The half-way mark for my chemo sessions arrive and today Al and I wake to a rain sodden world where the loud thuds of rain have been unrelenting through the night.
I wake several times, partly because of the large water intake that is recommended the day before chemo - you'd think I had prostrate problems! - and partly because I'm an easily disturbed sleeped and the rain drops on our wooden roof can sound like crazy marsupials on the chase.
Consequently I'm unrefreshed when I awake at 5.30 am, much earlier than I have been waking more recently. I'm not feeling afraid today. Earlier this week I had an epiphany. I decided that the only way to get through the shitty bits of life is to replace fear or anger or denial... with curiosity. If this is a 'journey', the true adventurer goes forth with a desire to know how it will be, how it all turns out, and importantly, what story I will have told when I reach the end. That final full stop. Fear on the other hand, achieves nothing.
While my fatigue is not a great start to the day, it's also not auspicious that last night, just before I went to sleep, my little laptop threw a hissy fit. In the morning Al gives me the bad news that my hard disc is unretrievable. We need the Mac doctor! So my machine, with my life's creative and professional outpourings of late also need medical attention. We are both off for some professional troubleshooting today. Hope the news is good for both of us...
Today the two boys, Harry and Ben are coming with us, the three of them to continue onto the man pad in town where hopefully further progress will be made on the tardiest refurbishment project we've had. With any luck it'll be finished in time for his new Uni year.
We leave a little later as intended and in the car, Nim texts to say she's already arrived. You see, today, my little entourage of supporters has increased by one to 4. So my special new friend is to meet my special old besties. Given the squeeziness of the booth, Janet offers to ditch if space is an issue. But its not! We can make space.
After I arrive, Lindar and Tracey arrive early too so the whole team including Al, and the boys chaperone us to the tiny cubicle. I think the nursing team are relieved that 7 are not to be squeezed in. Maybe we could arrange a Guinness Book of World Records session one time. Just to push the envelope? Anyone in?
Once again, Lindar and Tracey give me a gift (Soap and perfume!), and Nim has already delivered a store of her famous Baklava for the staff. Janet will arrive a little later, also bearing gifts. She will give me some lovely lotions but especially, she will give me a medallion dipped in the waters of Lourdes and was given to her years ago by a kind lady found Janet feeling sad about some events in her life. She had said that it had served her well, and gave it to Janet with the words that 'whatever her problems were would disappear' and that 'one day she would pass it on to someone else in who needed its helping powers'. So you see, even before we learned the words 'pay if forward', this is exactly how the kind and the humane have worked among us. Paying forward their good fortune, their answered prayers, the support they had. How good are my friends! I chide them and say they will be banned from my next chemo session if they keep bringing me these presents. I think my threat falls on deaf ears. But boy! I'm getting lots of presents!
Once I am seated, I am immediatley approached by a lovely nurse, Mel, who started nursing in 1968 and seems confident and professional. The cannula is inserted almost painlessly (after 2 goes). She is calm, positive, soothing. She demonstrates her caring nature immediately when she lugs 2 additional chairs for my friends. (That's all that can fit, so one must use a stool). I apologise for the clan but she says they welcome visitors.
Mel wastes little time in getting down to business.
This time when the Adramyacin enters my veins I start to feel a bit teary. I'm remembering the negativity and depression I briefly encountered in this phase last time. It is not a space I want to return to but what to do? I am reliably informed that emotional health is a lot less resilient than physical health. Joy.
After the Taxotere, I realise I'm feeling nauseous. I am told that, since I was one of those pathetic suckers who endured NINE MONTHS of non-stop morning sickness, this is quite a common scenario.
A call is made up to my oncologist and voila! Two pills (desolved under the tongue) and one injection are produced.
I am also told I will now have to come back on Saturday for another injection and some saline. Later Dr Choo will explain that this is to break the brain's association of the treatment with nausea. Apparently, it can be mind over matter, with the sneaky inclusion of some drug therapy.
