Achieving and believing

I have to start this post with a confession; my confidence has been knocked. Since the hospital stay over New Year I’ve been feeling pretty down, and for the first two weeks of 2012 have found myself looking at Tom and welling up.

Still feeling weak as I recovered from a mystery virus, I spent most of my days in bed watching Six Feet Under, a programme where every episode begins with a death. It might not seem the best box set to be working my way through in my current state of mind, but I was hooked. Yet however entertaining it might be, it was hardly an occupation that made me feel I was achieving anything with my life.

The sadness would creep over me as soon as I woke. Every morning I ask myself how I feel, and these mornings were all filled with the same answers; weak, a bit sick and thoroughly pissed off.

I clearly needed to rest, but my mind was railing against what my body was telling me to do. I wanted to clean the flat, to be able to cook for Tom, to meet friends for coffee, to have the energy to do some yoga. I wanted my appetite back. Even the simplest task of cleaning the kitchen was too great for me.

I wasn’t eating well, I hadn’t been drinking my Chinese tea, the green shit sat untouched on the table, and I found myself falling asleep during every meditation. I felt disconnected from the world and unable to reply to all my emails and texts. I didn’t want to write a new post on the blog and I didn’t want any visitors.

I was overcome by guilt at what I perceived as being a failure to keep the faith and couldn’t see a way out of it. Well this is it, isn’t it? I thought. My life from now on would be an endless cycle of treatment after treatment; a treadmill of hospitals, needles and never being able to promise I can make a social commitment in fear that that day will be an ‘off day.’

I knew I needed to do something to get myself out of this rut so I booked in for EFT with Emma. An EFT session is similar to a session with a psychologist in many ways, but I’ve found that most of the psychologists I’ve seen tend to err on the side of pessimism.

One recently suggested that I was trying to mend a certain relationship because I had a ‘limited amount of time left.’ It may have been a casual, throwaway comment, but I picked her up on it and it stuck with me – she thinks I’m going to die soon.

With Emma it’s entirely different. She challenged my negative outlook and reminded me that my future is far from written. The problem was that the knock I’d taken by being hospitalised over New Year had made me forget that I can beat this. The aim is to beat the stats, not be a victim of them.

Emma told me a few home truths I think many of us forget. We can often be our own harshest judges. She asked me whether, If the roles were reversed and Tom was sat on the sofa after a chemo, I would be leaving him a ‘to do’ list; to clean the kitchen, do a food shop. Of course not, yet I was expecting it of myself.

“Have you always been a high achiever?” Emma asked me. I’d never really thought about it, but I suppose that I am proud of what I’ve achieved in my profession. I’d known what I’d wanted to do since I was fifteen and pretty much dedicated my life to my career.

In some ways I’m glad I was so determined; being a broadcast journalist is a brilliant job and fantastically rewarding. I was working for national channels by the time I was 25 and had done it the hard way, starting out in local radio.

But the hours are long and your life gets overtaken by the job. It was all about my career and looking back I led an unhealthy life. Fourteen hour days, six or seven-day weeks, grabbing any old ready meal, accompanied by a glass of wine most nights. Unfortunately, it took cancer to stop me in my tracks.

Emma and I talked about achievement. What did I think I’d achieved most in my life? I was glad I’d done well in my career but that wasn’t what I treasured and was most proud of. I consider my strong relationship with Tom and the amazing group of friends I have to be my biggest achievements. I’m never going to look back from my deathbed and think, ‘If only I’d done the washing up that time when I’d just had chemo.’

As Emma pointed out, some would consider a high achiever to be someone who sets out to achieve the impossible, who tries to win even when the odds are stacked against them. Today, I’m feeling well and positive again, having just returned from a lovely Sunday lunch with friends who made me laugh and forget all the bullshit for an afternoon. I’m typing with Tom by my side reading a three-week-old Observer and I feel I can be that high achiever again. But my project isn’t a clean flat or cooking dinner for Tom every night, my project is to beat this disease – and that will be my greatest achievement yet.

p.s. Tom would like to point out that cooking dinner for him every night is a very valid achievement and that the Observer was only two weeks old.

p.p.s  I wouldn’t usually use the blog for something like this but it’s my blog so sod it!  One of my best friends and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met is running the Brighton Marathon in April for Cancer Research UK.  Matthew has accompanied me to many of my chemo treatments and has thus seen first hand what it’s like to be a cancer patient.  I think for that reason he decided to set himself this massive challenge and raise money for a charity that will hopefully one day be responsible for a cure for this hideous disease.  This is no mean feat as Matt hadn’t even been on a run before he started training for the marathon.  Please give if you can.

http://www.justgiving.com/MatthewMiles1

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Escape to victory

I’m out!  And feeling a lot better.  Thank you for all your warm wishes, prayers and concern. For the purposes of political correctness no Germans were involved in my hospitalisation.

They cut me out at the last minute.

