There's a distorted version of society in day spas. My text-hugging friend and I have a day booked at The Sanctuary to enjoy a catch up and some non-toxic therapy. The clientele seems to divide into the following:
- Women over 50
- Women in need of a day's sleep
- Pregnant women
- Cancer patients
It's like a hospital, but with nicer facilities, although they do make you write your own notes. Filling in the medical questionnaire takes ages.
The press today is full of discussion about Angelina Jolie's decision to have a double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer. She carries the BRCA1 gene, giving her an 87% chance of getting breast cancer and a 50% chance of getting ovarian cancer, the same cancer that killed her mother. The process has meant some pre-operative preparation, the mastectomies and then reconstruction, taking 8 weeks or so in all. During this time she has continued to work and no-one has noticed a thing. Now she has taken the plunge, others are revealing their cancer battles too. Her interview, with The Times, is incredibly matter-of-fact: I had these odds presented to me, I wanted to give myself the best chance of a future with my family so here is what I did. The articles praise her bravery - and take the "opportunity" to publish pictures of her in the skimpiest outfits possible.
This all sets me thinking - is it really that brave to take the treatment, preventative, curative or palliative? Or is it a courage born of necessity? No-one wants to go through pain and illness but when, like Angelina, you're faced with the choice between treatment pain and dying pain, between seeing your children grow up and them seeing you crumble away, that doesn't strike me as courage.
Please don't misunderstand me, I am in no way denigrating what she or any other cancer affected person has gone through. It just made me think a bit about the times people have said to me, "You're so brave, going through that horrible treatment". And I've smiled shyly, shaken my head and rejected the compliment in that terribly British way. Then I look at my children and realise there's nothing else I could have done. When cancer leaves you with only one choice you can make - between living and dying - that's no choice at all.
Having been pretty anti supplements previously, I've reconsidered my position. This is mostly due to feeling the effects on my body of the recovery process, on my teeth in particular. They were really sensitive, probably from the chemo stripping out all my calcium, but as the days go by they feel better and better, to the point where I can eat ice cream again (as long as it's only on one side - the other is still pretty raw). I might even stop microwaving my cereal to take the chill off it.
So I hit the Internet and my supplement list now reads:
Multi-vitamin and mineral - for general support
Ibuprofen - for the joint inflammation
Turmeric - good for bowel cancer patients, apparently (I figure it can't hurt)
Garlic - said to be good for health generally (and I happened to have some kicking around!)
Maxi green - a capsule containing wheatgrass, spirulina, chorella and some other green substances. Fresh wheatgrass is supposed to be better but as I can't be bothered with juicing it fresh and we're going away on holiday soon, this is more convenient. The whole lot are said to be full of minerals and vitamins and help with energy levels. We shall see.
One week after the colonoscopy and I'm waiting for the phone call from the surgeon's secretary asking me politely if I wouldn't mind bringing my appointment forward. This is what happened last time and the part of me that can't bring myself to believe that the cancer has gone is anticipating a re-run. But I try to keep cheerful, even saying to my Mum that no news must be good news.
The very minute I finish my phone call with my Mum, the phone goes again and the surgeon's secretary's number flashes up. My heart sinks into the floor but it's good news - no sign of anything at all.
At last, the proper All Clear. Somehow this one feels like it truly might be over. There are no more areas of doubt or uncertainty. The cancer is gone and I can pick myself up and move on.
The past two weeks have been hectic. Life seems to have kicked back in, but in a curious new shape governed by cancer.
In the "normality" corner we have a long weekend in the West Country with my in-laws, doing normal stuff like playing on the beach and sitting in the sunshine. Everyone - me included - relaxes. This is what life should be like.
In the "cancer" corner we have a colonoscopy to check out the bit that wasn't clear on the scanner. My oncologist finished the last consultation by telling me that she, my surgeon and her usual radiologist would discuss what they wanted to do at the next MDT, and she would call me. Unusually for her, she didn't, so the first I knew was the surgeon's secretary calling me to arrange a full colonoscopy. Good job I'm not a panicker... The surgeon's secretary is marvellous, not only fitting me in quickly but arranging things so that I don't have to do two days bowel prep but can "clear out" (ahem) on the ward on the day. This is important as the procedure is the day after we get back from the West Country and five hours in the inevitable Bank Holiday traffic jams whilst trying to deal with the effects of a dose of Picolax just doesn't appeal somehow.
The procedure is routine and he finds nothing alarming. There's one tiny nodule that he biopsies but nothing more than that. Back to see him in a month for results.
There is also an assessment by the Occupational Health doctor. My Mum takes me as the colonoscopy was the previous day and the sedative is still in my system. Frankly it could have been done on the phone, as all we do is chat. He asks very general questions about fatigue and emotional state, then declares that there is no medical reason I can't go back to work on reduced hours, with a mix of office and home working. I have to explain to him the peripheral neuropathy problems and the memory/cognitive capability problems.
This is good news and bad news. Good news because I do want to get back to work; bad news because I'm not sure how this is going to work. The day after I see Occ Health I'm so tired I can't think straight. There's so much to do without being at work that I can't see how it's all going to get done now, never mind when I'm trying to work as well. Nothing I've tried shakes this low - not choir, not gym, nothing. Maybe sleep will help...