Thursday, 8 November 2012

A funny old week

There is so much that's happened this week- good, bad, scary, funny and kind - that I really just don't know where to start. I always try to tell it as it is, but without compromising anyone elses privacy by revealing anything without permission, or which might come back and bite us on the bum. That's why I use a lot of pseudonyms - "WM", "Mr Lovely" and "Mary Poppins" for instance - they know who they are, but the rest of the world doesn't necessarily need to.

I am particularly cautious about protecting the privacy of my kids - they each have far more to cope anyway with their special needs and disabilities, and all three of them make me burst with pride as to how well they cope. They certainly don't need their lives laid bare for worldwide consumption.

We have struggled on for 6 months since diagnosis, making it up as we go along, and I suppose it was all going to fall apart at one stage or another, and this week it did, with very serious issues affecting two of them. Each situation would have been traumatic at the best of times, but two of them developing within 24 hours, during the weekend before my chemotherapy Monday, has stretched my coping mechanisms to the limits. These issues are both going to run and run for months and will take a lot of energy, commitment and gentle handling to ensure the long-term well-being of both of them, and I'm still reeling in shock, and trying to get my head around what needs to be done for the best. Just because life throws a life-threatening illness at you doesn't mean it doesn't also enjoy throwing another whole pile of stress your way too, and I am also acutely aware that, at least in part, both these situations have been exacerbated because of my cancer. 

It is widely accepted that battling cancer is often the toughest thing people will have to deal with in life. In my case, parenting three disabled children has been much, much tougher. Over the years, though, they have taught me stacks in terms of resilience, optimism, patience (well perhaps that one still needs working on!), resourcefulness and goodness knows what else, which is also probably helping me deal with the cancer nonsense a bit better too. Being a single parent to 3 kids like mine is an excellent crash-course in disaster-management, and I gave up expecting life to be easy a very long time ago. 

When I was a very little girl, I went to a convent school, where the nuns used to wax lyrical about how, if God loved you enough, he might be kind enough to give you a vocation, so you could become a nun for the rest of your life, only wear black, never go out, never look at boys and pray a lot. I was six years old, and this concept made me take up praying as a hobby in total earnest. "Please God, I'd be a rubbish nun, and I want an a really interesting, exciting life". Of course, I wanted him to make me Madonna,with untold fame, fortune and privilege, but she must have got in first because she is exactly a year older than me. At least he gave me the interesting and exciting life I asked for, so I suggest you are always very careful what you wish for!

So having chemo on Monday, a new type of chemo that has a reputation for wiping you out completely, on top of the weekend from hell, was a fairly interesting experience. At least I hadn't had the time or energy to worry about it at all, so I just turned up and did it almost on auto-pilot, having had virtually no sleep whatsoever in the previous 48 hours. Actually it isn't a bad way to approach it at all! This new chemo seems to work on the bones, penetrating them to search out any naughty stray cancer cells that want to party there. That means that my white and red blood cells are in for a kicking too, and right now, virtually every bone and joint is aching and hurting. Not too bad yet, but it kept me awake most of the night, and it is also causing something called peripheral neuropathy, which is tingling fingers and toes, so holding things and doing things is hard and going to get harder in the next few days. Who knows, I might enjoy it! An excuse to do very very little at all! They also put me on steroids for 3 days, which makes me really hungry and only naughty sweet stuff will hit the right note, so once again, the cancer-curing diet will just have to wait. (Oh yes, there are definitely advantages to all of this!). The sore mouth and funny taste is also back with a vengeance, but I've discovered a new way of dealing with it - coke floats! Coca cola with a dollop of ice-cream, and two straws, and lots of loud, rude sucking noises when you reach the bottom. I've become something of an addict over the past couple of days, and I'm just loving it! My pipe-dream? That somehow coke floats turn out to be that elusive cancer-cure that no one else has ever thought of! OK, unlikely, but not only can a girl dream, but I think it's roughly OK to do whatever it takes to get through all this as easily as possible. 

I had a bit fun last night when two charity canvassers turned up on my doorstep at exactly the same time as I was juggling dinner. Young, eager, fresh-faced but totally prepared to keep me standing in the doorway on a cold November night for ages while our dinner was burning. Big smiles, and "How are you doing tonight?" was their opening gambit. A gift! I stared blankly, pulled off my wig, and said in the thinest, most frail voice I could muster, "I'm really sorry, I've just had chemo, and I really can't do this right now". The expressions of their faces were a total picture! I've never seen anyone retreat backwards down my path falling over themselves with apologies so flipping fast in my life. Achy bones or not, I found the whole thing so funny I had to invent a new "achy bone dance" and performed it for my kid's amusement in the kitchen!

Two real acts of kindness have made this week much much more tolerable. Firstly, I'm off for a heart scan this morning. The next phase of treatment which I'm due to start in a couple of weeks is a new wonder drug called Herceptin. Not all breast cancers respond to it, but I'm very lucky that mine should. Over the past 10 years it has increased survival rates for my type of cancer by well over 30%, so I really want some of it. It means going to have a drip in every 3 weeks for a year, but if that means I survive it's a very small price to pay. However, it can cause severe heart damage, and they need to check my heart is strong enough to cope. The chemo I've already has can also damage the heart, so they really do have to check, and I'll need heart scans every three months for the next year. The normal heart scan involves two cannulas, and they can't use my portacath, so with my needle-phobia I freaked out and really didn't deal with the idea at all well. So my oncologist has arranged for me to go to another hospital where they can do a different test, an Echocardiogram, which doesn't involve any needles. It has just so lightened my load this week. I'm not quite looking forward to lying on the table with my disfigurement naked for them to see, and I'm still really trying to get my head around the whole shark bite scar issue, but it will be OK.

The other lovely thing that happened was a new friend, who lives in Canada and who I have got to know through writing this blog sent me the most amazing greetings card this week. She has taken the time and the trouble to download all the hat photos from the Photo Shoot blog post, and has incorporated them into the most amazing card! Thank you Sharon. Between this post and the next, I'll try and take some photos of it to include, so you can just how lovely it is.

If I'm well enough, off to Drama again tonight, the perfect escape when real life just gets that little bit too much like real life.


  1. I'm struggling with our wonderful language's inadequacy right now. Not enough words!!!
    So here goes... sending loads and loads of love, admiration, encouragement, orders to rest and more love!

  2. Benedicte, thank you. It is so lovely when comments are posted, and your comments are always so supportive and lovely. Yvonne xx

  3. Dear Yvonne, Wow! You really have had a lot to handle this week...not only your challenging medical treatments, but issues around your childrens' health!!! You're amazing, how you cope and bring such great, candid humour to the forefront. Enjoy the coke floats:) Big hugs, Sharon, Ottawa xox

  4. Madonna comes nowhere near your untold fame, fortune and privilege. Most of the parents in this Borough and the surrounding ones know who you are because of the tremendous effort and work you put in on behalf of our children so you most definitely have fame. You have the fortune of having WM and your kids by your side to be there for you as you are there for so many others and the privilege of providing support and guidance to parents in ways you are not even aware of - I'm sure Madonna would swap this with you any day. Yvonne you are a remarkable human being and a guiding light to others in times of extreme difficulty - I just hope we can be there for you in the same way when you need us the most. All my love always xxxx

  5. Sharon, Sian, thank you both for the lovely messages. Sian, you made me laugh to think that Madonna might want to swap places with me! Do I get to keep her money please?!??! Seriously, though, I'm really humbled by you lovely thoughts. Yvonne xxxx