I have finally gone down the road of the smartphone. After years of thinking my 2006 Nokia was small, neat and just what I needed (all I do is text, isn’t it?), I finally decided a girl on chemotherapy deserves better. The tingling in my finger tips which is a side-effect of chemo made the tiny buttons hard to manage and I couldn’t read all the cheerful, quirky emoticons people were sending me. The final nudge came from a (younger) friend who looked at the Nokia and remarked that she never thought I’d have a phone like that. I explained that I used a tablet at home and didn’t want to be welded to a smartphone on the street like the rest of the population. But then I thought again, and decided it was treat time.
Three phone shops later I was well served in O2. They had seats, for example, and an assistant who didn’t look as if he was dressed like someone from the planet Zog. He didn’t talk from a pre-learned script, and explained the twenty or so different tarrifs without being in the least condescending. I came out with a sleek new phone and have now moved on from ‘Pay as you Go.’
So I took my smartphone along to my fourth chemotherapy session last Thursday and stayed in touch with the world as the smart drips went in that are giving me my life back. Back in October and November I couldn’t have contemplated going into a phone shop at all; I led a life on the sofa watching ‘Homes under the Hammer’ and surviving on small bowls of soup. Ovarian cancer bloats you, and you can’t eat much. The treatment changed all that. A week after my first chemotherapy, I went into a supermarket after a six week break and actually selected food I wanted to eat. By Christmas, the days of yogurt and retro Sixties jelly with mandarins were over, and I enjoyed a full Christmas dinner with a sneaky glass of wine. The beginnings of hair loss and attacks of tiredness were a small price to pay. By January I was going out to meet friends again, driving, extending the length of my daily walks and even, by the end of the month, going back to my Pilates class. I received compliments about my slim look and new ‘haircut’, which gave me my confidence back. And on 20th January Miss Wiggy and I climbed The Helm, a small hill near Kendal, and admired the snowy Lakeland Fells; I never thought I’d do that on chemotherapy, but that’s what smart drugs do for you.
In three months I have come from planning my funeral to planning my future. I have learned what all cancer patients learn – think smart. ‘Keep up your PMA,’ the nurse said. I wondered if this was some sort of blood count, but no – it’s Positive Mental Attitude. When I was diagnosed in October I could hardly walk into the hospital. I knew the news wasn’t going to be great, but nothing prepares you for hearing the word ‘cancer’ spoken out loud and applied to you, followed by intimations of a long haul ahead. ‘Can I get through this?’ I gabbled, my mouth dry as the Sahara Desert. ‘Yes,’ the consultant said. I realise now he couldn’t have said anything other than this; to sow the seeds of hope was perhaps the most important part of our interchange that day. All along the way it’s been more than the drugs that have helped; the chat and laughter with the chemo nurses do a lot of healing.
My scan after three treatments showed an impressive response, so they are continuing with chemo rather than going down the surgery route originally planned; some cancer cells are in a tricky place, apparently, so they need to do more smart zapping, adding in another drug. This change of plan was a bit of a blip for me, but I was encouraged to look at the advantage of not having a major operation. When I feel down, I look at this card given to me by some dear friends.
I can think of no better advice. And there are positives. Recently a friend whose husband is being treated for a brain tumour wrote that they were so moved by the love they experienced – and through these weeks our lives have indeed been enriched by your visits, emails and messages, kind thoughts, prayers, gifts and offers of help. My husband Iain has been a star, caring for me, taking me to hospital appointments and making our kitchen the absolute ultimate in organised spick-and-span. I’ve spent more time with family and friends than ever before and have really been able to concentrate on what’s important to me.
And who knows, maybe some day there will be bigger things? My friends Hugh and Pauline Symonds have spent their retirement going on long cycle trips, most famously spending a year cycling from Sedbergh to Kazakhstan and returning in time for market day. Their lives were put on hold when Hugh was diagnosed with bladder cancer and had to spend a year going through treatment. But this January they set off to cycle from Cancun to Colorado. What an excellent example of PMA! You can read about it at http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/HandPinMexicoandUSA
One step at a time. I just have to remember I still get tired and need to put myself on charge every day too. Like the smartphone.