Forest fire

Like everyone else I’m a complex, kaleidoscopic creature, and a big part of that is my battle with cancer. I’m in remission, finished with surgeries, chemo, radiotherapy and injections. When asked casually “how are you feeling?” I say I’m doing really well and the reply is always “You look great!”

Today it’s exactly one year ago that I finished chemo. Those 12 weeks were the most horrible I’ve ever had to endure. I’m not being melodramatic when I say there were times when I honestly thought I would die.
I had a skype call with a therapist this morning, because I’m Captain Obvious and apparently remission doesn’t mean I’m A-OK. I’ve known deep down for a while that I’m not managing so well, but I didn’t allow that thought in to my conscious brain. I’ve been pushing down rather than confronting my emotions. We are going to work together to build a bridge between where I want to be and the stuck-in-the-mud feeling of here and now.  Whilst I’m not exactly a hot mess, I am battling demons and I seem to have misplaced my salt and holy water. Where are those Winchester boys when I need them? ;)

I had much taken from me by cancer, but not my creativity. I painted every day my river metaphor in Prussian blue in my little sketchbook. When I look back over them, I see how abundant my imagination and resourcefulness were in my darkest of times. I must have remembered to turn on the light. (I’m killing it with my references today!)

prussian blue chemo watercolour

chemo abstract watercolour painting

Those paintings are waiting for me. Waiting to see what I want them to become. They will be something special in due time, this much I know. I also wrote tons; I literally brain-dumped daily in my notebooks, not opened and read since. But a couple of days ago, because I was going to be talking to the therapist today, I gingerly went to the shelf and took down the one marked July 2017. I knew it was going to be hard to read:

6th July 2017
“Will I always remember that sound? The sound of the infusion pump as it rumbles then clicks rhythmically. I often find my breath falls in time with it, especially when I want to drop off to sleep while I’m sat in that hideous lime green vinyl chair. How strange that something delivering pure poison into my body can have that effect on me. Perhaps it’s the gentle lulling, like a baby falls asleep in a car. When the infusion stops a beep sounds. Sharp and loud. At any one time someone’s is going off and it takes a while for a nurse to come. Usually someone in a chair with a buzzer will press it for whoever needs their drip changed.

Today my nurse was Laurence. I’m glad, she’s the eldest and gentlest, I don’t really feel anything when she pierces my catheter port. She says “respire puis bloque” and I hold my breath. I suddenly feel really emotional. I’ve seen many other patients come and go over the past 12 weeks. Chemo lounge is crammed today but I only recognise the lady with glasses who sleeps (or pretends to so she won’t have to speak) the whole time, and the old rocker with his heavy skulls rings and tattoos. He must be in his 70s. Everyone else is new. Rough days ahead people. I’m so sorry for you. I wish I could help.

I slept in the taxi all the way home, feeling strangely blank. Now I feel weak, fatigued and irritable. I’m thinking about how I coped – if I even did at all or whether I just survived it. It’s so ugly, hard and exhausting and takes you to the very edge. All you can do is get on with it. Now, I can barely walk, can barely see my eyes are so swollen. I was so miserable…no, utterly destroyed by chemo”.

chemo drip bubbles

One year on, it’s bloody painful to read those words again. But chemo didn’t utterly destroy me. In many ways it was like a forest fire. One that blazed with such ferocity it completely engulfed me, my body and my senses.
Once, many years ago we drove the only road into Cadaques in Spain. The year before the entire region had been decimated by fire. The smell filled our nostrils, but we could see little green tips pushing their way through the blackened soil and scorched stumps. The heat had germinated pioneer plants, that didn’t resemble those lost to the blaze.
Perhaps that’s how I am now. Forever changed, my life now has a new, unfamiliar yet fertile landscape to grow into. It’s going to take longer than even I thought, let alone others around me.