Category Archives: Cancer

Facing Chemotherapy for the first time As A Cancer Patient

The day we all dreaded had finally arrived, the first session of chemotherapy. Louise was scheduled in for Friday 5th December 2008 at 1.00pm. I went with her. We were both so incredibly nervous.

I was a little surprised at how matter of fact the chemo session was. First we were herded into a little room with seats all around the outer edges and a number of drips ominously standing there waiting for their next victim. I scanned the faces of everyone else sitting there waiting for their chemo and tried to figure out who had cancer and who was there to support their loved one. I couldn’t. They all looked healthy enough to me.

One by one the nurse came round and hooked the cancer patient up to the chemo drip. Voices were low and there was much whispering punctuated by heavy silences. Then it was Louise’s turn. I don’t know how but she managed to crack a joke as the nurse quietly explained how poisonous the chemo was and what would happen if any were to accidentally spill out onto the skin. I felt sick. Louise seemed to be fine. First she was given a drip full of anti sickness fluid and then the chemo was slowly fed in. The whole session took about an hour.

During that hour after the initial hooking up by the nurse, the atmosphere relaxed. Some were eating chocolate and drinking hot drinks from the vending machine or water, I was kind of surprised about that. It seemed more like a subdued coffee morning than a chemotherapy session. People chatted about their holidays, kids, shopping, house renovations, and indulged in all manner of mundane small talk. It seemed that at first everyone avoided the obvious, why they were there on a Friday afternoon in the run up to Christmas. It was all so surreal. Then it was over and we got in the car and drove away.

Although Louise had been unbelievably brave at the hospital, I knew it had been quite an ordeal because as soon as we got home she took herself off to bed and cried. She stayed there tucked up under the duvet until the following day.

Christmas day that year was no ordinary Christmas I can tell you. We decided that the whole family should be together so there we were all 17 of us squashed round a table pulling crackers and eating turkey. Now you would think the occasion would have been pretty sombre as we were all worried sick about Louise but it actually wasn’t.

We laughed and we cried, but we laughed more. There’s something quite odd about laughing when you’re hurting inside, it takes on a sort of desperate feel. The laughter comes fairly easily but it is all too often followed by a sudden gulp of air and then the sobbing starts, then the laughter manages to squeeze itself out through the gasping and gurgling and escape into the ethos where it invariably ignites someone else’s tears and laughter and so it goes on, it’s very contagious, I wonder if it’s madness?

Chemotherapy Treatment Bald and beautiful

I think it takes a very special woman to lose all her hair and not show distress. Louise knew she was going to lose her hair, that fact had been firmly conveyed to her before she even started her chemotherapy treatment. We all wondered how she was going to cope with that as she had experienced alopecia before, in fact she got married wearing a jewel encrusted bandana, but that wasn’t because of chemotherapy it was not long after her second child was born, so hormones no doubt.

Now though, Louise had beautiful long, silky shiny locks. She knew what awaited her. We didn’t have to wait long to find out. After her second bout of chemotherapy, Louise decided that she wasn’t going to sit around waiting until her hair started to fall out in clumps; this was, after all, one thing that she could control.

I was more than a bit surprised when Louise organised her family to participate in removing her crowning glory, I thought she might have tried to hang on to her hair for as long as possible, or perhaps cut it short first, I was so wrong. Her husband and daughters all helped to cut her hair and shave her head. It was almost as if she was treating it as some kind of ritual, a rite of passage from her old self to her new one, maybe even a purification process.

I can honestly say that when I saw Louise standing in front of me with not one hair on her head I thought I had never seen anyone so beautiful. She reminded me of Sinead O’Connor singing Nothing Compares to U, you know the video which focused on Sinead’s face and culminated with a tear rolling down her cheek, I remember thinking at the time that Sinead was beautiful.

It was a bit like that looking at Louise that day. Her ivory, blemish-free complexion, her perfectly shaped head and features, and her large clear greenish blue eyes shining back at me reflecting her own inner sadness at the world, her cancer, and her changing self. I remember thinking how she looked so young, and like an angel, radiating a kind of divine beauty that isn’t often seen these days where the norm seems to be fake tan, mountains of make up and sculptured hair held in place with a can of hairspray.

I was speechless, words were not enough to convey how I felt, and eventually I muttered “You look amazing” and I really meant it, but I don’t think she believed me. In the following days, weeks and months, Louise astounded us all with the way she took everything in her stride.

I do remember a particularly poignant moment when she said “I can cope with losing my hair, I can cope with losing my breast.  I can cope because I don’t want to lose my life”.

