My friend Graham noticed that I’d been a bit quiet lately. I’ve not been posting on Facebook. I’ve not put up any new blogs. I’ve hardly been responding to messages and emails. I’ve turned ostrich, my head is stuck in the sand and I am trying to pretend there’s nothing wrong here. It’s easier that way, to pretend. As children we grow up in a land of make believe. As a writer, I have chosen to continue on that path and it’s so much easier to dip into a made-up world and pretend everything is okay.
Problem is, that little word doubt, coming back to haunt me. That’s what Graham asked me. He understands me better than most. He’s had bowel cancer, been treated and come out the other side, hopefully free of the disease for the rest of his life. But he remembers that doubt, my guess is before every check-up and follow-up scan as part of his care, he worries himself silly – will this scan be the one that tells the doc it’s back?
I’m in the middle of my course of chemo, three cycles down, three to go. My body is tired and my immunity is struggling. I’ve had number four chemo postponed twice now as the docs wait for my bloods to come back to some semblance of normality. It’s now that my mind is taken over with the thought: is it worth it? There is every possibility that I am going through all of this and the tumours inside me are growing regardless. There’s also the possibility that they are being beaten back. But the second possibility only visits on rare occasions. Mostly I worry that the headaches that have been plaguing me mean it’s gone to my brain. Or the ache in my leg means it’s gone to my bones.
A little while ago another friend of mine, Tricia, alerted me to this article in The Guardian: link.
George Orwell has always been a bit of an authorly hero to me. I read 1984 at a young age, and it really affected me. This passage stuck out at me as I read the article:
Richard Blair (speaking about George Orwell) believes that his father was given excessive doses of the new wonder drug. The side effects were horrific (throat ulcers, blisters in the mouth, hair loss, peeling skin and the disintegration of toe and fingernails) but in March 1948, after a three-month course, the TB symptoms had disappeared. "It's all over now, and evidently the drug has done its stuff," Orwell told his publisher. "It's rather like sinking the ship to get rid of the rats, but worth it if it works."
Orwell is long dead, but his words can still make a difference. He gave me something I really needed, the opposite to that horrible word, doubt. He gave me hope. If not for me, for the people of the future, people who will look back at the suffering of people like me and shake off a chill as they pop a pill that cures their cancer in weeks. Because that time will come. To be honest, my chemo is not the worst out there; I am actually quite lucky with my treatments. Doesn’t make the drugs they give me any less horrific, doesn’t take away that snappy attitude that comes over me in the days leading up to my next session of chemo, it doesn’t make me dread going to the hospital any less, and it doesn’t make me forget that I’ve now had twenty-four sessions of chemotherapy.
But in the middle of all this grimness, I have remembered about hope, one of the things that has kept humans going for so many thousands of years. There are days when I feel like I am that sinking ship, too many days plagued with doubt. All I can hope is before I am completely sunk that the rats disappear. I expected him to get out his pack of fags. Instead he rested his arms on his knees and his head on his hands and very quietly began to sob. I didn't know if I should stop and comfort him or leave him alone. I'm not sure I would have helped, I would have been crying along with him. I hate cancer so much.