Breast Cancer Blog - Episode 15 : Alien

It hasn’t been the easiest of weeks. It’s been a mixture of ludicrously laughable efforts to get ready for chemotherapy, disastrous attempts to cope with day to day life, and heart stopping, gut wrenching horror. Pretty standard for me, these days.

A while ago Mr G (my husband, who’s developing something of a cult following) pronounced that the last 12 months have given us more challenges than the last 50 years, but yet here we still are, coping and surviving. He has his moments of wisdom and clarity, but also other moments of being an utter twonk. Like when he bought me an easter egg and ate all of the bloody chocolates, and when he tries to upstage my cancer woes with his toe fungus claims. But mainly we do okay.

Make Up Tips

With chemo coming up, I’ve been preparing myself, mentally and physically. Chemo means hair loss, which also means eyelashes and eyebrows, so I’ve been hunting out magnetic eyelashes and eyebrow options. The magnetic eyelashes were pretty darn impressive actually, you do a line of black eyeliner on your upper lids which is, by some crazy fluke of science, magnetic, and the fake eyelashes, also mysteriously magnetised, just kind of stick to them like, well, like magnets. Science is fucking amazing.

The rainbow eyebrow stencils we looked at before (see Episode 12) are clearly for special occasions, not for every day, so I found this eyebrow pen thing, with little teeth, which draws on fine lines which look like eyebrows. It looked simple enough, so I ordered one. It said you needed to practice a few times, so in the style of women in the make up aisles of Boots everywhere, I used the back of my hand to test it out. Remember at this point that I am 54, and I learnt my make-up skills from Jackie magazine circa 1980, and they’ve pretty much seen me through. Contouring is something that happens to hedges, not to faces, and despite working for Clariins for a year once, a long time ago, (I hated it - they were petite, orange and had matching weekend bags, I was large, got my make up from Woolworths and rode a motorbike) I’m pretty low maintenance. It took a few goes, but it was pretty OK, so I tried it on myself. Not bad at all. I have naturally dark brown hair (despite what you see on Instagram) and the colour match was pretty good.

Mr G arrives and is impressed. He wants a go. Mr G has blonde hair, and very pale eyebrows, so pale you can hardly see them. Apparently he has always wanted defined eyebrows, so he asks me to do him too. I tell him this is dark brown and isn’t the right colour, but he insists. I warn him again. He won’t have it, so I go for it. Two things happen:

First, I go to wash my hands to remove the trial attempts, only to realise that the ink is semi-permanent, and wont come off. Not with soap, Fairy liquid or kitchen cleaner. So now I have 4 eyebrows on my hand, for ever. Clusterfuckingly awesome.

And then there’s Mr G. He thinks he looks like Roger Moore, but in reality he looks like he's auditioning for Abanazer’s understudy in the Bermondsey Ex-Con Society’s production of Aladdin. He thinks it’ll rub off. I don’t tell him. I turn the lights down and try not to look at the villain at the other end of the sofa.

Armpit Love

I’m comparing recovery notes with my cancer bestie Darcey, on a daily basis. We both had the same operation and are sharing our armpit journeys. Darcey had to go back and have a new more nodes out, so she has a far superior war wound and even has the honour of a jug full of drained seroma fluid to share with friends. Got to admit, she trumps me on that one. So aside from the birdie song arm exercises we have to do, oh wait, that reminds me hold on, this story will continue after this advert:

If you haven’t seen this astonishing performance of some of the country’s finest School Business Leaders, paying homage to my breast cancer recovery physiotherapy exercises, you haven’t lived. Please, check it out. It’s 3 mínutes of your life which you’ll never get back, but it will live in your memory forever.

So yes, we are doing our exercises, but there is a sunburn feeling in your armpit where lymph nodes have been removed, and your skin is tingly, sore and numb, at the same time. I read somewhere that you need to sensitise the area to get the feeling back, and the best way to do this is by rubbing the skin with a variety of different textures. So of course, there’s me, wandering around the house rubbing my armpit with anything I can find. A bin bag, a soft toy, a cat, and my son’s PE bag. These days he doesn’t even flinch at the sight of his mother rubbing her underarm with his dirty football shorts, I don’t explain, he doesn’t ask me to. This is our life now.

