My mouth, my mouth. My mouth is messed up. I'd been pleased with the minimal adverse Chemo side effects so far, for me it had been a bit of nausea which was all taken care of by some anti-sickness drugs (Jesus incarnate) and general tiredness. That was it for round one and I was feeling rather happy; booking tickets up to Birmingham for a reunion with Uni folk. Sunday night I started to get sharp pangs in the back of my mouth, like everything I was eating was a bitter lemon, even when I drank a glass of water. This continued into Monday and is starting to flare whether or not I'm eating anything. It's so frustrating, hopefully it will pass but there's nothing I can do. Certain Chemo drugs alter the lining of your mouth and saliva and all you can rely on is perseverance to stop you from going insane. I'm persevering...still persevering. We can surely stop this now. I love to eat so I'm getting a little angry at not being able to eat the stalest, crustiest piece of bread without wincing like those knobs on the Sensodyne adverts. This had better wear off quick because keeping me away from food will be the key to all this optimism imploding into anger and cynicism. This has been the only thing that has brought me down so far, so far indeed that I went and slept in with my Mum Monday night and I can honestly say I have not done that since I was 6 years old. We watched a bunch of SHIT on that Alibi channel (the axed semi-regular cast members of huge US TV shows and getting them to front some 'singlemother/detective/psychic/ninja/IUSEDTOBEAMAN' crime drama-dey) then woke up at half seven as we apparently went to sleep about half nine, and watched Jumanji. I then called this Chemotherapy patient hotline, no seriously, and asked them if there was anything that I am allowed to have to numb my mouth. I didn't care if I never tasted food again, it felt like someone had rubbed a stinging nettle all over my tongue and the back of my throat. The Oncology (CANCER) nurses told me to get Difflam and I hot footed it to the doctors where she wrote me a wonderful repeat prescription. It seems to do the trick mostly. I had to gargle with it on the train up to Birmingham in the toilet, loudly it would seem as the entire carriage watched me retreat to my seat in disgust. This is where I give people my "It's ok, I have cancer" knowing smile; whether they interpret this more as a "I just farted" knowing smile is up for debate.
I know I have been out of the Cancer closet fully for a couple of weeks now but before that I had crafted a very specific list of who needed to know. For a while I didn't want to be 'that girl with cancer', I got over that quickly. Closest friends were the only ones allowed to know to start with but that was still a fair fifteen people. I'm not popular I'm just way too forward with asserting closeness with people. A couple of people I rang didn't remember who I was. This is all tomfoolery, I'm very private really.
I had my list in front of me and my phone and began the longwinded process I have come to call "Bombshelling". This list of people knew that it could be cancer, I didn't directly point it out to everyone but the phrase "they found a mass near my heart" produces the word 'tumour' in most people's minds, I'm sure. This sounds utterly grotesque but it was morbidly fascinating to hear their reactions. I told everyone in more or less the same way, the script was a little like this:
"I saw the consultant today and I have cancer. But, it's lymphoma and it's one of the most treatable kinds of cancer with crazy successes in treatment, way into the ninetieth percentile. I'm not worried, I know I'm going to get through it, it's just going to be a couple of hard, bald months ahead."You get the gist.
Most people were shaken but strong, they later said hearing the way I was handling it actually calmed them down. Do I ever stop giving? My friend Sean started talking at a million miles an hour but tried to stay calm and joke about my future life as bald lady and cancer-guilt extorter. My friend Leah sounded like she was hyperventilating and kept saying "OH JESUS" to every sentence that left my mouth. It was sad at the time but hilarious to parody now. The worst thought that I had in my head was that I sort of began a ranking system in my head of 'Who is the saddest? Who loves me the most? Who should I leave the money to?'. I'm a sicko but suck it slags that's human nature.
I told my close group of friends from Uni and home and was happy for them to tell their partners and parents because it's definitely something that needs to be talked about. That was supposed to be it for the time being but sooner or later it's going to find you, sometimes where you least expect it. Alcohol. As you can imagine, the attention whore that I've mutated into has had an unbelievable amount of "Congratulations on your Cancer Diagnosis" sessions, a particular favourite, pre-chemo "Mexicana-Wastorama" where we went to a Mexican restaurant ate nachos, enchiladas and drank mojitos. Banging. Anyway, the point I'm making is that at the time in a sober frame of mind I would never blurt out to acquaintances/new faces/perfect strangers that I had cancer. I was at my friends' joint 21st birthday party in a few weeks ago and remember charging up to my friend Sammie and screeching "Giz your friend with cancer a fag san!" in front of a group of strangers. I don't even smoke. It would have been highly awkward had we not ALL been trashed. I don't think it registered with most. I also recently met random people on a night out and after painting the streets with my insides they declared that I was not "hardcore". To which I replied classily "I'm the hardest-fucking core cunt here because I HAVE CANCER"and sat on my feet. Cue looks of disgust and bemusement as people decipher whether you're humour is pitch black or if you are a genuine smashed cancer patient almost sitting in a pile of your own sick.
Before the big coming out I "Bombshelled" a couple of people sober too. This wasn't too long before the blog. I saw an old friend working in town and when he asked me how I was thought I may as well tell him. He was shocked to say the least but very sweet. I also saw an old friend I used to work with who took the whole thing rather well, he's moved significantly lower in my ranking system now. That'll teach him. "Bombshelling" was a little thrill on its own but I keep forgetting something. I'm not the only person in the world to have cancer. I go around making jokes and acting casual about the whole event expecting people to react in the same way. What I am desperately trying to remedy is to remind myself that not all cancer can be treated so lightly and with the degree of arrogant confidence that I have about beating it.
I don't want this blog to be treated as a "You have cancer, this is how to deal with it" piece of literature; it's my point of view. Too much in fact. I do want the blog to take a certain amount of fear away from the disease and help people understand it and the Chemotherapy and its effects because I don't think it's anything that you would actively seek out on a rainy day. In another factory-bottled cliche, I want to show how something monumentally terrible can change your life in great ways. Talking to my friend Brad last night he told me that he had never seen me so happy and it's crazy but I think he's right. I've always been someone to struggle with immensely low self-esteem in every possible way which stopped me from doing things I'm really passionate about, like writing. Had it not been for the cancer I would have never written anything like this from pure, unadulterated fear of people laughing at me and generally thinking it was shit. Cancer seems to have melted all these insecurities, including the constant obsession with how I look. In short, I've never felt more comfortable or accepted as I am but a big chunk of that is the reliance on the cancer-safety-net. To turn it nice and cynical again, someone can hate me the minute they meet me but within three minutes of finding out I have cancer I become "inspirational", "brave" and "AMAZING". In all honesty, though I agree I'm dealing with it well I wouldn't brand myself with any of those words. I'm just getting on with it and I'm everyone of you reading this would be the same.
Big love x