Some days I look in the mirror and I don’t recognise the person looking back. To the outside world I look fine – like an almost healthier version of me. But cancer and chemo have stripped me bare and some days I am barely a shadow of who I used to be.
You see, cancer and chemo are thieves. They sneak in when you’re not looking and take whatever they can get their hands on. At first, you don’t realise that anything in particular is missing. But slowly you start to realise that aspects of what makes you you have gone and there are other things there that weren’t before.
Discomfort has become my constant companion. At times, my appendix hurts and I can feel exactly where it is which is strange. Before this I probably couldn’t have pointed it out on a diagram but now I can point to exactly where it is. When I walk sometimes my insides feel like they are being over stretched or pulled in different directions.
Then the sense of loss of all the things I took for granted – that I would grow old and that Naomi and I would travel around Australia in a van or own a camping ground or that I’d write the world’s greatest novel – some days is huge! Where I looked forward to them with such certainty, now I don’t know if any of that will happen.
There’s awkwardness now too. Some people don’t know how to talk to someone with cancer and some don’t want to say the wrong thing. Some don’t want to talk about it at all and others want to assume everything will be OK as long as I’m positive. As a realist, I find that last one hard.
There is also our Europe trip that we’ve had to cancel. We had planned a 4 week trip and booked the flights. But even without the chemo and operation, I’d be in no state to wander Paris or explore the Tuscan countryside.
Then there’s the things that you never think twice about. The innate things you assume will never change. Where bread was once my favourite food group now the thought of it bores me. Chocolate is no longer as sweet and the salty goodness of nacho cheese Doritos no longer brings me joy.
Chemo turns me into a bear for the first few days but when I am awake, it takes away my ability to focus. Reading, watching TV and even basic conversation drain so much energy it’s not worth trying, which for a chatterbox is devastating. The brain fog from chemo is what I struggle with the most. I can’t retain info or entertain coherent thoughts. More than once I’ve fallen asleep mid-sentence.
I often can’t sing (another favourite passtime) because if I tense my muscles my diaphragm hurts. I can’t run around with our 4 year old because the movement causes pain and discomfort. I often have to change plans because I am suddenly too tired or a new appointment has come up and I can’t turn it down.
So not only am I learning to deal with cancer, I am learning to deal with who I am with cancer. It’s cliche but acceptance is the key I think. Thankfully I’ve been able to find a level of acceptance – it is what it is. If I feel myself getting overwhelmed, I listen to sad songs and have a good cry. The rest of the time I try to get on with life. I might have a disease that could kill me but I’m not dead yet!