So, the big day arrived. Delayed by six weeks thanks to a scan that showed ‘something‘ on my lungs. Dr Savage explained it thus: ‘it’s like taking a photo of a moving car. We know it’s there, we know it’s moving. But how fast?’ He needed a second photo to be sure. I’d have rather not had any car in any picture, but it was one of those no choice moments that cancer likes to spring on you. For me, it was the first real moment of frustration. Up until this point, I’d coped. Mostly on account of being a total control freak – tell me what happens next, when and why, I’m yours. Throw me a curve ball and it’s like you’ve tried to snatch biscuits from a baby. This curve ball left me in the foetal position. I do know I should ring and say sorry to the courier service who felt the full force when they failed to deliver some poncy face cream that was going to change my complexion and life two days running.
But, I digress.
This six-week delay should have had me climbing every kind of wall, and yet my brain did what it always does. Once I reorganised my schedule to add in this new step. I put it out of my mind. I forgot I had cancer. It was only when others asked after my health that I had to remember. And if you’re reading this and thinking you did bad by asking, you didn’t. I love you all the more for caring. But when I spoke or typed my answers, it felt like I was talking to someone else. Cancer went on hold.
And so, six weeks after that first CT scan, I lay down, endured the nauseating contrast dye injection and rolled in and out of an oversize loo seat obeying prerecorded instruction to breathe in/breathe. If you’re old enough to remember those government-sponsored impending nuclear attack warnings, it was the same bloke, I swear. (If not, listen to Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Two Tribes* and you’ll get it). It wasn’t exactly comforting. I’d like to suggest they get Joanna Lumley to redo these orders.
A few days later, I was back with Dr Savage. I listened as he went into numbers mode. Cancer, is all about the percentages. The risk of this, the chances of that. It works for me. I need to understand how likely it is that something might happen. If you’re a detail hound, I have a 4% chance of the lung thing developing into a cancer within the next four years. That seems fair. And I dare say everyone has about the same. Certainly anyone who virtually ate two daily packs of Camel Lights for twenty years. As for the now surgically-removed testicular thing, that was clear. Nothing lymphatic (which is a good sign) but with my age and the size of the tumour, I had a 30-40% chance of it recurring – and losing the other ball and possibly growing breasts and a chintz fetish. One course of magical carboplatin chemotherapy and I’d cut this ten-fold. So lung and balls would become equal.
As no brainers go, it was a simple choice.
What’s chemotherapy like?
A nurse talked me through the side effects. After each horrific potential scenario, she made eye contact, and waited for a nod of consent. I drifted away and stopped listening, hoping Mr Fanning was taking it all in. That’s the thing with cancer, there’s so MUCH information, it’s hard to pick and choose what matters most. Nearly all of these side effects would be very unlikely, she said. They tend to come with cumulative chemotherapy and not with the single dose. But still there was likely to be much gippy tummy – and so anti-sickness meds feature large. A big scientific-looking tablet, some more to take home and a 30-minute infusion.
I wasn’t sure what the Plan B might be if I flat out refused to counter any given side-effect. What if I was finewith the hair loss, constipation/diarrhea and extreme fatigue, but drew every kind of line at tinnitus? But then she sweetened the pot with steroids – ‘they’ll make you alert’. A three-day supply. Sponsored speed. Enough to do all those niggling household chores, and maybe get a sprint on with the editorial draft of ‘Toast of Brighton‘.
There was much fuss around getting a line in for the infusion of (what amounts to) poison. Two wrists stabs down, a second nurse appeared. I’m bruised.
On the plus side, I was treated to one of the best bacon, chicken and spinach sandwiches going. Mr Fanning feasted on egg and cress. It’s detail like this that so many medical blogs leave out. They shouldn’t.
Afterwards with cancer?
I initially felt no different. Mr Fanning and I minced around a supermarket. Him constantly asking if I felt OK. Me saying yes, even though I wasn’t sure what OK would feel like right then. Because I didn’t feel sick. There was no tinnitus and (sadly) no speedy elation. What there was inside my head was the start of a deep, dark anger. One I didn’t dare show. Why didn’t I find this sooner? What was that something on my lungs? Why did it take three goes to get the canola in? How come those percentages can’t be zero? Why am I going to feel speedy for three days then crash hard?
And nobody mentioned the chemo hiccups that have temporarily drained all joy from coffee.
But I’m still going and the anger has faded. Mostly helped by the fabulous flowers Mr Fanning ordered from the ever marvelous Bloomen. Plug time, click that link and you’ll get a free fancy vase with your first order and they last for two or three weeks.
Thanks for all the love and support here, on Facebook and Twitter and in real life. I promise you I’ll finish that bloody book soon and get it to the editor by the middle of June. One day it might even be available to buy. Talking of which, watch out for a freebie on the Armchair Bride coming in June, for those who (ridiculously) have yet to discover my obvious genius.
* Or Breathing by Kate Bush if you’re a bit more arty