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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Demon Days 1

Seven days have elapsed since my first chemotherapy session and I have nicknamed them the 'Demon Days', the hours when the effects of my treatment begin to hit. There is little that is poetic in this and I relive them here so you will understand the dynamics of this 'battle'.

Day 2: My only symptoms are nausea. I have arranged to go to a movie with Lee, who's a registered nurse and my much-loved travel buddy. Lee works at the Mater Private as a discharge manager and has nursing in her blood. She loves it! Lee and I have a shared background in aged care. Last year we spent 4 whole weeks travelling the Trans Siberian and didn't once tire of each other's company. That's got to say something!

Before Lee arrives I go for a 5 km walk. So far so good.

She picks me up and we go to meet Louisa at the Cinema - I want to see "I Don't Know How She Does It". It's a lightweight, cheesy flick and just what I need. Then we have lunch as my friend Mel's new cafe, "Harvest". Lots of my mates are there and I feel like I'm amid family.

Then Lee drives me home and administers the injection. This is 'Neulastan', an injection I must have after each chemo session to create more white blood cells. It's this medication that will lead to severe bone pains.

I'd like to tell you it was a pleasant experience, but I have a needle-phobia thing happening. I tell Lee to lie to me and say: "This won't hurt a bit". She accommodates me, but of course, it stings like hell.

After Lee leaves, I take another anti-nausea tablet and have a nap (side effect: drowsiness). I rouse myself so Harry can drive me to the chiropractor for the adjustment I badly need to combat dizziness. (I had a fall last week).

We have a good chat in the car, the kind we used to have all those years I drove him back and forth from school. He's a really great kid. I manage to tell him that I really hope he never takes up drinking. (Who can resist an opportunity for a lecture?) He says there's a lot of pressure on him to drink but announces "My role model is the Purple Wiggle"... who never drank but apparently, loved his 'mashed potato, mashed potato'. Not to mention his fruit salad. :))

I have an early dinner and am asleep again by 7 am this Friday night. I try not to think about my friends kicking up their heels at 'Elysium'. I try not to think about the life I am not to lead in the months to ensue.

I try not to think about the fact that I was once inside the lolly shop, and now, I'm outside, with my nose pressed up against the glass.

I have been transported to an alternative universe where my sole concern is not to throw up.

Day 3: Today is Ethel's birthday but my darling mother in law still pops in to do the little bits of housekeeping she's been doing in the mornings for me. These days I know she's around thanks to the smell of Dettol, the whirr of a vacuum cleaner and the clink of a mop bucket. Somehow it seems wrong. Ethel is 74 today! She finds me curled up in bed as the nausea is really bad today.

Louisa rings and offers to chat to me and walk Spunky. As it turns out, she convinces me to join her for a stroll. We walk for 3.5 kms. Awesome!

Greg rings, hungover, to see how I am. He tells me to channel my schadenfreude any time I feel like heaving and think how much worse he is feeling.

Al is cooking a special lunch for his Mum at her home for her birthday. I can go if I feel like it and choose to do so.

It's a picnic style lunch and I even manage a small sip of wine.

That evening, I have the option of going next door to the Hargraves for a Pizza Party. The Baddileys, the Wheelers and the girls are there so I decide to make the effort. My motto so far is to try and live as normally as possible.

It is this night that I realise bed time will be most challenging. Nausea swells and I have to take a tablet to go to sleep.

Day 4: Today I wake with a soreness in my hips. There's a pain that keeps sliding to different parts of my body. I feel antique.

Louisa comes round to take me for a stroll but I can barely manage 2 Kms if that. Still, it's good to be upright.

That afternoon, I have the choice of going to her place for a simple barbecue. There I meet Peter, who has been battling liver cancer for the past 8 years. There is a sombreness to our discussions, but Peter and his wife Heather, are nonetheless charming.

When we get home I go straight to bed. I feel very tired.

Just before evening, I ring my Dad who tells me some bad news. His friend, Greg has died of throat cancer. Greg was at my house in late August for my parents' 50th Anniversary. And now, a few weeks later, he's dead at Age 66.

I am reminded again that cancer kills. It's as simple as that.

Later my Mum rings. I'll tell you what makes it difficult. Despite my best efforts to sound cheery and tell her I'm just tired, she bursts into tears. This is not good.

All of a sudden I'm aware that maybe talking about illness is not such a great thing. I appreciate why some want to live these things out in private. Does it really help, I wonder, taking this stink to others and sharing it? Have I been selfish?

Day 5: By now I am into the rhythm of medications. Panadeine Forte and Anti Nauseas have helped me get through another night. Today, I am working in bed. I'm glad of having something to keep my mind active as weird parts of me occasionally jolt with pain - fingers, jaw bone, hip joints.

Marie drops by bearing a special home-cooked meal and a Care Bear, sent by her beautiful daughter, Kate along with a card. What a kind family they are. It's a long time since anyone gave me a bear!

I manage to do a little work. Despite the aches, I feel okay.

My Mum and Aunty drop by bearing food. We have a good chat. Mum has brought me two prayers, one a novena to St Jude, which she insists I must recite. The other prayer is a Prayer to Obtain Favours which must be said 15 times a day from the 30th of November until Christmas Day.

There seems to be a bit of red tape around this business of praying. I never knew! I mean, what happens if you only say the prayer 14 times a day? Is it like the contraceptive pill? If you miss one, you're screwed? (Mum, I'm joking!)

In the late afternoon, Al and I go for a 3 km stroll. There is a lovely sea breeze, the sky is clear, I would not be dead for quids.

Tonight the pains are pretty bad. I take a painkiller and breathe myself to sleep.

