Today marks four weeks since my operation and, aside from three nights of inhumane pain at home (and a miraculous trip to see Nina Conti – it still baffles me how I managed it!), I have been in hospital since 6th May and it’s become the most challenging part of my journey.
I try my hardest to remind myself how far I’ve come. I was in a high dependency unit just four short weeks ago. I couldn’t sit up. I couldn’t wash myself. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t eat. I’ve been to hell and back again countless times. Each day I’m physically improving but it doesn’t make an ounce of difference to my emotional recovery. Emotionally I am broken.
I feel caged and isolated; separated from a world I was so familiar with. I watch as everyone’s lives continue whilst mine stands still. I struggle with tasks I took for granted just weeks ago. I no longer know the body I find myself with. For the first time in my journey I see a cancer patient looking at me from inside the mirror. Her eyes are sunken, her skin grey. She has fluffy dark hair. Her bones stick out at all angels. Her legs are the size and shape of a child’s because she has lost the muscle acquired from years of running. Her body is marked with too many scars to count. Her arms and legs black and blue from daily blood tests, injections and cannula sites. There is no sparkle in her eyes, no smile on her face. She is a stranger. I don’t want to know her. She is not welcome. She is sick. She is vulnerable. She has stage four cancer. She is not who I am.
Each day there are improvements of course. I have come miles physically. I know this in my heart and I try to reflect on it, but my spirit remains crushed. I cry. I sit and I sob, not caring who sees or hears. I sob for the loss of the life I had. I sob for the life the people closest to me have lost, knowing all too well how deeply my suffering affects them. I sob for others on their own cancer journeyy; both those I know and those I don’t.
One of the hardest parts for me is the needles. I didn’t have an issue with needles before, I was a blood donor for many years, but now it’s a different story. My already delicate vines have been shrunken by chemotherapy. A venflon (the needle an IV drip runs through) should last 4 days. In me it lasts just one before the site swells and it needs to be removed. Replacing it takes several attempts, usually involving more than more person. As a result I require up to 5 needles going into my arms and hands each day just for my drip, on top of this I require twice daily blood tests. Again these take several attempts each time. Finally, I require daily anti-blood clotting injections in my thighs and I’ve also had a number of vaccinations as a result of my splenectomy. Adding this up, I’ve calculated that I’ve had over 250 needles in my arms and legs over the past four weeks.
My veins are swollen and raw. My skin varying shades of blues, purples and green. I find the sight of a member of my medical team coming towards me with their white tray of needles unbearable. Two days ago I broke down on the third attempt for a blood sample from my hands. I had tried for so long to remain strong but the emotional strain was now reflecting in physical pain. I was broken.
Each day my spirit is lifting. The medical team understand how fiercely independent I was before my operation and support me to build my strength and confidence with little trips outside (more on this in a later post). They treat me as a person, not a patient. They laugh and joke and tease me, offering a reminder that the person I know I am is still there, still slightly out of reach but closer with each passing day.
I underestimated how emotionally challenging I’d find this stage in my journey. Being in hospital for so long, relying on support, everything I do being constantly monitored and scrutinised by others is emotionally exhausting. I so desperately want home. I so desperately want my life back.
I remind myself I’ll get there. I remind myself how far I’ve come, that this is just a mountain I have to climb and that the view at the top will be worth it. In the meantime I remain brave and strong and broken.
Love and light to all those walking a cancer journey, whether their own or a loved ones.