It was a staple of many a feminist comedienne’s (surely just comedian these days?) set in the late 80s and early 90s but the topic of ‘what you can do when you have your period’ is still a feature of advertising now. The focus these days is more about ‘hey, you can go sky diving or pot holing if you want but equally you can stay in and play chess or do your tax return if that suits you better’ – never let it be said that I don’t know what a woman wants at all times of the month. Similarly, at the moment there has been a lot of pre Para-Olympics coverage and advertising on TV which seems to suggest that if you have a disability you aren’t making the most of your life unless you’re racing down the ramp in a wheelchair or sprinting down a track with little or no sight. Again, where’s the shame in being disabled but preferring to perfect your oil painting technique or train as a Tom Cruise-esque cocktail master? A clue for you, there is none.
But what the hell has this got to do with my constant bleating about having cancer, I hear you ask with a heavy sigh. Well, despite the good news I recently had about my cancer diagnosis I am yet to book my round the world trip, nor have I got any plans to jump out of a plane or off a bridge (attached to a bungee, this is not a cry for help people). I haven’t really had that life changing epiphany moment other than spending a bit more time with the kids and not getting as frustrated as I used to. That said, there are times when, halfway through watching Anchorman for the 20th time, I wonder if I’m wasting my time, literally wasting my life. And then you get the guilts. Should I be making the most of every second, should I be living life the max and existing on the edge or is it perfectly acceptable to spend an hour or two on the Xbox or re-alphabetise your CD collection after your child has ruined all your hard work? Yes, of course it’s fine. It’s more than fine, it’s normal, it’s essential. As much as I would love to go travelling (I definitely have the wanderlust at the moment), I have bills to pay and a family to support. I have a job to do and social commitments to keep so just dumping everything and running off in to the sun is, while tempting, just not practical. So I wanted to write that down, in black and white, in the hope that others can be reassured as I have been by this realisation.
I have to say it’s been pretty odd over the last 10 days or so since getting as close to the ‘all clear’ as you can get with cancer. On the one hand, getting told that things aren’t anywhere near as doomy as you thought four months ago is pretty great albeit anticlimactic. On the other hand, beating a disease like cancer in to submission (just submission, it ain’t dead yet) feels like a pretty amazing (dare I say superhuman?) thing to do. It’s not though, it’s just human isn’t it? Essentially, the human body (more specifically my sack of bones) is an amazing thing and the immune system can cope with certain levels of cancer by keeping them in some sort of holding pattern. Think of it as biological kettling or an endless snake of cells waiting to get on to the fairground ride of my lymphatic system. But, and this is a serious but, there is still hope of developing the superhuman powers that we all surely crave. You see, I’ve had quite a few scans inside radiation emitting devices, various scars torn in me and I’ve been advised to wear Lycra. I’ve got another ultrasound in August, another CT scan in October and they don’t show any signs of letting up so I think it might be time to get my special skin tight suit made up and wait for my new powers to show themselves. Personally, I’m hoping for either super speed like the Flash or the ability to metabolise large quantities of food without putting on any weight. Sounds reasonable, right?
Over the last few days, however, the most superhuman thing I’ve managed is increasing the size of my right leg by making it swell up. The GP (no, not that GP) tells me this will be a combination of the excess lymph fluid and the excessive heat so I have to hang on until I get to see the good folks at St Luke’s next week who should show me how to return things to normal. It doesn’t exactly strike fear in to the heart of villains the world over though, does it; ‘here comes Roland, the man with a slightly puffy leg! Watch as he limps awkwardly towards you, slightly faster than a mobility scooter with a low battery…. Ayeeeeeeeeeee’.
The next battle for this superhero, however, was against the evil Lymph O’Demo but I would need my sidekick St Luke to help me with this particular fight. Essentially, I went to St Luke’s to see if my swollen leg was a result of the dreaded Lymphoedema or just full of custard – I really like custard so was understandably hoping for the latter. My leg was measured, my blood pressure was taken through my toe with the tiniest cuff thingy you’ve ever seen and yet another stranger looked at my uncovered groin (“very nice” was the choice comment this time, albeit in reference to the healing of my scar). The long and short of it is that my right leg (bad leg) is 20% bigger than my left leg (good leg) and that means I have mild Lymphoedema. For those that haven’t been wallowing in cancer knowledge as much as I have recently, Lymphoedema is what happens when some of your lymph nodes are removed and your lymph fluid can’t move around the body properly so it just kind of pools in your limb. Like sick in an old sock. This news kinda sucked but was delivered in that classic NHS way, without pausing for breath, so it’s taken 24 hours to sink in and now it really sucks.
But what of the future? Well, first things first, I have to wear a stocking on my right leg that will compress the fluid and give my muscles something to push against and this, I’m told, will help. There were two particularly distressing issues here, however, which I am compelled to share with you. Firstly, these stockings only come in beige. Beige. The worst of all the colours. This also brings up a point I’ve been pondering for some time; if you’re a person of colour in this world who gets an injury, there seems to be an inherent racism in the medical world as the vast majority of plasters and surgical wear seems to come mainly in Caucasian sympathetic colours. There’s either a law suit or a business opportunity in there somewhere. Now, secondly, and perhaps more worrying, the phrase “for the rest of your life” was thrown in there which is never good. The concept of wearing a surgical stocking for the rest of my life was not immediately concerning but then I got to thinking, what else can I confidently say will happen for the rest of my life? Breathing; check. And that’s where the list ends. Everything else can pretty much be taken away by illness, bad luck or disease so those are my two certainties – breathing and half a pair of beige stockings. Not the most inspiring thought process but still better than chemo or, y’know, death.
The final part of this instalment could have appeared in any of my other posts but I felt like the time wasn’t really right. The thing is, all of this was avoidable. My GP asked the hospital to look at something on my toe and check it for Melanoma back in 2014 but the test came back as benign. When the groin fruit appeared earlier this year, the toe sample was retested and, you guessed it, there was some melanoma in there after all. That means I could have avoided the lump, the operation, the semi-permanent loss of feeling in my thigh, the huge amount of stress and the lifelong subscription to beige stockings quarterly. Needless to say, I’ve had an apology from hospital (crucially, for delayed diagnosis rather than misdiagnosis) and there is to be a hearing at which I will be present although I don’t know if I’m supposed or allowed to take anyone with me yet. Still, the summer is here, I have my busiest two work weeks of the year coming up and some kind of NHS investigation to get embroiled in. What more could a girl want? I mean guy! Damnit, the thought of wearing stockings is already starting to warp my mind.