Monday, June 27, 2011

End of Chemo Cake

I finished chemo last Monday.

When the nurses pointed this out to me, I frowned and said, yes but it is not my last intravenous infusion, because I will be turning up here every 3 weeks for 9 months to have Herceptin.

It was then I realised that my practical side was overwhelming the side of me that should have been saying HOORAY and THANK GOD that I have, six months to the day since my surgery, finished this nightmare experience.  Of course I realise that it is never really over.   But 'active treatment' as they call it, is now at an end.

In the last half year I have:
  • gained a new and deep respect for the medical professionals in Melbourne.
  • thought a lot about life and death.
  • lost all my hair, most of my eyebrows and some of my eyelashes and gained my freckles back.
  • read 43 books.
  • confronted head on my very worst fear: getting cancer young. 
  • spent a lot of time watching the children play and realised how much I still have to teach them. 
  • continued to work at about half capacity which has been frustrating but well worth it. 
  • felt so much gratitude for the support and wishes of family, friends, strangers, blog friends, acquaintances, the guy in the coffee shop, the stray business person I meet with who remarks on my 'lovely haircut', the mail man, the lovely girl in our local toyshop, the woman at Mecca Cosmetica, people in the oncology suite, the carpark man, the friend I haven't seen for 7 years who lives in Hong Kong who sent me the sweetest email last week and on it goes. 
So this weekend I:

* Baked a cake to celebrate:

Recipe from Delicious, a magazine which has really grown on me. So much more down to earth than Gourmet Traveller or Donna Hay.    It has cornflour in it and so is very very light and fluffy.

* Bought this book online (really cannot believe how cheap Book Depository is):

I wrote about Nigel Slater's memoir here. I have a small crush on this man.  I would love to cook for him.

* Made a 6 point plan for the next 6 months (more on that soon).

* Bought a painting. Yes it's dark and moody and that is why I love it.  By the Tasmanian Turner.   (It is of Bass Strait). 

* Picked some of these for floating in vases.  It really annoys me the way camellias don't survive in vases on their own.  We don't have as many picking flowers in our garden as I would like.

This to me looks very like the Chanel camellia...

* Ate some macaroons which I buy at La Belle Miette 

In case you were wondering these flavours are strawberry and vanilla and violet and blueberry.  He also does an amazing Pimms and pomegranate version.

Isn't life fantastic?  So much to enjoy.  

Monday, June 6, 2011

Escaping Cancer Island

I have had some unusual dreams this year.  It is amazing how one's subconscious takes what is going on in the conscious world and twists and twirls a dream around it.  

So, at the risk of turning into a boring dinner party guest who bangs on about her dreams, I am going to share a couple here.   

(extremely overpriced lily which graced the table last week. I know they are funereal but I love them)

I have always thought recurrent dreams are the most interesting.  They must speak of something deep deep inside. 

My most frequent recurrent dreams since about the age of 20 have been:   (1) waking up on the morning of a university exam and realising I have not done any study or preparation for it  at all (actually that part was true in the case of Ancient French) or (2) running really hard but getting nowhere (often with not enough clothes on).

(frangipani lifted from a tree in the street on our last holiday in central New South Wales)

My new recurrent dreams are (1) giving some very dry legal presentation but I have forgotten my wig so I am with my 'No Hair' as my son calls it in front of 50 unimpressed strangers (2) dreams where I think I am wearing my wig at a meeting but realise at the end that I wasn't and everyone was being very polite and not saying anything (3) the Dr Suess Wig Dream where I think I am wearing a wig but it's the wrong wig and I take it off, then another, then another and underneath them all is the 'right' wig.  

And I had a very memorable epic dream which seemed to go for hours and hours where I was on an island and all the power went out and people were desperately trying to get off because they knew if they got stuck on the island that they would die and all the boats had left and all that was available were charter planes and they were all taken by the old people with brown leathery skins wearing lots of gold jewelry and pastel nylon tracksuits and I was crying at the airline desk saying I don't care what it costs, I will pay anything and do anything to get off this island.    (I can interpret this - the money reference is the fact that this cancer thing is costing a fortune and the older people thing I think relates to the fact that with a couple of exceptions, when I have my chemo I am the youngest person in the oncology suite by at least 15 years.   And I would be lying if I said I didn't feel trapped, if not by the diagnosis then definitely by the endless treatment.)

