Reality Checks


It’s just coming up on 5am, Saturday 11th August. It’s the final day of my fifth cycle of chemotherapy. The ward is still, but my mind is racing. It’s been foggy for most of the week. Today, at this ungodly hour, it is clear and eager.

It won’t last. The chemo fog has been severe this week. The fatigue too. Almost to the satisfaction of the nursing staff. They are wonderful. My drug dealers. They have seen me at my physical best when I’m on the ward because they give me 48 steroid tablets every day. Hospital Roger has been alert and chatty. I’m a different person at home, cut off from my steroid suppliers. This time round, though, Hospital Roger has been tired and confused for most of the time. The staff were wondering when it would all finally hit home.

I was best midweek, just after a blood transfusion. Two units. My haemoglobin count had dropped so low I was only just this side of consciousness at times. Who knew eyelids could get so heavy? It was like they were superglued shut at times.

People have been so incredibly generous to me. Family, friends and strangers alike. Nearby and very faraway. I am so very grateful, but so very far behind in showing it. That will come.

The most precious thing I’ve been given is from people I don’t know—probably never shall. I’ll never meet my blood donors. Yet their life force flows through my veins.

Imposter Syndrome

M didn’t make it.

He died a few days before I returned to the ward to start this cycle. The news emptied me.

The day I met M, I also met O. M was in the bed next to me. O in the one opposite.

Like M, O had a brain tumour. He still has. As I type this, he is lying only a few metres away in one of the beds by the window. They are the best beds. You have a view. You are at the quiet end of the ward (when the TV is off—which it has been all week). A bit more privacy. These are the beds you don’t want to be given.

O is receiving palliative non-curative care and will be moved to a dedicated palliative facility soon. The number of visitors around his bed has been increasing all week.

The other cases on the ward are hardly better.

Except me. I am free of pain in hospital. I have been having single bad 24- to 36-hour spells at home after each cycle, during which I have genuine pain. Otherwise, I’m fine and rarely slip over the threshold between physical discomfort and pain.

Watching cancer eat the life out of everyone else makes me feel like an imposter.

Thank goodness for P. He arrived on the ward three weeks ago. He almost died.

P was in the bed next to me this week. Bubbly, pleasant, alive. A few days ago, he walked out of here with a grin on his face.

We shook each other warmly by the hand at the door and said empty words. The real message was our eyes and the clasp of our hands. We are both in this war too, regardless of our progress. The message in our eyes was simple. “Don’t give up.”

Amidst the sadness surrounding us, we two would leave here this week to continue our fight.

Thanks to P, my guilt subsided a little. He helped me feel grateful to the scientists, medical staff and patients who have trodden this path before me. I stand on their shoulders as I face up to Hercule’s terrifying might. Sometimes the path less travelled is the one you don’t want to be on. I'm on the one that gives me the best chance of survival.

Hercule's Progress Versus Mine

I had a CAT scan during chemo cycle 4. At the time, the locum covering for my oncologist couldn’t say much about the results, other than that Hercule had “diminished”.

But by how much? In line with expectations? Ahead? …Behind?

This week, I heard he is exactly where he is expected to be. In other words, the treatment is doing exactly what it is expected to do. I am healing exactly as I am expected to.

CAUTION: Cancer is not a weak disease. This is not a declaration of victory. It is far too soon. We won’t know for certain until mid-October at the earliest. The final outcome cannot be taken for granted. Take this as a cautious, “So far, so good”. Nothing more.

But nothing less, either.

Cartoon, CancerRoger Overall