Image- Zuzana Brianza
When I was diagnosed with cancer in the spring this year I was given a ton of leaflets, information about surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, coping with hair loss, complementary therapies, support groups and a book called Mummy's lump. It's not easy to raise small children even less so when you're going through chemotherapy. I do realise I am very lucky to be able to do so.
Although I had no idea what to expect I made a pledge to myself to keep my children's lives as normal as possible through all this. I insist on taking them to school no matter how tired I feel. It keeps me active and there is something strangely comforting in the routine. To most people around me it all seems business as usual. But it really isn't business as usual and I'm not just talking about the side effects of the chemotherapy.
My children's vocabulary expanded with new words like blood test, treatment and bad lump.They think the port under my skin is a special button and try to press it once in a while to see what happens. They are generally very good at pressing my buttons! I also have a special chemo section in my wardrobe with clothes that have easy access to the port. They are referred to as chemo clothes and will most likely be donated to a charity shop once the treatment is over.
My week starts typically with a trip to the chemotherapy unit. It's mummy's me time. I get to lie down for a few hours, I get complimentary foot massage and lunch. It all sounds like good times if it wasn't for the mission impossible style helmet that keeps my head cooled to four degrees for five long hours in order to keep at least some of my hair. "Keeping it cool" got a whole new meaning.
I spend a good chunk of my Monday in the chemo unit so I come with a list of business to be taken care of. With the festive season around the corner Christmas shopping and booking tickets for whatever is going on in London is hot on my to do list. The problem is I often forget what I've booked and sometimes realise I booked one too many tickets. In my half drugged/half asleep state I ended up buying four tickets for the Magical Lantern Festival only to find out that it's in fact four family tickets. Chemo brain is no doubt a real thing but it's also my excuse for everything. My credit card bills have gone up and my white blood cells have gone down.
There's the upside as well, apart from not having to shave in the summer, you don't need to dress up for halloween and still look scary. Thanks to the "head cooler" I kept some of my hair and some is growing back in a peculiar way. If you're into the punk rock scene you would have been pleased with this outcome. I have always been more of a smooth jazz girl. Unfortunately I don't have the face of Demi Moore to go G.I. Jane so I'll keep the hat on for a while longer.
There is the scary side as well which is mommy on steroids. Everybody, including me, expected me to return home from the sessions exhausted and frail. In fact I return home in a weird state of steroid-induced euphoria. I realised I was behaving like my children, unable to sit still and with a constant urge to do something. We were the first ones at school, I made costumes for the school nativity play not just for my daughter but also two of her friends, (a talent I didn't even know I had) and the house looked ultra clean for a while. While mummy on steroids gets lots of done, it's not all fun and games. There's the mood swings and irritability and to be frank nobody wants to do homework with mummy on steroids. After my daughter asked me if I'm turning into a dragon the oncologist agreed to take me off the post-chemo steroids. The house if a mess but everybody is a lot happier now.
As much as they can drive me insane, there were many moments when my children actually saved my sanity. Like the moment when you wake up in the morning , run your hand through your hair and half of it comes off. No matter how prepared you think you are for this, it is very depressing to see a bald patch in the mirror. But before I had time to get depressed, I heard a small voice calling from downstairs. "Mummy I made a poo" Me: "well done, you're such a big girl!!" "No mummy I made a poo on the carpet". It's not something you want to deal with first thing in the morning but that carpet poo literary saved me from a breakdown. There were many other such instances such as my youngest one's first fresco (which didn't come off even though it was produced with a washable felt pen on a washable wall), tooth fairy, first science experiments and experiments in general, building rocket ships, pumpkin carving and many, many more.
It's hard to tell to what extent are my children responsible for the fatigue, headaches and muscle pain and what is the side effects from the meds. It doesn't even matter, what matters is that I'm going to see them growing up.
P.S. If you're interested in tickets for the Magic Lantern Festival get in touch.