Chemotherapy: a journey

Woman watching the launch of an aircraft against a deep blue sky.

A couple of weeks ago, my eight year old son was having a major wobble about a new Thing at school.

Woman watching the launch of an aircraft against a deep blue sky.He was very nervous about having to get changed in front of other children for gym, and was quite teary. I felt guilty and cruel as I bundled him out of the door armed with the usual parenting platitudes.

Worried about him all day, of course.  So it was wonderful when he came bursting in from school saying “I love gym, it’s brilliant. Best day ever!” Phew.

Apparently he’d got it into his head that he’d have to get changed in front of all the Big Boys, but it was only his class, so that was alright.  While we were cooking (which for our boy means decapitating vegetables with a sharp knife), we got chatting about his day, and how the pictures we paint in our heads can often be much worse than the reality.

He agreed, saying “Yes, like your cancer treatment.”

Out of the blue. Just like that. Bang on the table. And he’s right.

I’m now half-way through a gruelling six months (12 cycles) of chemotherapy after surgery for stage 3 bowel cancer. I’m doing okay most of the time.

Pathetically grateful I’ve not yet lost my hair and happy to be able to do most things, but it’s starting to take its toll on blood counts etc.

It’s all come out of the blue, of course, and after the initial visceral fears we’re all just getting on with it. The normal ups and downs of family life –  and PMT – and laughter – don’t stop for cancer.

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The outcome is uncertain, but what I am sure of is that we’ve become more open and receptive to good stuff in spite of all the crap.

I wrote this poem after my first chemo session when I was heading into the unknown:

Welcome Aboard Flight 101 to Chemoland

We arrive too early of course.
I’m nervous.
I’m clutching my bag, my card, your hand.
Never flown from here before. 
The check-in desk staff are busy 
but give me their practised welcoming smile of enquiry
‘Can I help?’
I hope so – I really do.
‘Have you got your card with you? Thank you. 
Take a seat, shouldn’t be too long now.
There might be some delay, however.
Please, take a seat.’

We glance around wondering who to sit next to, 
who won’t mind me smiling at them.
We kill time by people watching,
reading other people’s headlines 
and wondering where they’re heading.

My flight is called – eventually.
We gather belongings, 
stuff them back into my carry-on bag 
And pick our way apologetically 
Through the travel-weary crowd.

We follow signs,
and I’m shown an aisle seat in Bay 2.
I tell you not to wait, that I’ll be fine, 
so you walk back
and we smile and wave.
I smile at anyone in uniform.
They smile back.
I smile at the other travellers.
They smile back.
I’m given the obligatory safety talk, 
and the reassurance due to all new and nervous passengers.
They bring the little packets – no G&T, no peanuts.
It’s chemo. Therapy. 

I’m holding my fear in check. 
I want to get out,
afraid of this unknown. 
But experts do their thing, 
and it’s take-off time.
They check the flight plan, mirror-talking numbers,
they check the numbers on the machines, 
and tell me they’ll be back to check on me soon.

There is no sudden thrust, no moment when I know 
I’m airborne.
But the landscape changes irrevocably, 
Rushing away from normal.

It’s a nice view – I can see out of the window if I lean.
The sky is light and cloudily brilliant today.
I push my chair into full recline – 
I’m here for the long haul,
So might as well get comfortable.

So comfortable! 
It’s almost luxurious.
I feel a surge of guilt and pleasure – 
three hours entirely to myself, 
others completely in control.
So I plug myself in 
to a good book 
And get out my snacks
And my music 
And my pen. 

This is the first.
There are many more to go. 
As I clock up the air-miles, 
I think the novelty will fade.

But for now,
I sit back, relax 
And decide to enjoy the flight. 

I wonder if anyone else has felt similarly in the face of the scary or unfamiliar?

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About Anna Wilson

I was born in Devon 44 years ago and have lived in Nottingham since 1995. I've been working in FE teaching ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) for 15 years. I live in Sherwood with my husband and son and celebrate their amazingness every day.