Another year rolls by, another blogger offers his thoughts on the year departed and hopes for the year to come.
My own thoughts on 2013 are a little mixed, really. Up until August was pretty good. I had no particular complaints with my home or work life, I managed to make a few trips furth of Scotland, and I was generally fit and well. As detailed in a previous post on this blog, in August it became somewhat apparent that I was not in fact fit and well. On 23 August, one day after my diagnosis, I started the CBOP/BEP chemotherapy regimen. No messing about. No time to think about it (which was probably for the best). Thus began fifteen weeks of companionship with cytotoxic chemicals. This love/hate relationship drew to a close on 2 December and (for the moment, at least) it seems I have had my fill of chemotherapy.
What follows in this blog are some eclectic thoughts on that process. My hope is this might be educational for those lucky enough not to have faced chemo. As for my chemo comrades, it might give you a contrast to what you went through. And I think that raises my first and most important point. From what I can gather, both as an oncology ward veteran (if I can call myself that) and the recipient of assorted cancer stories from others, almost everyone has a different experience of chemo. So please don’t take this blog as anything resembling the final word on the matter.
A close second place to that point is that coming off chemo is not like flicking a switch. Approximately one month later, it would be fair to say that I am still not firing on all cylinders. Over and above the general chemo recovery time, multifarious tests and (in my particular circumstances) surgery will follow. So, whilst it was hugely liberating to have the PICC-line in my left arm removed, and that removal could be taken as something of an indication that no further intravenous infusions were imminent, it would not be sensible to read anything into its removal and the associated end of the CBOP/BEP programme. To paraphrase Churchill, it is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning.
Before I started chemo, I had a vague idea of what it might entail. I completely underestimated what the process as a whole involved. For example, I have absolutely no idea how many needles have been stuck into me this year, but I do know I have been a veritable pin-cushion. I had no idea how much someone’s bodyweight could yo-yo. I had no idea chemo could affect haemoglobin levels and the associated potential need for blood transfusions.* I had never really considered that there might be a need for dietary supplements (in my case, calcium). Yes, everyone will have different chemo experiences, but not many people will simply plug into their treatment without having something else to worry about.
It can be seen that chemo brings a certain side-show with it, but what of the side-effects? As I noted before, I think I have been lucky to have avoided the worst of the side-effects. There is of course the hair loss thing, but fortunately I was not too bothered about the prospect of a shaved head and, most importantly, my eyebrows (or rather, monobrow) survived the whole fifteen weeks. Tinnitus and occasional balance problems come and go. The most recent addition to the side-effect show is neuropathy, which is manifested in my case by cold feet (or at least the impression that I have cold feet). So be it: if the cure brings a bit of baggage with it, that baggage needs to be shouldered.
Speaking of shoulders, I think the worst potential side-effect of chemo is a (figurative) chip in the shoulder. I hope Malcolm Version 2.0 will still be a tolerable chap, but there is the possibility of increased narkiness in future: “What do you mean you’ve had a bad day? I’ve had fucking cancer.” There is also the possibility Malcolm Version 2.0 will embrace every day as a second chance and become an all round brighter character. I hope there is a preponderance of the latter: I suspect it will veer between the two.
So what are my hopes for 2014? They are pretty simple. Get better, then make a Combeback.** I’ll see you there. Here is a picture of me with my last (scheduled) chemotherapy getting ready for the next stage of my journey. Generally, I hope to keep smiling, by dint of the very simple fact that I am still here.
Editor’s note: I had planned for this post to be about my experiences of chemotherapy, but it then developed into an end of one year reflection whilst also being a gaze into the next year. This and earlier oncology posts are now collated in a dedicated section of my blog.
* In previous posts, my medical message has been about the potential importance of checking testicles for warning signs of testicular cancer. In this post, my medical message is about the definite importance of giving blood. I donated seventeen pints before having to make my first withdrawal from the bank. I won’t be able to donate again. If you can, please do.
**Yes, the title is a poor pun. To get the requisite pronunciation of “Combe,” it works best if you imagine you are a singer in the band Gomez, shouting “come back” in the chorus of the song “Ruff Stuff” from their album In Our Gun. Or imagine a Yorkshireman shouting “come by” to a sheepdog. (I apologise to any Yorkshiremen irked by that observation about accents.) As for my theme tune for 2014, I might chose “The Comeback” by Gomez, from their album Bring It On. “The Comeback” seamlessly loops back to the opening track of the album “Get Miles.” If I can link back into my old life even half as seamlessly as that once I get through all this, I will be happy with that.