All the while my four beautiful friends cover a litany of subjects that may exhaust the unprepared. Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd, Celebrity Apprentice and that cow Deni Hynes, pet dragon lizards who are loyal and loving we're told, pet mice who bite, why my best attributes are my nice bald head, and my very large uterus (but I don't like to boast). We talk about casesarians and the relationship to large fatherly heads, births, deaths and marriages. We discuss my mum and dad's latest invention: a silicon steamer. We discuss Metropole, Goerge Orwell, and Leni Riefenstahl. We talk about travelling. We talk about how people can be surprising. We discuss cross cultural communication: Nim's mother who had no word for 'collander' but managed to get what she wanted by saying: "Round thing take water away, spaghetti stays" and was less successful when she wanted that Lamb Leg and slapped her hind quarter to indicate said meaty cut followed by a gesture that may been construed as 'How much you got'. Instead she scored a wolf whistle and an appraisal of her assets.
And I shared the time when my sister Nicky, me and a friend Sue, spent a couple of weeks in Andros, in Greece, where Sue had some evil intentions with her newly discoverd beau - er hem - Adonis. (I later hung out with Hercules and Sophocles). We found a dinky little pharmacopia where first Sue attempted somewhat pathetically to indicate she wanted some condoms. "Condoms' Con-Doms" she attempted uselessly varying pitch and tone. It wasn't until Nicky went to work that cut-through was achieved. She adopted the lascivious pose of a dirty old man and proceeded to demonstrate 'Man' - a left finger thrusted energetically in a right finger hooked in a ring to indicate a hole which she labelled 'Woman' - a move that left so little to the imagination, I had to scream, "No Nicky, it's too much". At which point the little old storekeeper, foraged among his stores of several products past their use-by-date - produced a small packet and yelled. "Aah! Prophylacticos!" Further embarrassment was therefore avoided as the next stage in this interaction was surely going to be me taking the missionary position on top of Nicky in a bid to furhter dramatise the normal situation for the product we so desperately wanted, Sue by now slinking outside so mortified we did feel a little mollified. But only a little.
Our tales draw peals of laughter when one nurse pops her head into ask what we've put in our coffees, as they want some :)) Not quite "Harry Met Sally" but real laugher is better than those fake orgasms, Sally. Yes, yes, yes! It is!
So next time, I'm going to take my guitar and Janet and I will give them a rendition of the only song we can sing together, that old chestnt, "Wooden Heart". Perhaps I can convince Nim to rock on her smooth bellydancing moves. Just you watch out nursies, you ain't seen nothing yet :)
The nausea abates after I eat some (hospital supplied) sandwiches and have a ginger ale. I wonder of the wisdom of these choices until I finally realise I do feel much better.
Later I go off for my ritual meeting with Dr Choo who is heading back to Penang for a family holiday and will miss my next chemo session. I'll have to see her again afterwards so she can check my neutrophils (apparently a little low today).
And so in this way my day concludes, in much the way as did my last chemo session. Good friends taking my mind off the bits I really hate about it all. The needles, the drugs and what they will do to me in the next 10 days.
And again, there is that mysterious alchemy, of how bad experiences are transformed, by the people you choose to have around you, their attitudes affecting mine, and just being comfortable enough with them - all four - to be able cry if I need to, knowing one if not all will hold my hand at some stage because they know that under my jokes and humour, I am now anxious about the next 10 days when I will be largely horizontal, bored, retching, angry, fatigued and alone.
Al and the boys pick Nim and I up from the Hospital. I find myself drifting off to sleep on Nim's shoulder as one of the drugs causes drowsyness.
It is just a good thing that I have made the most of the good days behind me.
I'll be focussing on those bright spots I have mentioned before.
For they are the things that illuminate my way forward: these are the things I focus on - a normal life, the support of my friends and family, walks with my dog, a nice home cooked meal and those thing I have been grateful for all my life: how lucky I am to be me! I won the lottery the day I was born - and with all the shit and pain and disappointment and struggle, all the closed doors, the near misses, the death defying moments, the cul-de sacs, the bad decisions, the losses and humiliations - how great it's been, all of it.
And this evening, another bright spot sparkles. Harry has invited 20 mates over for his own Christmas do. This means my children are living a normal, social life. It's another thing to be grateful for: healthy, happy, confident kids who can host a party like their Mumsy on a whim. That's the spirit!
Already I'm a winner, so chemo - do your best - you won't bring me down.