Day 6. More pain so I spend the day in bed. I am supposed to go to an appointment with the radiation oncologist but Al plays golf today and it is all too hard.

Al has been waiting on me hand and foot and I don't want my crappy life to become his. I am encouraging him to keep living his life if he can.

He makes me a sandwich for my lunch and gives Harry instructions to wait on me. Yeh, like that happens.

My eyes are sore and I have difficulty reading or concentrating. My scalp has started to hurt. I doze and before I know it, it's the afternoon.

I am still nauseous and the pain around my head is kind of interesting. It feels like I have my face caught in a door.

Louise rings from work and we have a good conversation - probably the best one we've had in years. I feel strangely happy.

I use my iPhone to cruise a favourite online dress shop and, without a second thought, buy a nice navy dress. It's one way to go shopping I guess - from a horizontal position :)

Ben gets home from school and brings in a parcel. It's from 'Timbo's mum', Claire. She has written a lovely card and sent me 2 old books from a favoured collection. I haven't spoken to Mrs Wilson in years. I am genuinely touched.

And again I feel it, the way this illness wields a dark magic of its own, rekindling relationships, maybe even building bridges.

Louisa comes to take me for a stroll. Once I get out in the fresh air, I feel okay. We walk down to a nearby park, stopping to admire the feel of the wind in our faces as we look out over the bay at low tide.

On our way back, I want to walk a bit further and Louisa says: "Wow!"

"I"m only in pain, Louisa," I observe. "I'm not crippled!" And so 3 km is completed.

I don't know if I can keep this up as the months progress, but I can try.

Harry arrives home with some food he has picked up from Maddy's. I feel pretty awful as I'm hungry.

Going to sleep I feel a bit ordinary. I am aware of funny pricks of pain, as if someone is poking a sharp pin into parts of me, but manage to have a reasonable night's sleep.

Day 7: I wake up with a funny taste, in my mouth but the pains are not so noticeable. I think I'm nauseous but don't know if I'm just hungry. The thing with dealing with this illness is that I have lost my way where my body is concerned. When I'm hot, I don't know if I have a fever without a thermometer. When I get aches, I don't know if it's because I've slept the wrong way. I don't know what is 'normal' anymore.

All day, I think I feel okay but then realise my jawbone is aching, or my hips.

Today I need another blood test. Al drives me to the pathology lab where I am seen to by a lovely lady called 'Elisabeth'. She lets me lie down but even though it feels like it didn't hurt, maybe it did?

I am starting to become disconnected from my body. I don't know if I'm feeling too much, or feeling too little.

When I get home, I go back to bed. I watch a lightweight, insignificant and badly acted movie on Foxtel. I still can't seem to concentrate long enough to read a book even though it's a good one.

In the afternoon, Louisa rings to say she is too tired for a walk. I say: "Too bad. I'm sick. You're tired. We make a set so no excuses."

We walk for 4 km at a brisk pace. Maybe I overdo it because later, after I get home, I take off my shoes and start scratching my feet like mad as my toes swell up. That's never happened before.

The evening is not good. I have dinner but feel really ill. I end up throwing up - twice :(

What started off as a good day has ended badly. As it is, I have a tiny little drama in the morning.

To be continued...


  1. What a tough week Bronwyn
    Thanks so much for sharing, for what it is worth, in my humble opinion, I think that sharing is good, and that living and dealing with cancer and it's treatments in seclusion and privacy leads to more taboo and segregation.
    You are amazing
    Never stop being you
    p.s. for every k you walk, I am walking one two, not much I know, but even though I am not walking 'with' you, I feel it has become a part of my routine, I walk and think of you, and of how your day is going
    Much love
    Stay strong, but always know that on days when it is tough, there are a multitude of Pink Power Pals here for you
    Hugs XoxoxoxoxoxoX

  2. Hi Bronwyn,

    You may remember from episodes such as "Veny's Year of the Novel 2007"? Maybe 2008? and I think you consulted to Three Plus for a bit, where I worked with Kathy Davis... who posted your blog on FB a few weeks ago... so I thought it about time I popped on to say hello... and firstly how sorry I am to hear you're going through this, but also so amazed and proud of the strength, humility and hilarity you are showing in sharing this...

    I skimmed/skipped a couple of posts, so was quite shocked to read how fast the diagnosis to mastectomy was - crikey! And now it seems you are having a pretty horrible week...

    And yet, your humour is still there and your fabulous descriptions (face pressed up against the glass of the lollyshop, face squashed in a door and... only saying the prayer 14 times made me giggle...) are still there...

    I also think it's adorable that someone gave you a Care Bear...

    Hang in there, girl. Keep walking, talking and sharing...


    (ps. I hope you don't think me rude for popping in here...)

  3. Hi Jeanette, Thanks for reading my blog :)) I don't think it's 'rude' of you popping in here at all as I have readers I have never met. Lovely to hear from you again and hope you are pursuing your dream of writing xx

  4. Ah good-o, glad it wasn't considered stalking.... well, um, yeah, novel is still kinda in a similar state to what it was during YoTN! But, I do write for a living, as in 'my day job', so I guess that counts!! Hope you're having a nice weekend and your face has calmed down ;) You still look beautiful!! xo

  5. you should try gingerale/silicon bracelet to stop the nausea. dad never got to wear his due to his unexpected passing. they do say they help with chemo/radium symptoms. hope things get better. not sure really what to suggest for the pain as fil has pain as a result of his cancer going to his bones and all he can do is walk around at night because he can't sleep on that arm where the pain is. mil gives him pain meds but i will have to find out the name for you as i don't know them. they are getting him to eat apricot kernals which are meant to help with the chemo/radium - got them from victoria and phillip day in his cancer book has a heap of suggestions to help it.