As John Lennon once said, ‘life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans’, or words to that effect. When a personal tsunami happens, everything changes, and old certainties go out the window. Breast cancer has been a most unwelcome health crisis for me, turning my life upside down, and shutting out creative ventures along with many other pursuits, in order to focus on simply going with the swirling riptide, surfacing awkwardly to gasp for breath, and somehow staying alive.
It is funny what can trigger a new blog episode for me. I have been feeling for the past ten weeks or so since the cancer diagnosis, that my Seeing Me Out blog would have to wait until I felt up to it again. I don’t want to be ‘seen out’ yet, rather unceremoniously. Then the blog trigger happened.
Growing old disgracefully
Early this morning, I was sitting in the waiting room near the Rainforest radiation room in the third week of a 6 week intensive radiation therapy treatment at the Wesley Hospital. I was wrapped uncomfortably in a medical gown that was ‘designed by a man for male patients’, as one nurse accurately said to me a couple of weeks ago, a wry smile on her face. A feisty older woman patient walked past me, then stopped, looked directly at me, and announced: “I’m not going to wish you ‘a good day’. It isn’t a good day and anyone who says so should just be told to fuck off.”
I laughed and agreed with her, finding her attitude refreshing amidst all the polite smiles and kind mumblings from the other patients I encounter there each day. A while ago, I received a frank text from my dear friend Liliana who has also undergone pretty vicious breast cancer surgery and treatment this year. She communicated frankly that ‘if anyone tells you to be positive about all this, just tell them to fuck off. What we have is a horrible disease’. In a similar vein, the feisty older woman today elaborated further. Apparently she saw the radiation therapy treatment as a form of barbaric torture, not unlike the horrors that witches were subjected to in the Middle Ages – and she had made her candid views known to the staff at the clinic. I liked her spirit. We formed an instant bond. And I knew immediately and unexpectedly that I had the trigger for a new blog.
Rainforest and Coral Reef
When I first went into one of the radiation theatres, benignly entitled the Rainforest, I wasn’t too happy when I was placed in a tight position, lying flat on a slab with my arms stretched and clamped up behind my head. For the mapping procedure, I was tattooed and lined up with coordinates in preparation for the daily zapping treatment to come. Indeed, the sense that I am regularly in a torture chamber has been going through my mind over the past two weeks. Prior to this zapping prep, I had met with the clinic’s financial advisor, who put me through another form of torture, outlining the massive charges I would be facing over the following 6 weeks. At least I will ultimately receive much of this back from Medicare, so there is some light on that horizon.
I also have a little rest from this relentless daily routine each weekend: 12 treatments down, 18 to go. And the nurses and the clinic staff are all very kind. They don’t have the same grim reaper aura of the financial advisor.
All systems go
Since early September, I have found a good surgeon and had 2 operations to remove the cancer. Apart from being something of a legend, he also uses apt metaphors to describe my cancer (a Rottweiler pup), my lumpectomy surgery (scooping a brown spot out of an avocado), and multiple airbag protection in a car to describe the post-op radiation and hormone suppressant treatment; luckily no need for extra chemo airbags.
Prior to the diagnosis, inspired by the wondrous young filmmaker Katherina, I was working on a little documentary about decluttering and leaving my Art Deco apartment for a smaller place with a lift. Quite a life-changing journey for this old Baby Boomer to document. Yet now, for a while at least, there is a different life plan that I might have to call ‘Woman Interrupted’. Yet the narrative discourses merge in a way – decluttering my home, decluttering my breast. There could yet be a sterling documentary film emerging out of this mess, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes.
Wow honey. What a journey. Fucking horrible is the most poetic description I can come up with. Glad though you have kept your humour and insight. We need to share these experiences with honesty and hopefully humour. Had coffee this morning with a lovely man who has had a dreadful time with prostate cancer. I was laughing and crying at the same time. It’s that spirit that keeps the world turning. Proud of you and thinking of you. Xxxxx
Second time this week that courageous women have shared the reality of coping with fucking horrible illness and tortuous treatments. You and Liz Jackson are both inspirational.
as always Helen, witty words about a wicked situation. Love and hugs.
I am grateful for your friendship dear Helen and, as always, impressed with your communication skills. Sorry you are going through this terrible experience and thank your story. I agree with Ann that you and Liz Jackson have been inspiring us.
Sad to read this, even though it is so grittily entertaining. Sending lots of love Helen, and thinking about you. I’ll be in Brisbane next month: maybe you can get a leave pass from the torture chamber (and its effects), and we can catch up? It was such fun when I last saw you with that other Disruptor … xxx
Helen, as they say in the classics, this is fucking fucked but no doubt you will inform and amuse whilst you go from Limp Sick Budgy to Fuckyou Phoenix .