Things can only get better…


Big baldy, little baldy

It’s New Year’s Day and it seems appropriate that I should be planning a great escape of my own. I’ve been stuck in a hospital in Essex for three days now, which partly explains my delay in posting, but before I get to the whys and wherefores I need to rewind a couple of weeks.

After my last chemo of the year my dad kindly picked me up from London so I didn’t have to schlep across town to Kings Cross. Once I arrived home I finally met my beautiful nephew Gio and was spoilt rotten by my good friend Sarah whose house I was staying at as mum’s was full with my sister, her husband and the little one.

Sarah, Sam the elf and me

It was a relaxed, hassle free Christmas and lovely to spend time with my family as well as catching up with some old friends. Making the trip up north had been a big decision because it meant being apart from Tom, and as we all know from the previous doctors’ predictions this Christmas was supposed be my last, but as we’d all decided that was a big pile of shit I made the choice as if it were any other year.

On the 27th I travelled down to Tom’s mum’s in Essex but just a day later developed a fever of almost 40 degrees, leaving me shivering and suffering, but foolishly I assumed it was chemo side effects. This was completely stupid of me, as before I’d started Eribulin I’d been shown a DVD about the risks of getting a fever while on chemo, but Tom called the chemo hotline and we were advised to immediately go to A&E.

Despite the fact that I was feeling pretty rough, when we arrived at the local hospital I presumed I’d get IV antibiotics and be out of there the same night, but unfortunately that was not the case. I was diagnosed with neutropenic sepsis, the dangers of which were explained to us, so although I was pissed off to be in hospital I knew it was the right place for me.

I was moved to a spare bed on the plastics ward where I spent two nights feeling particularly sorry for myself, thinking about the things I wanted to be doing between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Yet Tom flouted all visiting hours and stayed with me from 10 in the morning until 11 at night, trying to keep my spirits up.

The nurses on plastics were lovely, but unfortunately one Senior House Officer decided to use me as a pin-cushion, despite my warning that I had terrible veins because of all the chemo.

“Maybe we should wait for the anaesthetist.’ I suggested after two failed, painful attempts. I had been promised that one would come up to specially to insert a cannula, due to their vein-finding skills. ‘Some chemo nurses can’t even find one’.

“Oh no, I’ll be fine. I can see lots of juicy veins here,” she said dismissively.

Now I may not have six years of medical training, but I knew that this was the biggest bullshit lie going because when any chemo nurse sees my arm they sigh and get a bucket of hot water to help bring the veins out. Unfortunately for me, the ‘I know better than you’ SHO had already decided she could do it, but five agonising attempts later she was forced to admit defeat. There was no apology; she simply left the room with a spring in her step and a trail of destruction behind her. The nurse who came in shortly afterwards found a tourniquet on the floor and we later discovered a used needle she’d cast aside on the floor by my bedside.

It was decided I should be moved to the Oncology Ward where my needs would be better met. At what should be my prime of 28 years old I was being wheeled in wheelchair at 11pm at night through dark hospital hallways. Whenever I’m ill I’m reminded of the fragility of my situation. I feel bad because I don’t stick to my food regime, you can’t juice in hospital, and I could hardly get to the loo without collapsing so whatever food you can force down feels like a victory.

I was wheeled onto the ward and was immediately hit with the smell of excrement as we passed one particular room. I was parked next to the reception desk as the porter tried to find a nurse. Looking to my left, my eyes met those of a tall, slim woman in her 40s. Her face was drawn and her hollow eyes red raw with crying; her almost blank expression was haunting. A man came out of the room she was standing outside and gave her a hug.

As Tom and I settled into the new room I warned him how difficult it might be on this ward. This place was a reminder of the evil of cancer; the indignity, the heart-wrenchingly cruel way loved ones are snatched from us. I feared he would see this as he wandered out to get tea or coffee or a paper. I couldn’t get that woman’s face out of my mind. I refuse to believe Tom will have to go through that but still find it hard to breathe when the thought enters my head.

Despite this I try to stay as positive as possible. There have been times over the last few days I’ve asked pointless questions through heaving sobs, “Why is so much shit being thrown at me?” “What did I do to deserve this?” Some days being positive just isn’t an option and it’s not always possible to suppress the self-pity.

I’m 28 and spending New Years Eve in a hospital room overlooking a car park, for fuck’s sake. Admittedly there’s probably some rave happening in Peckham in a car park so maybe that makes me kinda cool, but still. Then I remind myself I’m doing this with the man who laughs in the face of Visiting Hours; the person I love most in the world, and so you talk yourself into remembering the truly important things in life. Some people will have spent this Christmas in hospital with a child who has cancer and others will have spent it on a beautiful Caribbean island happily playing in the sea. That’s just the way it goes.

So my Christmas started off joyful and relaxed, and after Boxing Day it took a bit of a nosedive. I’m still in hospital waiting to be discharged but as it’s a weekend the most senior staff member appears to be the porter and he doesn’t seem that keen on letting me out. As for what the rest of 2012 will bring – well, none of us can predict that, but I hope it’s a bloody great one for you all.