The Diagnosis , Cancer

Dedicated to a very special sister

Anyone who has ever been diagnosed with a life threatening condition will know how devastating it can be to be told you are seriously ill, and more often than not you are told by a hard faced doctor in a cold and clinical environment far away from the comforts of home. Those who have been through this will also understand how on hearing the words that no one wants to hear the joy of life is snatched away in one brutal instant.

For us it all really began on Friday 21st November 2008. There I was sat in the hospital waiting room with my sister Louise. The tension was incredible; however, we both knew what potentially awaited us beyond the corridor in that forbidden room with the door firmly closed.

Eventually Louise was called in by herself and I waited, and waited, and waited. It seemed like an eternity before the door finally opened and my name was called. I knew. In I went and sat holding my sister’s hand with my heart beating frantically as I braced myself for the inevitable news.

I wondered how I would cope, how she would cope, how we would get through the following minutes, hours and days. I know it was only a fleeting thought but time seemed to stretch in those few semi comfortable seconds before the words were uttered that would change all our lives forever – “I’m sorry to say the tumour is cancerous”.

You hear the words and yet you cannot react. I sat there and listened to the doctor telling us the awful news that my sister had breast cancer and hearing her utter “yes”, and “I see”, and “ok” after each terrible sentence that spelled out the cold facts, how the treatment would go, what she was to expect, she was only 37 for God’s sake. First she would undergo weeks of toxic chemotherapy, then she would have surgery, and then she would have radiotherapy. Why on earth they call it therapy I just don’t know, to me the word conjures up images of something comforting and healing, but this was pure poison and to make it worse, Louise was already sensitive, and indeed allergic, to relatively bland chemicals like washing up liquid.

I wanted to cry. How could I cry when she was sitting there so brave? I felt sick. How could I be so selfish as to feel sick at a time like this? I glanced at Louise; she was pale and shaking but incredibly together. I loved her so much.

Unbelievably, we managed to have a few laughs as we left the hospital or should I say she managed to muster up a few jokes that elicited a half hearted laugh from me before nerves took after and I laughed almost insanely until the sobbing took over and I’m ashamed to say, it was Louise who comforted me.

It was the worst moment of my life, or I thought it was at the time.

Cancer Diagnosis, The aftermath of the diagnosis

A dedication to a very special sister

Louise and I went to my parents’ home to break the news to them first. It was her idea, she knew they would be devastated and she wanted to tell them herself face to face in their own home and not on the phone or to hear from another relative. Understandably, they took the news that their daughter had breast cancer rather badly.

One by one the rest of the family were informed and we all decided that we would pull together to help Louise, her husband and her two daughters get through this ordeal. After a night of intermittent crying and sleeping, I awoke to the awful realisation that it wasn’t a nightmare. It hadn’t gone away. My little sister had cancer. How could that be, she was my little sister after all, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. The day loomed ominously ahead and I lay there in a zombie-like state wondering what I could do to help my sister feel better, I mean if this was how I was feeling how on earth she got through the night I’ll never know.

Then my bedroom door opened and my son Scot popped his head round and was smiling at me, I didn’t recognise him at all, something was wrong, very wrong, but at first I couldn’t think what it was in my semi-conscious state, and then it struck me. He was totally bald, and he certainly wasn’t the last time I saw him.

I said “what have you done” but he just stood there smiling. Eventually he muttered, “I did it to support Louise – its only hair”. My son had shaved his entire head bald using a small razor. Yes he had cuts on his head too. I mean this was a 15 year old boy who hadn’t really started shaving his chin yet and only a few days before had spent a small fortune on having his curly lochs straightened and dyed blonde. I actually didn’t know what to say and found myself asking him if anyone else had told him to do it. In some strange way I wanted someone else to be responsible. No, he had done it of his own accord. I realised this was having just as big an impact on the rest of the family as it was having on me.

Scot then left to go and show my other half his new look and true to character, Serge didn’t react at all. Somewhere in my subconscious I took this as a sign that it was all ok. Inwardly I was worried about what Louise might say. She hadn’t lost her hair yet; she hadn’t even started her treatment yet, although she had been warned that she would lose her hair. I wondered if the reality of what was ahead might hit home too soon if she saw Scot. I was wrong; Louise was extremely touched by his gesture of support and informed us all how much she loved us.

I started thinking of my poor mum and dad and my other sister, and how they were devastated too. I knew they were in a lot of pain and I felt saddened by the fact that they were all alone at home with only their thoughts for company.

Later that second night a whole gang of us went to Louise’s house to comfort her, or perhaps it was to comfort us, I just don’t know, Louise seemed to be coping just fine, she even made us all laugh with her jokes and sharp wit. She already knew deep down she informed us, so it hadn’t come as such a shock to her. Turns out she had found a lump some time before and knew she had to do something when it starting growing rapidly. She hadn’t told anyone to start with. How I wish she had, not that it would have made any difference, but you just never know.