round one chemo super star / all round comedy act who I’d gladly share gin with any time over vials of toxic cancer killer. Although they were much appreciated both for their imminent impact on the double Ls (Lumpalot and Lymphalot), and their delivery, which was fucking excellent. I’m going to put bets on that very, very few people have had as much fun as I did having chemo. Pretty sure that won’t always be the case but bloody hell it was good for a first go round.
Harry is really called Lou but forever will be Harry due to a joke so inappropriate (made by me) that I can’t even share here, despite my usual ease with raw honesty and ‘blue’ lingo.
Chemo Round 1 kicked off with Anna (remember we have characters running through this story now – it’s not ALL about me *whispers yes it is*) introducing me and mum to Harry and passing me a gift bag from her and Katie. The label simply said “sorry it’s not £100” and inside was a can of coconut water (theme), a packet or garibaldis (also theme), a hand made card with the message “get it in me” on the front (ref ‘fun chemo chat’) and, what every girl needs, a kitty carpet. I adore that while most women in the world are furiously tidying every bit of body hair, I have mates who at the thought of me losing it all, buy me a thick, curly stick-on, to fashion however I choose. Obvs I’ll pop it on my bald head at some point and share publicly.
After some eye watering giggling over the downstairs toupee, Harry went and got her shizzle to get things going. We had some gentle flushing of the picc and some saline to ensure I was fully loaded on the water front. Then she wheeled a trolley in to the little corner we’d chosen – same as fun chemo chat corner, me plumping for a purple wipe-clean toddler-friendly recliner. As Harry entered she came over all Victoria Wood with the offer of soup, soup or chemo. I went for the chemo. No brainer.
I first had to take a pill that came out of a blister so huge I thought I’d be gagging all day, but the blister was a cheeky trick blister, just for pharma laughs. The pill was regular sized and was the first of the anti-sickness/steroids. I was pre-warned by Harry, who did a perfect facial demo, that I might be taken to a very strange place by this pill and stare off in to the middle distance while my perineum felt like a hedgehog rolled around on it. Of all the places, really, and just why? Is that another pharma joke? My likely response to any question on how I’m feeling, she said, would be, “I’m alright, I’ve got a hedgehog in my pants“. And that’s the cancer ticket right there folks – put a hedgehog in your pants and when it gets really busy down there do what another of Harry’s patients did and wish for a nice rough rug to rub along like a dirty dog. If anything’s going to take your mind off some angry lumps in the tit department, it’s surely that.
Hedgehog action did not happen in my pants. Harry mused that I probably felt disappointed following all the hype. I didn’t.
We got to business with 3 vials of liquid, 1 clear and 2 the colour of tizer. Harry had researched the tizer colour, wondering why it would be so red. Pharma responded it just is. Ok then. These toxic liquids were very slowly pumped through my picc line by Harry – and this was the point at which she became Harry / the joke was made. I’d read my audience and she laughed and joined in. Phew. Don’t want to anger or offend the person that’s pumping you with poison. Mum laughed in-between really calmly doing her work emails – the assurance that action is being taken meant mum didn’t need to be completely submerged in handy andies.
I put my playlist on. I have a chemo playlist and have chosen to try some visualisation having been told by a friend that he successfully did this during chemo – playing songs that mentally took him to places where the chemo was actively working on the cancer. Mental positivity will remain key for me so I’m game for giving anything a go. First song that played on shuffle was Queen of(Emma) the (K)Night. Couldn’t have been better. I won’t shuffle next time, it has to start with that. And the visualisation began with Whitney belting… I’ve got the stuff that you want, I’ve got the thing that you need, I’ve got more than enough…..
I visualised a party at my place. Loads of people, loud music, loads of booze, some of it a bright red, lethal punch. The party is jumping – I’m aided by remembering the house parties I have had in the past, playing music you can’t not dance too, and soaking up the vibe of the incredible humans I know and their lust for life. But at this party there are a few guests I’m not so bothered about. They’re welcome, and I’m going to be a good hostess, but I don’t really like their vibe and I’m not really sure why they’re here and who invited them. Maybe I did when I just wasn’t thinking straight or by mistake. Anyway, their vibe is off and as much as lots of bodies jumping makes for a lot of fun, some of us need more space for stag leaps and slut drops (as well as me, you know who you are). So the music in my ears makes me smile as the chemo begins it’s journey of attack on all living cells. I smile as I know the unwanted guests are having a good time, soaking up that lethal punch, but one by one, or in pairs or groups, they’ll leave by the front door. As they leave I’ll smile and hug them and I won’t bitch about them to my other guests. But I’ll shut the door firmly and make sure me and my favourites fill the space they have freed up with love-filled, joyous dancing – looking each other in the eyes and moving our bodies to the beat, completely showing off for selfies and getting hot and messy while we’re at it. Jog on not-so-fun guests, woman has some hard living to do, preferably to the sounds of wildly uplifting music. And when it’s done, tranquil music will take the place of the furious sounds and we’ll gather, perhaps with cups of tea in hand, and enjoy each other in many different ways.
