THE NEW NORMAL #34 – TRANSITION VAMP

I have, I think, always been fascinated with transitions. I really hate goodbyes, I over anticipate hellos, I work in change management, I love those days when the seasons start to turn and I could sit in any large transport hub for hours just watching the emotions that flow through those places. I’m an addict for the energy of a verse becoming a chorus, a twist in a film plot or the day after learning something new that changes your outlook on life. I am, however, getting pretty tired of transitioning between being sick and being well enough to pass as normal (as much as I ever do).

Since my 2nd treatment, three weeks have passed and the first week was a fair attempt at normality before I crashed and burned on the Wednesday. Sat in a workshop that I was supposed to be running, I had the very real sensation that everyone else was part of a TV show that I was watching but could not interact with in any way. Feeling slightly out of sorts, I looked down at my hands to see them shaking uncontrollably and suddenly all those well wishers telling me “listen to your body” were brought to the fore. Throw in some disorientating heart palpitations and the same energy levels I used to have on a Sunday while at university (i.e. lethargy mixed with indifference served in a glass made of questionable fashion choices), and you’ve got a recipe for a fairly useless human being.

Week two was far better but there was a weird new side-effect – itchy inner ears. I know you’re not supposed to put anything smaller than an elbow in your ear but if that was the case then why did evolution/God/pure chance (delete depending on whatever you believe) make it possible for your ears to itch mercilessly in a place only reachable by a screwdriver or BBQ skewer? Despite my infuriating ears, I was able to return to work and pass for normal during the day while passing out on the sofa in the evening. So far so even in the battle with immunotherapy. One all, if you will.

The third and final week saw me transition from not just appearing normal but to actually being relatively normal, I even managed a first beer of the year after accidentally doing dry January in response to my liver politely requesting I take it easy while the immunotherapy drugs do their worst. Or best, actually.

I was trying to describe the way immunotherapy works to a friend recently and the best I could come up with was this; In an ideal world, you would send in a James Bond style drug that would casually stroll up to the cancer in a dinner jacket, knock out some smart quip and then strangle it with a razor wire without causing any fuss, damage or suffering. At the other end of the scale is what has been the only option for many people in recent years, chemotherapy. In comparison to Bond, chemo is a Colonel Kurtz lead platoon of helicopters dropping wave after wave of agent orange on your body in the hope that one of the bombs hits the target despite the wanton destruction all around.

In between Kurtz and Bond is Rambo. Rambo, in this world, is immunotherapy; an approach that whilst fairly well targeted is likely to cause some collateral damage and take out a couple of friendlies with stray bullets along the way. This certainly feels like a fair compromise considering the alternative, but it certainly makes for a twitchy experience that you want to end and also want to continue indefinitely. Schrödinger’s cancer, you see, is the challenge we now face where a scan after my fourth set of treatment could be good news (the cancer has reacted well and retracted), average news (the cancer has completely ignored the treatment but hasn’t grown) or bad news (the treatment has been a completely waste of time and the cancer is now wrapped around all your vital organs). So, yeah, as much as I want the treatment to be over, I’m also really not looking forward to the next time I have to pass through the giant Polo.

Anyhoo, morbid possibilities aside, treatment #3 came along and, despite the doomy portents of Storm Dennis (the least threatening of all storm names), things went pretty smoothly. Sure, there was a two hour wait because one of the specialist nurses was off sick, but the waiting room was in good spirits – you don’t mind waiting so much when you’ve got the life to wait in. The saddest part (there’s always one) is that a lady so frail and weak from chemotherapy had to lie down on three chairs in the waiting room under her coat and that of her companion. Having set off at 7.00am from home for an 8.30am appointment, this poor woman was finally able to start her treatment at 11.00am but she didn’t grumble once – even making a joke about taking her shoes off for the obligatory weigh in (it’s a bit like Slimming World but with less whooping and guilt).

I know I’ve mentioned it before, but it really does stand up to repetition; people going through cancer treatment just don’t moan. I’ve been in various places around the hospital with people who’ve self-inflicted injuries and they grumble and shout like spoilt children screaming for their confiscated toys. The hardy souls surrounding me this time were some familiar faces (the lad from treatment 2 with his dad watching faithfully as his son slept the sleep of the exhausted) and new faces including a gent who was in for his first time with immunotherapy. Disappointingly, the chat was more reserved this time and the room felt a sense of real stoic sadness which didn’t chime particularly well with the radio pumping out Bruno Mars’ ‘Uptown Funk’ but that’s what you get for locking in on bloody Heart bloody FM. I mean, seriously, it’s like booking a clown for a funeral and then being disappointed when it just makes everything really awkward and everyone leaves early to leave the clown a bad review on Trip Advisor.

Anyway, treatment went well as I transitioned from newb to semi-pro in the sport of having expensive drugs plugged in to my veins. It took three attempts to get the cannula in to my veins but I’m becoming accustomed to the feeling of the needle scraping against bone in the search for an entry point (sorry if that made you wince, it tends to make people wince). I know when they switch from saline to the drugs, I remembered to take food and I have sussed the optimal sartorial choices to make for treatment (fyi, it’s all about layers). By the time the fourth treatment comes around on 6th March I’m hoping to get my blackbelt in immunotherapy and equally hoping that immunotherapy has done it’s training with the NHS version of Mr Miyagi (or whoever the hell trained Rambo).

To end things on a positive note, I wanted to touch on some of the things you can still do whilst getting treatment because it’s important to focus on the art of the possible (and be grateful for Wi-Fi). Things I have managed to do whilst waiting for a blood test or getting treatment this week include; booking tickets for a concert in London, buying seeds to grow a salad garden with my little boy, catching up with messaging friends around the world, a bit of the day job and filtering through a whole load of new music that I need to review for my other blog. Oh, and I started picking out the music for my funeral but that’s another story for another time – along time from now.

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