Cancer Blog - Episode 29 : Being Vulnerable

This blog post has taken me 10 weeks to write.

Now don’t get excited, that doesn’t mean that what you are about to read is a piece so well crafted and researched that it has taken the entire gestation period of a raccoon to write. Far from it. Prior to today, the amount of time I’ve spent actively engaged in writing, since my last post, has been about 2 minutes. On the other hand, the amount of time I’ve spent in a complete creative and literary void has been 9 weeks, 6 days, 23 hours and 58 minutes.

I’ve tried to write about other things, to delete and restart, to forget about this blog post completely, but 10 weeks later and it’s still there, like a log in a dam, refusing to move. Other blogs are stacking up behind it, funny blogs, informative blogs, waiting to be written, but this one is stuck, and until I write it, nothing else is going to come out. So I’m just going to have to bite the bullet and write it. Here goes.

It could be worse

Cancer treatment sucks the heart and soul out of you. The physical effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy are different for everyone, but they are more or less all pretty horrific. My chemo reactions weren’t anywhere near as bad as some people experience, but they were still pretty horrible. I’m not going to list them all by the way, I’m not prepared to share that level of intimacy with you, but you can google them if you want. Call it cancer research (ha! See what I did there?).

I don’t know why I do this, by the way, this thing where I respond to questions about how I am or how I’m doing with an “OK, but other people have it much worse”. I’ve noticed myself doing it a lot and so has my counsellor (more of her later, but let’s call her Claire for the purposes of the blog). She asked why I try to downplay my own experience by comparing it to the worse it could have been, or to the experiences of others. She suggested that I compare it to having had no treatment at all, and then acknowledge how godawful it actually was.

Later that week I found myself underplaying my side effects to my oncologist, who really did need to know the full picture, not my Pollyanna version of it, and I realised I was being a complete, avoidant arse - what happened happened, to me, and it was shit. A few weeks after treatment a lot of it still is shit. The side effects are ongoing and life-limiting. Some of it may well continue to be shit for the rest of my life. And all of that needs to be acknowledged and validated. She is a very sensible woman, my counsellor.

Perhaps I’ve been trying to reassure the person who was asking, to spare them from the upset of knowing quite how horrible it has been. I often downplay things to spare other’s feelings. Or maybe it was to try to shield myself from the trauma of the experience in some way - cancer really does leave you with PTSD. Or maybe, and this is the bit that’s taken me 10 weeks to write, maybe...

I can’t cope with being vulnerable.

Oof. That hurt.

A Letter From Matt

The whole ‘being vulnerable’ thing hit me in July, just after I got a letter from Matt Hancock’s ghost telling me I was Clinically Extremely Vulnerable and that I should make a jolly good effort to stay alive, because his government had decided to take all the Covid breaks off and let Nobby Nobster and his mask-free mates run riot in the streets. So much as Boris and Co might like to (not much at all), they were actually going to do fuck all to protect me, but they still felt the need to give me 6 pages of utter bullshit advice on how I might want to fend for myself. They didn’t even have the decency to wish me luck. Wankers.

Anyway, once I’d got over the fury of the politics, I was left with the pain of the slap. ‘Extremely vulnerable’. Me. I carried that phrase around with me for days, like a yoke, weighing me down and stopping me from moving forward. It’s astonishing how that one word, ‘vulnerable’ had a greater effect on me than any of the cancer treatments I’d had so far. Without even knowing what it was that was bothering me, I sank into a funk of desolation. I was 2/5ths of the way through chemo and about a third of the way through radiotherapy. And I still had the dreaded brachytherapy on my horizon, looming, enormous and menacing, blocking out my sun.

(2 day pause because I have an absolute mental barricade about this blog and kee