It’s all too real, but that doesn’t mean it all has to be awful

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Tomorrow I go for my second chemo, FEC2. I’m relieved my blood has recovered sufficiently to press ahead as planned.  Doubtless there’ll be side-effects but I’m well prepared; they’ll pass right by if I’m patient and give it a little time. If they don’t I can call the chemo-nurses, get some extra meds to control them.

In a funny kind of way I’m looking forward to tomorrow. It’s a mini milestone. I’ll be one-third through all my chemos and two-thirds through the FEC part.  Now that’s progress.  But there’s something else that’s making me look forward to tomorrow and that’s the special kind of camaraderie I found in chemo camp.  It makes me want to go again, to stand shoulder to shoulder with my fellow campers, to help fight for all our futures.

Last time I was a newbie. I didn’t know what to expect or how I’d be received. I was nervous about the drugs, how my body might react and whether anything would go wrong. I wondered if my age might make me an outlier; fellow campers have a couple of decades on me.  I didn’t know if my courage would hold up throughout the whole four hours or if I’d lose my resolve part way through.  If I did what would happen?  Would I turn into a gibbering wreck or run away?

Fortunately my concerns were unfounded.  I  was welcomed like a long-lost daughter and made to feel part of a very close family. I was offered boiled sweets, to help mask the bad taste some chemo drugs leave behind. I was told jokes about ‘sleeping beauty and the chemo chair’ and I heard stories from fellow campers.  About their wives, husbands, children and grandchildren, what jobs they did before retirement and how they spend their time these days when they, like me, aren’t doing (legal) drugs.

Tomorrow, if there’s a newbie I’ll help welcome them. I’ll ask Brian (who has leukaemia) if his transfusions helped last time. I’ll check how his wife is doing; whether the pacemaker surgery she was having while he was stuck in camp went well.  I’ll take along some boiled sweets to offer my fellow campers and I’ll tell them jokes about frightening our postman. In between times I guess I’ll be having those big syringes again. 5FU, the red devil and cyclophosphamide. Plus  some dexamethasone and aprepitant.  And after a few hours camping will be over.  I’ll be on my way back home for three weeks and I’ll be worshiping every minute. Even the dodgy ones.

You see, the cancer, the chemo and everything that goes along with it is all too real. But I refuse to accept that it all has to be awful.

What shall I do today?

Well I won’t be getting bored because its needle time again. I need to get my blood checked to find out whether I have enough neutrophils to allow FEC2 to go ahead tomorrow. My red blood cells, platelets and liver function also get checked.

It’s fortunate that I don’t have blood or needle phobias because I’d be in a permanent state of terror if I did. That said, I dread having blood taken because my veins go into hiding and when they eventually come out, they’re flimsy, thin and easily punctured. Maroon, deep purple and mauve hues don’t flatter my ghost white skin tone. And besides that, intracellular bleeding and hematoma is bloody painful. Fingers crossed for a big juicy vein this morning and a phlebotomist with flair.

As well as donating more blood samples to the vein-sucking vampires, I have to drink a lot of fluids today in preparation for tomorrow. I’d like to aid my fluid intake by having a Keith Floyd food fiesta, rustling up some mouth-watering Mediterranean munchies while working my way through a bottle of Barbaresco Minuto tu Felice. It’s not going to happen though. Alcohol is off-limits this evening and most evenings for the foreseeable future. I’ve given up almost all my vices over the past 6 months so am in danger of becoming a paragon of virtue. I say almost because I haven’t given up swearing and can’t see that happening anytime soon.

I should also confess that my halo slipped just a little this weekend. The extended Willis clan went for a delicious Indian meal with very dear friends in advance of my upcoming week of unpleasantries. We had a wonderful time and it gave us all a welcome escape from everything else we have to contend with. Mr & Mrs M, you are extraordinarily lovely people who are immensely kind to us, we appreciate your help and support very, very much. And I can’t fail to mention that the opportunity to have Indian food was especially welcomed by hungry student J, who is the only living person composed of 73% chicken tikka, 7% pilau rice and 20% water.