Feeling Good. Feeling Bad. And learning to spot the difference.

How are you feeling today? A simple yet meaningful question asked by the receptionist with that concern etched into her eyes. I know they want to know about my progress, but in reality, all I want to answer is “terrible”. I am not on top of the world to be hit by this disease that has no permanent cure.

It’s an incredibly subtle and delicate business. Trying to detect and quantify the daily changes in my mental and physical condition. As I’ve observed before, the first big lesson to learn is that cancer is, by and large, a slow, drawn out affair. Nothing happens over-night. At least if it does, it’s such an incremental change that it’s easy to overlook. I also have to filter the data, search through the background static of everyday common-or-garden fifty year old pathology and neurosis – the aching bones, headaches and oral decay, to try and spot any meaningful trends. It’s like panning for gold, only less rewarding.

So the only useful way to answer that question, is to compare how I am feeling today, not with yesterday, but with a month ago. Or three months ago. Are there any patterns to be detected, or trends to discover? Well let’s see. Looking at photos from last spring, I don’t look much different. My weight is about the same, if anything I’ve gained a few pounds over Christmas and the new year. Also on the up side, many of the accumulated years of worry lines and wrinkles seem to have smoothed themselves out, I can only put this down to my premature release from the advertising mad-house.

Against all the predictions, after three rounds of chemo I seem to have held onto most of my hair, It’s a bit thinner, and a little greyer, but still hanging on to my skull tenaciously. My head, arms and legs are tanned brown from the sun and wind, the rest of my carcass is still official United Kingdom white, and untidily punctuated with random moles and freckles. In the middle of my mostly hairless chest however, is a patchy brown rectangle about the size of a paperback book. There is a corresponding blemish in the middle of my back just under my shoulder-blades. They are souvenirs from the radiation treatment I enjoyed back in November. I have no idea if they are permanent but I consider them something of a badge of honor

A couple of inches bellow my right collar bone is a pronounced bump about the size of a two dollar coin. (that’s 50p to you limeys), which is the site of my porta-cath. This is the filler-cap where I take delivery of my chemo drugs. As the surgeon who installed it for me promised, this has been largely forgotten about now, I’m really only reminded of its presence when I’m wearing my shoulder bag, or a car seatbelt, although Jo tells me I play with it absent-mindedly when I’m watching TV. So, externally at least. No real changes to report. Jo reckons I turn yellow during the middle week of each cycle, but she’s the only one to have mentioned it – probably everyone else is to polite.

Internally who know’s what is going on. Apart from the intermittent nausea and light-headedness brought on by my the various drugs, I feel mostly normal. I can’t ‘feel’ my cancer. I thought I could in the early days, but that’s gone now. What does a tumor or a lymph node feel like anyway?

Oh! Tinitus. I almost forgot. This is a new one. A high pitched ringing in my ears. Not all the time, just intermittently. How a drug that is supposed to kill cancer cells in your stomach can make your ears ring is completely beyond me. But there you go. Apparently it’s not a big deal. Unless it becomes constant and permanent, in which case it will be a very big deal.

The thing I’m watching most closely is my energy levels. This seems as good a marker as any for my overall condition. I’m not sure if these are improving, or if I’m just getting used to operating on a lower power setting. For the first one or two cycles, I did find myself retiring to the bedroom for a little mid-afternnon siesta most days, particularly in the middle and last week of the three week cycle. This time ’round I’ve done this less, and coped pretty well, although after a couple of active days, I often feel the need to have a sedentary day to recover. Across the street from our house is a reserve, and along the side of it a leafy, overgrown footpath used by the locals as a short-cut to the village. We probably walk up and down this path at least once a day, and often more. It’s a steep hill down to the village, and a fair pull back up to the cottage. This is my personal fitness gauge. not very scientific granted, but a good indicator of how I’m doing. Some days I can breeze up the grassy incline without even getting out of breath (with forty-a-day Jo bringing up the rear). on other days, my legs are burning, and I’m sweating and gasping for air by the time I get to the top. Weird.

Since before Christmas I’ve had a niggling low level infection. Ear ache. Tooth ache. Sore throat. Dry cough. My voice is broken and croaky, and sometimes gives out altogether. It comes and goes, but never clears up entirely. It’s annoying rather than debilitating, and is almost certainly down to my low immunity levels, brought on by a low white blood cell count. I had my fourth chemo cycle, due to start last Wednesday deferred for a week to allow my ‘bloods’ to recover, but I have a feeling this is something I’m just going to have to put up with for the duration of my treatment. Compared with some of the horrors many of my fellow travellers have to endure, this is just a minor irritation and I’m really not complaining.

So how am I feeling?

Well, down but not out. Mentally I’m feeling strong and positive. Physically, a bit depleted but nothing like as bad as I was expecting, and I get the feeling that even the doctors are quietly impressed, although they don’t give much away. Most of them would make excellent poker players. The chemo clearly has a a slow but insidious cumulative effect, and my job is to try and stay on top of things for another three cycles – possibly more. Chemo kills cancer. The more of it I can stand, the better my chances are. It’s like giving your varicose veins Varikosette and getting some relief in an unexplainable manner.

Anyone for tennis?

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An big appology and a small celebration

For anyone who has left comments recently, and was wondering where they have disappeared to, or why they have gone unanswered, I finally figured it out. For some reasons beyond my ken all your comments were being redirected directly to the spam folder on my blog site. I was beginning to think you had all given up on me. I think I’ve sorted this out now, so hopefully normal services have been resumed. Please don’t stop leaving comments, I love hearing from you, and it keeps me motivated to write. You might be interested to learn that we are coming up to 12,000 visits on the blog since last October, which just goes to prove what a creapy, morbid bunch of sickos you are. My kind of people.