I’m still here.
If you’re picturing me, hunched, pale and shaking, gripping the cold bathroom porcelain with thin, white clammy fingers. Then I’m sorry to have to disappoint you, but nothing could be further from the truth. If I’ve been a bit quiet for the past few days, it’s not because I’m loitering outside Death’s door, but rather because I’ve been waiting for something even remotely newsworthy to happen. Truth is, it’s all been a bit of an anticlimax so far.
Today is day seven of chemo cycle one. After my epic seven hour drug binge at the hospital last week, we have begun to settle into a steady routine. The initially bewildering schedule of pre and post meal medications, temperature and weight measurements and the attendant paperwork have started to crystallize into a steady and predictable rhythm. I did a quick meds tally yesterday, and my daily tablet/capsule intake is an impressive 21 at the moment, although this will taper off a little as I get further into the cycle.
The Xeloda is the principle chemo drug. The one doing all the heavy lifting. The one with the big yellow CYTOTOXIC sticker on the box. (Cyto – of or relating to cells. Toxic – acting as or having the effect of a poison). All of the other little goodies are helping to manage the side-effects and other unwanted collateral damage. Half of the tabs in my daily quota are Anti-Emetics, designed to control nausea and make food more palatable. This was the bit of chemo I was least looking forward to (we’ve all seen “The Bucket List”) the prospect of spending the next four to six months making daily long-distance calls to God on the great white telephone hasn’t been exactly filling me with the will to live.
Well, in this respect at least, I seem to have dodged the bulimic bullet. I did have one Technicolour Yawn on the first morning, which was as spectacular as it was unexpected, but otherwise nothing. Better still, I’m eating completely normally, and food tastes just as good as it always has. On Saturday lunchtime, three days into treatment, I was sitting in the sunshine at a vineyard on Waiheke Island, with Jo, my lovely mum (visiting from the UK) and a our great friends Jenny and Al, tucking into smoked salmon, smoked mussels and fresh oysters washed down with the local beer. Not what I was expecting at all.
Yes, I can happily report that food is not a problem. Apart from the fucking muesli of course, which Is still just like eating shredded cardboard and toenail clippings – If I’ve been misguided all these years, and there unexpectedly turns out to be an after-life after all, I will happily eat my atheist words and bow in due deference to St.Peter – or whoever is in charge up there, just for the privilege of ritually beating that sanctimonious prick Maximilian Bircher-Benner to a bloody pulp with a length of rubber enema tubing.
Anything else to report? Well, a bit of constipation for the first few days (Total disclosure. Remember?), but that seems to have er… passed, and a spot of the mysterious Peripheral Neuropathy A.K.A. Hand & Foot Syndrome. This is a weird tenderness in the palms and bottoms of the feet caused by small amounts of the cytotoxic drug(s) leaking from the tiny capillaries at our extremities into the surrounding tissues. As long as it doesn’t get worse, it’s not a biggie. Actually, it’s not without its up-side. According to the literature, those suffering with H&FS should avoid ” washing-up and handling gardening tools.” Well, OK then. If I must.
Fatigue. This is a weird one. Some day’s it happens. Some days it doesn’t. On a good day I can carry on as normal. Follow my regular routine, which admittedly isn’t exactly punishing these days, but still reasonable active, both mentally and physically. Another day, I get to mid afternoon and suddenly crash and burn. An overwhelming weariness is drawn over me like a heavy blanket. My arms and legs become ungainly and unaccountable heavy and the urge to just sink onto the nearest bed or couch is overwhelming. It happens very quickly. a few minutes. My instinct is to fight it. To push back. My oncologist warned me that when the need to rest comes calling, resistance is futile. He’s not wrong. ‘It’s a good thing. Just give into it’ he told me. ‘Were slowly and intentionally poisoning you. There’s a war going on inside you. Your body repairs three times more quickly when you’re sleeping than when you’re awake.’
So. With your permission. I’m off for a quick nap.
NOTE: Only tangentially connected I know, but a couple of friends have sent me links to this beautiful and moving eulogy for Steve Jobs, by his half-sister Mona Simpson. (From The New York Times) Like many of my generation and almost anyone with creative leanings, Steve was a great personal hero, an inspirational figure who’s life book-ends the first great age of of the information revolution which continues to transform our lives for the better. He was almost solely responsible for the democratization of the tools that put art, creativity and design back into the hands of everyone who ever aspired to making something out of nothing. It’s a staggeringly good piece of writing, an eye-witness account and a refreshingly open and honest contemplation on the delicate art of living and dying.