On this day, typically the fifth or sixth since my last chemotherapy infusion, every insecurity and unspoken fear of mine wraps their icy fingers around my wrist and drags me deeper and deeper into the abyss.
I can’t fight it. I simply don’t have the strength. My body feels heavy and useless. My antiemetic pills bring me no relief from the 24-hour nausea and I’m exhausted, so bloody exhausted, yet I haven’t moved from my bed for days.
Does cancer have an odour? It does today. I flinch when my husband tries to comfort me. My body confidence is shattered. There are loose strands of hair on my pillow. I’m repulsed by myself. I can’t read. I can’t write. I can’t listen to music. I can only lie there, helpless, trying not to cry. Because crying will make my eyes feel like a thousand needles are stabbing them, just another frightening side effect of my chemotherapy drugs.
Sometimes I imagine my cancer as a stationmaster. A faceless man striding up and down the platform, checking his watch and blowing his whistle before The Last Train For Survival inches away. I usually catch this train by a whisker, sprinting down the steps before taking a flying leap into the packed carriage. Today, it doesn’t matter how many suitcases I hurdle or how fast I run. Cancer always blows the whistle too soon and the closing doors snap together right in front of my face.
A bedroom that I take such pride in is beginning to resemble my old university flat. I pretend not to see the hurt in my children’s faces as I beg my husband to take them away from me. They can’t see me like this. I want to be forever imprinted in their minds as their fun, smiley mummy, not this sad, pathetic creature confined to her attic like Bertha Rochester.
I think the unthinkable. Is this all worth it? My faith in my oncology team waivers. I consider taking my chances, walking away from my treatment and living out the rest of my days in the sun. After all, there are no guarantees that this chemo will stop a recurrence. Today, my odds will always fall in the unlucky 20% category.
But, inevitably, a new day dawns, and with it comes a stillness that was sorely lacking yesterday. The sunlight doesn’t hurt my eyes anymore. I can finally think about food without retching. I take a shower for the first time in days and, as I do, notice that the leaves on the trees outside the bathroom window are starting to turn. It makes me think of an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote, how ‘life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.’ I’m flooded with optimism. I’m not quite brave enough to look a year into the future but I can see the immediate; my birthday, my end of treatment date, Christmas.
I finally remember how strong I am. How I didn’t crumble when I lost my father on a Tuesday and received my stage 3 cancer diagnosis four days later whilst sat in a car outside the funeral director’s. The bitterest of ironies designed to test the hardiest of women.
I wait impatiently for my children to come home from school, for the sound of their heavy footsteps on the staircase leading up to my bedroom. And when they finally throw their warm, little bodies onto my bed and bombard me with certificates, spellings and love, I hold them as tightly as I can. How could I have sent them away from me? Their laughter and vitality are as fundamental to my recovery as any modern medicine.
Every three weeks I let cancer win a battle. But I will win this war.