Posts Tagged ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’

I’m fine

“I’m fine” must be the most over-used phrase in the lexicon of the cancer patient.

Saying “I’m fine” makes life easier for everyone. It means you don’t have to go into long winded explanations about your illness; it prevents social awkwardness; and it gives you a temporary reprieve from your main role as ‘cancer-patient’. This can be an exhausting charade to maintain and inevitably the truth sometimes creeps out.

Like last week, when I was admitted to A & E, and a student nurse chose the wrong moment to ask how I was doing. As I hurled into the sink, all I could summon was “I’ve been better”. When they finally found me a bed after a traumatic 14 hours in A & E, I was a sobbing, broken mess.

I'm fine

I’m fine

I’ve not been feeling right for ages: nauseous, fatigued and increasingly wheezy/breathless. I’ve had the wheeze checked out several times but it got so bad that I was struggling to get up stairs without getting out of breath. Apparently the metastases in my lungs are too small to be symptomatic, so it was put down to possible adult onset asthma. Bearing in mind that I climbed Mam Tor at the end of January with minimal effort, I struggled to accept this diagnosis.

We’re great at self-diagnosis, us cancer patients, so when I went to A & E last Monday, I assumed they’d find a blood clot or a massive tumour blocking my airways. It turns out that I have pneumonia. I was so relieved. This is the bizarre world I occupy where ‘anything but more cancer’ is seen as a good thing.

My stay in hospital wasn’t exactly a spa break. Admittedly a hospital bed is a step up from a trolley in A & E, but the respiratory ward isn’t an environment conducive to rest and recuperation. I left feeling more sick than when I arrived.

I can’t fault the medical treatment or the nursing, apart from the domestic who had a serious ATT-I-TUDE and kept attacking my bed with her mop. It’s probably because on top of the pneumonia, I’ve been having partial brain radiotherapy. My poor body has been attacked from every angle. It’s no wonder I feel anything but fine.

I had my final radiotherapy session today. This is me ringing the ‘Final Treatment Bell’ earlier this morning. I celebrated with a lie down.

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Wit

The nausea-inducing roller-coaster of cancer treatment was eloquently portrayed by Julie Hesmondhalgh, in a play a I recently saw at Manchester’s Royal Exchange. In the award winning ‘Wit’ Julie played a Stage IV ovarian cancer patient, Vivien, a university professor, taking part in a clinical trial. Most of the action takes part in a hospital bed. It doesn’t sound like scintillating viewing but it was one of the funniest and profoundly moving pieces of theatre I have ever seen.

It helped that the subject matter was pertinent to my situation and it was an incredibly realistic portrayal of the Stage IV cancer journey, one often ignored by media-friendly tales of heroic survivor-ship.

The play’s accuracy to the subject was near faultless: the de-humanisation of the diagnostic process (I sometimes still cry when I have a scan); the contrasting bedside manner of medics (clinical) vs nurses (compassionate); the over-analysis of every medical encounter by patients; and the brave face we put on for those around us. Even when she is close to death, Vivien’s stock reply is “I’m fine”.

By the end of the play I was a blubbing, quivering wreck. I wish I’d seen it earlier in January because at least I’d be able to recommend you all to go and see it, but it’s finished now. Sorry. There’s an HBO movie version with Emma Thompson which I’ve yet to see, but it might be worth a watch:

Everything’s fine

Since being discharged from hospital on Thursday evening, I’ve barely left the couch. As someone who’s normally really active, I’ve found this really difficult. Even standing up feels like an effort, so I’ve had to find new ways to occupy myself. I’m still working my way through Curb Your Enthusiasm, although I’ve had to ration this, because it hurts when I laugh. The episode I watched this afternoon reminded me that I’m not the only one telling fibs about my feelings.

So the next time you ask your friend with Stage IV cancer how they are doing, do a little probing or even better give them a ‘Larry Staredown‘, because the chances are they’re probably not fine.

 

 

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