Thursday, April 17, 2014

The thing no one tells you

If you ever get cancer before you're 55, come see me and I'll bake you a batch of organic martinis and say "fuck" a lot. You'll get enough pity and politeness and a smattering of "my aunt died from cancer 10 years ago" from other people, so get your balance where you can. There's nothing lady-like about the c-word.

I'll also tell you the thing that no one else will: that life continues around you in the most rudely mundane ways while you grapple with being a relatively rare statistic and your insides are quickly turned into dust.

Nickelback still lives and plays somewhere in the world. Charlie Sheen still has a career. I have to make lunches, bleach the stains off Frances' new pants, pay my gas bill and fret about how my puny hot water tank will handle two teenage girls in a few years.

It keeps on keeping on in chemo land, too.

While I try to feel badass and wonder whether the burn in my two-day old poke is from a slipped vein, an allergic reaction or my 6-year old smacking me in that spot a few times the night before, the nurses joke about keeping each other away from the Easter candy someone has brought in for them so they don't get fat.

While hipster volunteer girl explains the concept behind Tom's shoes to a frail old lady half-asleep in her chemo recliner beside me, a woman on the other side of me looks about 10 minutes away from death she's so thin and pale and begrudging of the smell of my salad.

And while I wait for my parents to come back from visiting another woman they know who's sitting around the corner and on a new cocktail because the old one stopped working, a youngish red-haired nurse stops by and says nicely, "Can I please take one of these two chairs?"

"No, sorry, my parents are sitting there." I'm polite back.

"One of them can surely stand." Politeness = poof.

"They're old, that wouldn't be nice." Bitchface = on.

"Our policy is one support person per patient. I'll just take the chair now." She grabs it and walks away from my fallen face.

I'm two days in. I don't get my handy port put in for three weeks. That's three potentially horrible pokes from this chair-stealing woman. But after growing up in a bit of a raw area of the city and facing countless calls out of car windows, I have a whole retaliation spiel ready for her in a nano-second. It stays in the back of my throat.

She's a rare pimple on the otherwise lovely horse's ass that is the BC Cancer Agency in Victoria. The nurses there give you secrets. They answer every ridiculous question and tell you what else to ask and when to ask for it. They gossip about the oncologists and celebrities and vacations and make you forget that your throat could close up at any moment from this new liquid pumping through you.

I've got round one all wrapped up now and the side effects aren't huge but they're noticeable. Most wonderfully is that after just one go, the rash on my chest has softened. I thought at first I was being a tad optimistic, but after sleeping on this bit of good news, I can see that it has indeed changed. I'm wiped in the afternoon and sleep overtakes me like a general anesthetic around 3 pm if I'm reclined ever so slightly. And that familiar burned out feeling has already started to settle in my mouth and digestive tract. It's the thing that will make me hate all food and drink and question why we don't just swallow pills for nutrition. Even tea gives me indigestion now and I'm starting to make plans for filing away all my favourite things until the Fall.

On the mundane and wonderful side, Stella won first place in her age group with her very first science fair this week at UVic. She grew crystals in epsom salt baths and was far more studious about preparing for it than I expected. I found out the good news on Monday while I was getting pumped with my first drug and beamed all over the ward, trying not to be sad that I wasn't there to see her win the award.

And today I went to my daughters' student-led parent conferences and listened to Frances read at a level 17. But the most delightful part was that I glanced at the reading level of another girl in her class who's always been touted as a prissy little genius and who's turning into a bit of a mean girl and she's at a level 15.

I know. I'm a petty and terrible person who's unfit to be anyone's mother, but suck it, mean girls who aren't me!


  1. I liked everything about this blog, except for the part about your parents being old. I know them personally and they don't seem old to me!

  2. Sending you badass vibes and healing Lynda Carter powers. Hang in!

  3. This post made me laugh, cry and get pissed off. Piss off to the red-hair not letting you have two chairs; big effing deal! And double piss-off to the nurses joking about the Easter candy and getting fat..........if THAT should be your only problem in life. Geezus!! Have some consideration for the patients around you who are really fighting a battle. Yay for Stella and Frances and most of all YOU! keep your positive attitude and FIGHT! XO

  4. oh red head, right say no more. Next time take chains and either use them to keep the chairs close by or swing them at any shit disturbers. Obviously your daughters have captured the brains and beauty from you, so sorry Pete, you get nufing.