Not Him

Mr G had been out playing golf for the first time since lockdown restrictions cut off his only sporting pleasure. He was exhausted when he got back and went for a lie down. Two hours later I hear him calling me from upstairs. He looks terrible, says he feels sick, stumbles out of bed and nearly falls. We get him to the bathroom, just, and he is sick again and again. His speech is slurred, he is deathly pale and he slumps on the floor. He tried to talk but I’m not sure what he’s saying, he points to his arms and legs. He can’t feel them, ‘pins and needles’, I can hear him say, ‘numb’, and ‘ambulance’.

Oh god, oh no, oh no no no, don’t you dare, don’t you FUCKING DARE!

I call 999 and ask for an ambulance, the dispatch lady is asking if he’s breathing. He is. She’s asking if he can hold his arms out. Fuck fuck fuck , she’s thinking stroke. He’s having a stroke. No, he can hold his arms out. His face isn’t droopy. That’s good. He vomits again. Sweat is pouring off him. He’s so pale. He’s type 2 diabetic, I test his blood sugars, they’re a bit high but nothing that would make this happen, this isn’t DKA, I know DKA only too well. Our daughter is type 1, I know what that kind of emergency looks like. This one I have no idea about. I’m really, really scared, but my years of emergency training will get me through, I’m in gold leader mode.

Ambulance is on its way. The kids are here, I send my son downstairs to put the dogs in the garden and to let the paramedics in when they get here. My daughter is with me, she’s fantastically calm and sensible, as a seasoned medical pro, and she takes up position at the window waiting for them to arrive. He’s still being sick, he can’t move, he says the world is spinning. He now has diarrhoea as well. Whatever this is, it’s giving him a hell of a kicking. Come on, come on, where the hell is this ambulance. Finally we see the lights and then they’re here.

We get him back into bed and they check his vital signs. He has a temperature, but his heart rate and blood pressure are OK, this is good. But he can’t walk, he can’t feel his arms and legs for fucks sake. We go through his medication and there is one new set of tablets that he’s recently increased the dosage for. It could be a reaction to that, the paramedic says. Or it could be an infection. They want to take him to hospital. Of course they do, I pack a back hurriedly, but with the experience of a mum with a chronically ill child who can get a hospital bag packed in seconds. But it’s never him heading off to A&E, it’s me and her. Not him, he doesn’t get sick. He’s not the weak one, he’s the rock, the fixer, the dependable one who keeps the world turning and the hose pointed at the building, while I dance with the flames.

They get him ready to leave. I can’t go with him. Covid. Fucking shitting covid. They help him slowly down the stairs, he looks 20 years older, like a weak old man. He’s in the ambulance, shivering uncontrollably. I can’t see his face now, they’re covering him up with blankets and all I can do is stand in the cold, dark night, watching my husband, my best friend, my everything being driven away in an ambulance with blue lights flashing.

Whatever it is that’s after me, let it come. Let it come and fucking fight me fairly. You can throw cancer at me and I’ll fight you back with every single cell in my body. You might win, but you will NOT get my children, and you will NOT get my husband. GET AWAY FROM HIM YOU BITCH.

I tell the kids that they’re taking their Dad in for tests, to make him better. They’re worried, but I’m very good at this game now. I can reassure anyone of almost anything. But inside I’m lost. I’m utterly broken. I can’t speak. I text my sister and my brother and my best friend. They all offer to come, to be here, to be with me. But I don’t need that, I just need them to hold me, to be the net so that I can sit here and sob my heart out and not free fall downwards into whatever that darkest of dark places is. Not now, not him, don’t take him.

I call A&E after a couple of hours, he’s stable, he’s having tests, but he hasn’t seen the doctor yet. Eventually I fall asleep. My phone rings, it’s 3am. Nothing good happens at 3am. But it’s his ringtone, it’s him. They’re letting him come home. Can I come and get him? Nothing on this earth would stop me. I’m driving down empty roads with only the foxes for company. Everywhere is utterly silent. I get to the hospital and call him to let him know I’m here. A couple of seconds later I see his figure under a street light coming out of the entrance. He's walking, slowly, he’s a bit wobbly, but he’s walking. He’s in the car, I have him, he’s back.

He’s not sure what they did or what they gave him, He’s not ever sure what they think it is. Maybe the tablets, maybe an inner ear infection. But he’s out of danger, they’ve stopped the sickness and he’s safe to come home and see how things are in the morning. I breathe, for the first time in hours. I hear my heartbeat start again. We go home.

So I don’t know what else you’ve got up your sleeve for me, life, or whatever the hell it is you are, and I’m not sure what it is I've done to deserve this level of hell, but you didn’t win this one bitch, and if you think you’re taking us down, you’ve underestimated who you’re up against. Fuck you.

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