I dipped in and out of the playlist as Harry talked me through each vial. It happened so quickly. Kungs vs. Cooking on 3 Burners (This Girl) came on and Harry asked if that was about using a Baby Belling. I said yes. I can only assume that was their inspo, perhaps while living in a bedsit because they really really wanted to channel the 80s even though it’s 2018 and all of them are about 12. Then she shared a story of having to double cardigan once on a trip to Carlisle. This is stuff I’ll remember.
And I was done. Within minutes I felt doped up – kind of pissed and out of body. Mum and I took it very slowly and went back to her’s where I sat wrapped in a blanket watching my perfect baby niece play and cuddle my dad. I didn’t feel ill, but I didn’t feel right. Mum took me home, collected N from school for me and cooked us 3 girls dinner. She left once she’d seen us all fed and in cosy clothes, both of us confident that I was pretty ok. My girls snuggled up to me, made me tea and gave me love but I started feeling worse and worse. N chose to go to bed earlier than usual to bring forward bedtime for all of us! About half an hour later G told me we were going to bed immediately, despite it being about an hour and half earlier than she would ever usually want to sleep. I took a bowl and my emergency numbers card with me and crawled in to bed, being tucked in by my 14 year old. Sleep came and was only interrupted twice but lesson one was I don’t want to be alone with my kids on chemo night in future. It’s mean and a bit scary, but just didn’t know that.
Next day I went to work! I won’t lie, I was hardly feeling sharp, but I got N to school on time, got stuff done at the office and finished with a meeting with Norman Cook aka Fatboy Slim, where I asked and he agreed to become an Ambassador for work. That felt like a major win within 24 hours of chemo. I worked the next day too and took Thursday as annual leave to have lunch with mum and dad for mum’s birthday. Was definitely woozy and not fantastic at conversation (!), but kind of ok and my friends at the Saltroom in Brighton ensured we were made to feel very special – especially mum who fucking deserves it!
Since Monday I’ve been popping pills and injecting myself to aid my body in lots of different ways to deal with chemo. All of it’s been pretty fine and this weekend’s expected post-steroid nausea and exhaustion has been manageable for sure. I’m more very–tired-space-cadet than sicky. Not very pleasant on Saturday and I sure as hell couldn’t cope with any kind of parenting challenges (kids arguing for e.g.), but my girls, their dad and my family saw to it that I didn’t need to.
That’s me making the most of having a spare tyre – knew I needed it for something – and injecting a potion to stimulate my bone marrow in to making new, sexy blood cells.
So Round 1 is in and doing it’s work. It’s turning the internal party in to a toxic rave of sorts and so far my body is holding up pretty well. There have been a couple of very strange side effects that haven’t been enjoyable, but they’ve been fleeting, and a bit too much to mention here! I’ve been a bit zombie but not bed bound. I can only hope that my body withstands the coming onslaught with such fortitude, but I know it’s going to get harder.
Mentally I feel a bit zen, almost hippyish. I just have that head space without particularly working on it. And when I feel conversation is too intense for me, which it can sometimes get, I just switch it off. My brain is working a magic of it’s own to protect me from everything other than what I now need to do, which is to be cancer-free. This may well become the most selfish time of my whole life, but it needs to be. I need to focus on me for the benefit of my daughters and my loved ones, so I come first now. It’s a very very strange switch. And I’ll totally be told if I ever behave like a dick, but I’m going to avoid that if at all possible!
There’s so much good stemming from something painful and frightening but I’m not in the least bit afraid. My head is clear. I know that I will not have cancer in my body in months to come. I’m concerned about the effects but I’m open to the lessons I’m already having and the new perspective I know I will have. I just know this is going to be a bold chapter in a life to continue to be lived both gently and fiercely.
Finally. If you ever have to do something really fecking scary, ask a loved one to speak to my brother, who’s name is ACTUALLY Harry, and my sister-in-law Jess. If I had the tech know-how I’d share the song they sent via whatsapp on Monday night – a rendition of The Lion Sleeps Tonight like you’ve NEVER heard, nor will ever hear. Now THAT is how to end day one of chemo.
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