THE NEW NORMAL #33 – THIS TOO SHALL PASS

This post is a little bit backwards so if you haven’t watched Memento then buckle up for the ride. Driving home today, at the end of my second dose of immunotherapy treatment, I managed to tune in to my favourite Friday afternoon film review programme (Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo on BBC Radio 5 if you’re keeping tabs) and they were interviewing Tom Hanks ahead of the release of his new film, ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood’. Aside from Hanks’ unerring ability to pick a good film and his soothing, deep vocal tones, I’ve always found the man who brought Woody to life (oo-er missus) to be the kind of calm and reassuring personality that you always wished to have in your life.

Towards the end of the interview, Mayo and Hanks discussed words of wisdom that would help us all through these troubled times and the presenter offered up his co host’s words, “Everything will be alright in the end and if it’s not alright then it’s not the end”. I loved this – it applies to films and, hopefully, life too. Hanks, like the absolute pro he is, parried this wisdom back with four simple and beautifully delivered words; “This too shall pass”. Hanks elaborated, “if you’re having a low day, a crappy day – this too shall pass. If you’re on top of the world, having the best day of your life – this too shall pass. Life evens out like a big ol’ bell curve so just take it as it comes”. If ever I need to hear something on the radio on the way home from a long session in the chemo ward, it was Tom Hanks telling that this too shall pass.

Now, before people start sending in postcards of concern about my wellbeing, I must confess that some of this was my fault. My appointment was at 9.30am and I had fully intended to take some food with me but in the flurry of school runs, making it to the hospital on time and dropping in a prescription at the pharmacy, I completely forgot. This meant that I spent six hours without food or drink because a) I forgot to bring anything and b) I am apparently incapable of asking for help. Sitting for six hours isn’t exactly strenuous but the impact on your body and mind of having all those drugs pumped through your hand and into your system is pretty serious so by the time I got out I was shaking pretty vigorously. So much so that when I got to the pharmacy to pick up my prescription and tried to take a sip from my hastily purchased bottle of M&S water (sorry environment) I ended up liberally sprinkling the guy in front of me in the queue like the winner of a low budget go-kart grand prix.

Prior to this impromptu soaking of a stranger, I had spent my time in the chemo ward playing a game. The game is called ‘Try Not to Listen to all the Conversations about Cancer’ and has a bonus round of ‘Don’t Look at All the People Who are so Visibly Sick’ – I’m getting quite good at it. I read the front and back of my blood test order form, I watched Wednesday’s Match of the Day on my phone and discovered a new sketch show on Netflix (The Astronomer’s Club, not bad). Nevertheless, as I worked my way through the levels of this game it got harder and it was almost impossible not to notice the teenager opposite me sat with his dad in a scene of depressing familiarity. Then there was the old couple where the husband was attending his last chemo session but complete with iPad, Ear Pods and a sense of resolve that was humbling. Finally, there was the family next to me with a father who was attending his second session of chemo with his wife and teenage son in attendance – I tried not to see that as a vision of my future but that thought wormed it’s way in as the words ‘GAME OVER’ flashed up in front of my eyes.

Earlier on in my visit, I’d listened (as had been requested by a number of friends, readers and colleagues) to see if there were any more fantastic conversations to be had – and the cancerous people of Plymouth didn’t let me down. First, there was holiday advice which ranged from “Keep to the touristy bits if you’re going to Costa Rica, there are some right dodgy types there” to “The Grand Union Canal was the most romantic place I’ve ever seen – the mist and the sunrise were beautiful”. Up next there was actual medical culinary advice for those suffering with mouth ulcers (a common side effect), “try dipping fries in to a McFlurry or a smoothie – it’s quite popular on Instagram”. And then there was the discussion in the waiting room between two ladies who were comparing the greyness and thinness of their hair not just on top of their heads but, well, down below as well. There seems to be something about cancer that makes people open up and care less about who hears it – then again, that could just the people of Plymouth.

Now for the serious bit (skip this if you just come here for the good times). Building up to today’s treatment has been hard, harder than any of us anticipated. Yes, I’ve still been able to work but not as much or as quickly as I would have liked and, yes, I’ve still been able to dismantle our rotting decking but it’s taken me two weekends and it’s still not finished. But mainly, I’m just incredibly tired. This sucks because I live for my evenings when I get to write, listen to new music, socialise a little and generally just catch up with the world. Sadly, now all I seem to be able to do is scroll through the same six inches of Twitter and fall asleep in front of Netflix documentaries about Pyramids or to the soothing tones of David Attenborough or Morgan Freeman.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not feeling sorry for myself, I know there’s a lot worse out there and, in all likelihood, worse to come for me, but I have genuinely been surprised by just how sneakily the tiredness creeps up on you. Oh, and I’m not allowed to call it tiredness anymore I’ve been told – tiredness can be cured by sleep, this is fatigue and it’s just here to stay for the duration of my treatment. So, aching joints, persistent fatigue and occasionally swollen nerves is all there making everyday life just progressively less fun – a lot like the endless stream of mindless pop pumped out of the radio thanks to the soulless shills at Heart FM which plagued the entirety of today’s treatment. Still, as I was to learn later this very day, that too passed.

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