(my mother's herb pots.  And she didn't need Martha Stewart to tell her to do it this way).

And so it is that I don't want anything to remind me of this time. When it is all over I don't want to listen to a song and think 'Oh yes that is what I listened to when I was having chemo'.   Kind of doesn't have the same nostalgic ring to it as 'Oh yes that was the song I listened to a lot when I first fell in love'.    Which means that I have stayed away from music largely except classical.  

And equally, with books, I don't want to think 'Oh that is the book I read when I was in hospital', or 'that is the book I used to read whilst waiting in the oncology suite'.  So I am reading books I have read before, or books which involve such a sheer form of escapism I will never remember them.    More on those another time.  

(last year's daphne.  This year's lot is just coming into bud.)

It surprises me that some friends of mine who have been through cancer and chemotherapy can't remember the names of the particular chemo they had.  The detail obsessive in me thinks 'how can they possibly not remember something that important?'. But then I realise that they have forced it out of their mind.  They don't want to remember.  They don't want that recall.  

I can't blank out my recall.  And in the typical manner of a lawyer, I need to read as much as I can about new experiences.   I have already mentioned that the Internet can be dangerous.   And books too.  But I have done a bit of cancer book reading. Some has been upsetting, some badly written, others moving beyond words.  I am a bit picky with my cancer books.  Any book that recommends that I 'find my special place' and 'sit there quietly'  gets thrown across the room pretty quick smart. 

Here are the three of the best  writings which I have dipped into whilst on Cancer Island.   And you may say: how are they relevant to me? But I say - they are all well written, and -  ultimately -  about life, not death.  Because that is what these experiences do teach us - to respect and value life and not to worry about its end. 

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. My oncologist suggested it to me, as he worked at the Royal Marsden in London when John Diamond was being treated there.  Believe it or not, on Cancer Island there are good cancers and bad cancers.   I think John Diamond had a bad one: throat cancer which had spread to his tongue and lymph nodes.    

John Diamond was a journalist and broadcaster, perhaps better known for being married to Nigella Lawson.   His 'cancer journey' was pretty horrendous from start to finish but he kept his perspective, and writes so clearly about  his experience that it moved me deeply.   

Diamond (like me) hated being described as fighting a 'battle' or being 'brave' and writes of his desire to whinge, moan and just give up. He also writes hilariously of the policy of 'partial disclosure' most oncologists follow, meaning that they just give you enough information progressively to be going on with, not the whole box and dice (because that would be just too overwhelming). 

This book only peripherally touches on cancer in one chapter when it looks at the 'positive thinking' mantra which plagues so many with serious illness (as in, if you think positive you will be cured, when in fact that has not been proved to be the case) but otherwise reviews the history of positive thinking in the US and forensically dissects the downside of such an approach.   I am all for being optimistic but to me the idea that thinking positively can bring me money, fame or good health for ever is ludicrous.   She also writes scathingly of the infantilisation of breast cancer, and in reference to the teddy bear she was given as part of a support group care package asks if men with prostate cancer are given Matchbox toy cars? 

And finally, I have been avidly reading this man's series of articles published by Vanity Fair:

Like or loathe Christopher Hitchens you would not wish Stage IV oesophagal cancer on your worst enemy.  And he has finally lost his voice, and writes brilliantly and movingly of the pain this causes him, and the importance of being able to voice one's thoughts here. 

I read just a day or so ago that Hitchens has won an award for his cancer writings.  Very well deserved.  I so feel for him.  

Weird chemo side effect no 467:  bye bye big toe nails, baby bye bye.  Yes it's true. I can cope with this I think as I lost one when I dropped a tray on my toe on New Year's Day 2000.   But I wasn't expecting it. Isn't life unpredictable? 

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