How to Become Invisible (and other stuff)
Happy New(ish) Year!
I worked out one or two things over the festive period. The first is that staying at home, spending time with my family is not at all conducive to writing. And the other is that chemotherapy and Christmas do not mix.
Thank goodness Mum & Dad offered to do Christmas this year. It meant that Arthur (nearly six), Henry (nearly 12) and Mike (44 and a half) had a nearly completely normal Christmas, absorbed into the goings on of the wider family. And I could shrink into the shadows of the chemo chemical with little or no stress or guilt.
Which is pretty much what I did. Other than the "Trivial Pursuit Incident"...
I very foolishly took part in the Christmas Evening Trivial Pursuit game. It very quickly became apparent that the vagaries of the old TP do not mix with chemo side effects at all well either. After several rounds where I knew the answer to everyone else's questions but had absolutely no idea what the answers were to any of my own, I announced (very firmly!) that I was surrendering my empty 'cheese holder' by declaring that the game was "Not fun. Not fun at all", then stomping off in floods of tears convinced that TP had just become a cruel allegory for my luck since the middle of 2014.
So the first part of the festive holiday was a bit of a blur (or should that be 'bleurghh'?). Things (including my horribly grumpy mood) gradually improved from Boxing Day onwards. And by New Year's Eve (which we spent with friends just outside Bristol) I was in a positively party mood! Chocolate was almost tasting nice again (despite the truly disgusting taste when combined with chemo mouth (of this more later), I persevered bravely with the normal, Christmas consumption of chocolate and other (normally) delicious, sweet delights of the season. This as it transpires (according to my scales) was foolish in the extreme. Never mind), the atmosphere was warm and relaxed and my sense of humour began to return.
And now I'm back at work (hooray!), the chemo side effects have almost cleared and I've begun radiotherapy treatment. This involves 30 sessions over six weeks...
I am now totally hairless (my eyelashes and eyebrows have completely gone, bar some strange baby fluff stuff. And my hair is so patchy I'm still shaving my head bald). Travelling to the hospital and work by public transport, I have noticed that when I have to remove my scarf (due to the increasingly frequent hot flushes (yuck)), it renders me invisible - especially on the tube. I'm still deciding whether to test just how invisible I am by doing some 'invisible man' tricks like picking up a pen and waving it across the carriage past people's faces; or snatching someone's Metro from their hands and flicking the pages in midair in front of them. I think I may well become immediately visible again but it's tempting to try it anyway...
On a slightly more serious note, I suspect that people (in that very peculiar way - is it just us Brits?) are embarrassed to look at me but I'm not quite sure why. Is it because they feel pity for me? Are they not happy to face up to, and look at someone who has suffered (or still is, for all they know) from the dreaded cancer? Or is it just that they would have to give up their seat or their chance of one (for those still standing) if they acknowledged my presence? No, it can't be the last option, not entirely anyway, as even when I do get a seat, people don't seem to see me unless my head is covered and I'm wearing make-up (and then it's eye contact and smiles as normal). But the fact that no one's tried to sit on me yet probably proves that at some level they're aware that some sort of entity is present...
From now on I'm going to make sure that I acknowledge anyone who looks like they might be going through chemo. Not to single them out, but in the same way I would with anyone else. Look them in the eye (but don't stare) and smile. And I don't feel bad that I've never been offered a seat on the tube - I'm taking it as a compliment! I obviously don't look ill enough to need a seat (mind you, if they're not looking then I'm not sure how they can tell...).
Which brings me on to a couple of other things which have come up recently.
The first is a bit of an unusual one. Recently I've had a couple of people say how good I look but in the same breath, apologise in case it was in any way upsetting or insulting or un-PC. Certainly from my perspective it most definitely wasn't any of those things. On the contrary, it was lovely and a real boost to my now quite wobbly self confidence. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that if you think someone (however ill they are) is looking good it's unlikely that you'll upset them by saying so. I reckon it's worth the risk if it makes them feel anything like as good as it made me feel.
The second is a concerted effort to come up with an accurate description of what the taste in my mouth was like (yes! It's finally in the past tense - HOORAY!). I'm not entirely sure why this information would be useful or interesting to anyone else other than that quite a few people have asked if it was a metallic taste, which (for me at least) it wasn't. So maybe the incentive is giving an accurate answer? Or perhaps it's just the challenge of the description?
For me it was like that aftertaste/texture thing which you get when you've had too much chocolate or full sugar coke. A 'furry' tongue; viscous, slightly sticky but at the same time slimy saliva and a highly chemical flavour, similar to putting a couple of artificial sweeteners directly in your mouth and letting them dissolve on either side of your tongue near the back of your bottom teeth (try it - you'll see what I mean). And it burnt like bleach probably would if you gargled with it. A bit like all those things.
Chocolate and coffee tasted disgusting - most sweet things tasted horrible - even fruit. And everything else tasted on a sliding scale from really hideous to a bit weird. Exceptions for me were tomatoes, marmite, weak black tea and solero ice lollies. And sucking ice cubes really helped.
Now that my skin's getting back to normal, I'm in training for the long distance walking again - 50 miles at the end of Febtuary. More of that and how the radiotherapy's going next time. Ooh and I'm having another go at the Standup on 26th of January... Details to follow.