On Saturday Dan and I moved out of the flat we’d been renting since the week after my breast cancer diagnosis. We moved in during July 2015 and at the end of April 2016 we moved out. It’s quite a short time to live in a home but a lot happened in the nine short months we lived there – I had a lumpectomy and lymph node clearance, fertility treatment, six rounds of chemotherapy, three hospital stays and 20 rounds of radiotherapy. Our life revolved around my treatment and I wasn’t well enough for much else for the majority of the time.
Whilst my treatment is ongoing, my life is no longer dictated by chemo and radio and I’m able to rebuild my life; a life post breast cancer. I have a new job and Dan and I have become home owners. This exciting change has meant I can close the door on the home I lived in during the most challenging time of my life.
Moving out of my flat felt so symbolic. As Dan and I packed the car up with the last of our belongings, I had to go back to the flat one more time, alone, to say goodbye. Weirdly, I had to spend a moment in the bathroom. It’s a strange room to want to bid farewell to, I know, but it’s the room I associate most with my cancer; it’s where my hair washed away, it’s where I was sick, it’s where I sat in pain. It’s also where I had to dig deep within myself.
I’m grateful to those four walls, they kept me warm when I was cold. But now it’s time to move on and leave that behind, for good.
On Saturday, as the door to that bathroom clicked shut for the final time, I gave it an extra tug. I did the same with the front door. And the door to the carpark. Chapter finished – diwedd.
Today, the 15th January 2016, brings my final chemo session – yippie, whoop, harrah!
It brings a feeling of elation as well as a battle to hold back tears of happiness and gratitude that I am able to say my chemo is coming to an end, hopefully forever.
I feel like I’ve reached a HUGE milestone and learnt so much about myself along the way so what better time to share a bit of the journey to get here than today.
It’s been a challenging ride. Even before chemo began the not knowing what to expect was bizarre; there are many different drugs and everyone reacts differently, so other peoples’ experiences were often lost on me.
Then there was the first round of chemo. From the moment they administered the first drug – Herceptin followed by Docetaxel and Carboplatin – I was waiting. Waiting for something to happen. Am I going to vomit (my main concern)? Am I going to feel fluey? Is my hair going to fall out right now (I’d brought a headscarf just in case)? Little did I know that any reactions experienced in the oncology bay would be the least of my worries.
It wasn’t until day three that I really felt the chemo hit – the mouth ulcers, the hot flushes, the exhaustion, the sickness. Looking like a cross between a 15 year old boy and Sandi Toxfig didn’t exactly help my morale either thanks to an outbreak of steroid induced spots and my newly cut barnet. Talking of hair, that was another waiting game – when would it fall out?
The second round of chemo came and alas – Sandi Toksvig was as thick as ever and showing no signs of going anywhere. I was beginning to feel like I’d aged myself 20 years for nothing. Still I’d heard the effects of chemo could build and so the apprehension was ever present.
I was wrong about Sandi, she wasn’t as stubborn as I’d given her credit for. The hair loss started slowly after the second round – malting just a little more than usual. A week later and it was coming out in clumps EVERYWHERE!
Round two brought my first hospital stay. I’d caught an infection but I was also neutropenic (low white blood cell count) so I couldn’t fight it. The drugs worked wonders and I was allowed out on my birthday, feeling a million dollars. My first port of call was to the hairdresser. The time had come to shave what was left of my balding scalp – on my own terms. My hairdresser, Tasha, was amazing – we had a laugh (see ya later Sandi) and there were no tears. There was no charge either. It’s times like these you realise how kind people can be.
Round three brought another hospital stay – the biggest test of all. On arrival to the hospital my dad had to practically carry me to the ward, I’d never felt so weak before. Unfortunately I had to get worse before I could get better but I did get better, thanks to the fantastic team of docs and nurses.
After round three I was terrified of the next dose and the end had never felt more distant. Luckily my oncologist was on a mission to keep me out of hospital, warning me that chemo can kill (like anyone needs to hear that?!) so they couldn’t risk another hospital stay. Her stern words came with an adjusted dosage of the relevant drugs and boy has it made a difference. The last two cycles haven’t been fun but they’ve been easier than before and I’ve stayed out of hospital (phew). I’m hoping round six will be no different.
So here I am, finally the day is here. I now have three weeks until my last cycle finishes. Now all I can think about it how much I’m looking forward to sipping some celebratory prosecco (pass me a pint glass) and seeing fewer bodily fluids – I’m over that lark, thank you very much!
How would you describe your chemo experience? How did you feel when it came to an end? I’d love to hear your experience in the comments below.
“The transformation from chrysalis can take weeks, months or even years – mine took one year. And although I have become this person, I’m still in the midst of a larger transformation, one that I won’t recognise until I look back at me now and say ‘who was that girl?’ We are constantly evolving; I suppose I have always known that, but because I always knew that, I feared stopping, and it is ironic that it was only when I finally stopped that I moved the most. I know now that we never truly stop, our journey is never complete, because we will continue to flourish – just as when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” Cecelia Ahern, The Year I Met You
Starting my first post with a quote might seem like a bit of a cop out – a cheat to ease me into a bare canvas. Maybe it is but it’s also significant. It’s a quote from my favourite author, Cecelia Ahern, taken from one of her more recent books, The Year I Met You.
Why is this collection of words noteworthy?
In July I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The following months were a whirl of operations, hospital visits and treatments. I felt like I was trapped in a bubble, feeling my way through augmented reality. It’s only now, nearing the end of my chemotherapy treatment that I’m beginning to see things clearly and fully digest what’s been happening and what’s going to happen.
As a result of this newfound clarity, I’ve been able to think about who I want to be and what I want to achieve with this life I’m lucky to have. In essence, I’m beginning my own transformation from chrysalis.
One positive I want to come from my experience is a blog; if I can share my experience and make things just a little easier for other young whippersnappers going through cancer diagnosis and treatment then I’ve achieved something huge.
That said, I’m not 100% sure what the blog is going to become – what it’s going to look like and how it’s going to be organised. I’ve considered not posting until I’ve figured this out but who cares that there’s no fancy design or integrated twitter feed right now. What matters is it’s going to grow, evolve, metamophasise into something. What matters is I’ve made a start, just as I’m making a start on my journey to recovery.
2016 is going to be the year I create and nurture my own blog, it’s also going to be the beginning of my transformation from a chrysalis. It might take weeks, months or even years but I’m making a start.
Just as when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly…