Wednesday, 21 November 2012

How do you eat an elephant?

How do you eat an elephant? The same way you live with cancer - bite size chunks. The overall picture is too much to cope with so we live with each chunk and each phase as it happens. 

And today's phase is a good one. I have my scan results and they show an 'excellent response' to the chemotherapy. The tumours in my liver have shrunk a lot and those in my lungs even more. I have gone from a very serious and advanced stage of the disease to regression of the tumours and a result beyond management to a battle victory. My prognosis has shifted from what was months to years so this is all good. 

As I expected there is no miracle result and it does seem as though I will having some form of chemotherapy (on off)  for several years. Localised treatment and an all clear result still isn't an option and I need to put thoughts of that out of my head. Cancer is increasingly treated as a chronic condition and this is the way it will be managed in my case. The recommended strategy of my oncology team seems to be to use chemotherapy to keep it at bay, then give me a 2 month break from the chemotherapy then start chemotherapy again to knock the cancer back some more. 

And this is what I need to focus on. The whole elephant is too much to take in and I can't live my life thinking about when I will die, or when I will be cured. Instead I must focus on each manageable chunk and the fact that I am alive; and that I have won my first three month battle. 

I am also focusing on the fact that there should be a break from chemotherapy in 3 months time. I love those drugs for saving my life but they're hard work and 2 months of normalcy will be just lovely. 

In which I am absolutely terrified.

Today I get my scan results. I think. Logically I know that they will say that the liver tumours have shrunk - if nothing else. I know that my liver isn't as swollen - I can't feel it protruding for a start and the liver function tests showed huge improvement. I also know that the aim of this first stage of chemo was to get the disease under control, before we go for shrinking the tumours, then (hopefully) localised treatment. And I am confident that the first objective has been achieved, if not some of the second. And as chemo trashes all cancer in its wake then my lung mets (this is cancer kid speak for metases - or secondary tumours) and colon cancer should have taken a knocking too but of course I am still terrified. Terrified that it will have failed and everything is worse; and here's my secret fear also terrified to hear the truth that there won't be a miraculous 'it's all gone' result. But God how I have fantasised about that moment; imagining telling everyone that joy of joys it's all gone. I am the lucky survivor, that it is all okay. I am, of course,  in reality more likely to win the lottery than get this response, and I don't buy a ticket. So yes I am scared. 

I should be used to this feeling as a lot of the time living with cancer (or any life threatening disease) is living with constant fear. It is having to shrug off negativity on an hourly basis. It is being grateful for a night without bad dreams and for not waking up thinking about cancer. It is being envious of other people for their happy cancer free lives and reminding yourself that "into each  life a little rain must fall" but wishing, just wishing, that you hadn't had such a deluge. It is finding yourself crying for no reason and begging God to let you survive. It is talking to the air. It is living in hope and trying not to drown in despair. It is the horrible realisation that you probably won't see your kids grow old and trying to come to terms with this. Trying not to imagine their pain if you die or your partner's or family's or friend's. Longing not to put anyone through that, and feeling a little bit self indulgent for thinking about it quite so much. 

And it is, of course, laughing and shouting and bickering and just doing stuff because all the time that cancer is in your head, life goes on. Dogs have to be walked, kids have to be fed and vice versa. 

But on days like this it's hard. The tension which is ever present is so palpable and I just want to have it over. 

Wish me luck. I'm going in.