I can hardly believe that it’s the end of January already, the end of the first month of 2016. Time flies when you’re having fun doesn’t it and it would seem it flies also when you’re not. January has been full of the ubiquitous highs and lows of life much like my body temperature. Typically I find New Year’s Eve and then January a weird time; without the frantic and quite frankly ludicrous excess of Christmas but mixed with the loss of the previous year and anticipation about the next.
Several new experiences and lessons have taken place since we last connected.
Firstly, my initial Zometa infusion. Lesson #1: Never believe anyone when they say “It should only take about 15 minutes”. They’re lying. Heading to the hospital, or rather believing the 15 minute statement, we ‘popped’ to the hospital for my 10am appointment ready to meet Zometa and see what she had up her sleeve for me. A frantic set of loops around and around the car park revealed no spaces and so Steve pushed me out of a rolling vehicle and volunteered to stay in the car and stalk the next person who moved theirs out of a space. It truly was Car Wars rather than Star Wars here for a time.
I had to report to ‘The Chemo Sisters’ which sounds like a great name for a group if ever there was one based on all things medical (not forgetting Dr Hook………………….). They, not surprisingly given their title, spend their time treating cancer patients with all sorts of drug combinations and interventions and are good at it. Not just good at the practical stuff but the human stuff too. Taking time to find out who you are and how you are.
Settled in my wing backed chair looking out of the window at the car park below me and the ensuing Tetris motor game taking place I was to discover that much paperwork had to be completed prior to my infusion including a review of what had been happening over the past 9 months, diagnosis, surgery, treatments, drug regime and current plan. Then we marched off to check out my vital statistics so that the right amount of Zometa could be prepared by the pharmacy to ensure my kidneys could cope effectively. And then you wait. And wait. And wait. Because obviously you are not the only one that the Chemo Sisters need to entertain, but there is also a whole hospital of patients currently expecting the pharmacy to do their bit.
In preparation for Zometa’s arrival the nurse attempted to put a line in my hand with very little initial success. Whilst she got the needle in, my circulatory system had clearly revised its previous goodwill gesture in terms of blood donation and decided not to give a drop. However hard she tried moving the needle this way and that, going along a vein and then in more directly, I wasn’t donating. Possibly her verbose narration of the situation wasn’t helping and my internal thoughts which were screeching ‘Stop telling me what you’re doing, tell me when it’s done’. It was painful. Eventually a couple of drops of the red stuff headed her way and we had a Eureka moment; I was intravenously ready. A ‘saline shot’ started off my cocktail followed by the bag of Zometa (which in itself did take the promised 15 minutes to infuse) and I washed it all down with another small bag of saline. I’ll have another cocktail in 6 months time.
That nights ‘sleep’ was the very worst I’ve had in ages. I say sleep but it was anything but. Quality sleep has eluded me for a while now, but that night ranks amongst the worst. You know the staring at the clock at 4am club? I was a fully paid up member and hating it. Not quite motivated enough to actually get out of bed and do something quietly useful, but laid there feeling quite unwell and miserable. I’d gone off Zometa and her chums by 5am. ‘You may feel a bit like you have the flu in the next couple of days’ was the advice that my nurse gave me as she pulled the needle out of my hand and then attempted to stop the flow of blood that was now frankly making an over the top compensatory gesture. She was right. Lesson #2: Some people can predict the future.
Fortunately or unfortunately when the day eventually dawned it was the first day of my Where Now Course at Maggie’s Cancer Centre, back at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford. This was the first time that I’d been back there since Radiotherapy and it felt weird and strangely familiar too. I don’t think that I’d felt so unwell in a long time and had it not been day 1 I wouldn’t have gone.
Support beyond cancer treatment
Where Now? is a seven-week course for anyone who has finished their cancer treatment, as well as their friends and family. It offers skills and techniques to support you through this transition period and beyond.
Where Now? helps you manage the physical, emotional and practical issues you may face after your treatment has finished, through a series of group sessions each lasting around three hours. Each session is led by a Cancer Support Specialist and a Clinical Psychologist and offers the chance to explore key issues and concerns alongside other people in a similar situation.
Discussions during the course focus on the following topics:
- Healthy eating
- Emotional wellbeing
- Managing post-treatment challenges
- Partnering with your medical team
- Keeping up momentum
There are 12 of us on the course and it was quite a unique experience to be amongst the group. As with all random groups we ranged in age, experience, outlook and perspective yet all share a cancer diagnosis and the love of a good lemon drizzle cake at break. Used to facilitating groups on courses, it’s actually lovely for me to be a delegate. You get to be the other side of the fence, to attend and participate how you want to without worrying about the group dynamics, handouts or the projector (which however decided not to work this week; many trainers nightmare).
The first week was spent exploring the course plan and a gentle getting to know the other participants. Interestingly what wasn’t encouraged was for people to ‘share their story’ and this did strike me as misaligned. Out of the 12 attendees I’d say that at least 4 started to explain a little more about their context in the initial ‘My name is………’ section but we were advised that ‘This isn’t a support group’. Personally I found that odd. The lack of acknowledgment of individuals’ context felt like an elephant in the room with no containment of their reality. Possibly my new flu-like state affected my perspective as I quietly (yes I was throughout; those of you who know me would be amazed at what a good delegate I was/am) observed.
Each input session is then followed after a short break- actually where lots of connections are made and reinforced I’m noticing and benefitting from by a Pilates session. This was good and comical too, in the nicest sense of the word. Just picture 12 people who each have some physical reason why they can’t do certain things trying to keep up as best they can with the Instructor. I’ve never heard so much groaning in my life blended with the usual Pilates anxiety regarding farting. However what was great was that there is a group feel already that sort of resembles ‘What the hell, a fart is nothing in comparison to some situations we’ve found ourselves in recently’. Lesson #3: Farting can be ‘bonding’.
Last Friday I attended the second session where we focused on activity, energy levels and relaxation linked to health followed by Yoga as the Pilates Instructor was unwell. I loved the group connection, which is already strong and there are of course so many parallels.
Since I last posted I’ve also had a birthday. Typically a time for reflection and some level of life assessment. It was a very quiet one this year and of course I couldn’t help but start some thoughts off with ‘What was I doing/thinking/believing was ahead this time last year’ and thinking about what’s been happening in between, not just to me but to Steve and the family also. It’s not been our best for lots of reasons and it’s not over yet.
So the title of the course ‘Where Now’ is relevant and thought-provoking and I’m looking forward to continuing this programme and welcome the help that it may bring.
Lesson #4: Focus forward