“Remember your name.
Do not lose hope — what you seek will be found.
Trust those that you have helped to help you in their turn.
Trust your heart, and trust your story.”
– Neil Gaiman, Instructions.
Chemotherapy is done, I’m on the road to recovery and will soon be bouncing back to my old, normal, pre-cancer Suzie we all know and love. No, not really. In truth I’m in a weird sort of limbo, somewhere between chemotherapy and radiotherapy, still being injected every three weeks with Herceptin and prodded and poked on a regular basis. I even spent yesterday in the ER, being tested thoroughly after a breathing difficulties scare. Turns out it’s a torn muscle bought on by the fact that I’ve not been resting quite as much as I should (Virgo, what can I say?) Side note: Have you ever had a Gazométrie artérielle/Arterial Blood Gas Test? It was one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced and I’ve had 3 babies.
This limbo is a strange place to be – yes I am so happy chemo is over, but the physical symptoms and side effects haven’t magically disappeared. I’m still really struggling with fatigue; bone, joint and muscle pain and dead nerves; a pizza face and styes; being an enormous Debbie Downer and a right foul git at times, and I will do for months to come. I have shortened tendons spreading from my armpit down to my waist that hurt like hell and need physiotherapy.
Chemo was fucking awful, let’s not beat around the bush. My oncologist pointed out that my body couldn’t take any more, which was rather alarming to hear her say. I felt like my mental state couldn’t take any more either. Just pray you never have to go through it, my friend. I genuinely hope that you keep healthy, with a beautiful head of hair and living your life oblivious to your mortality until you’re at least 100 years old.
I did not, despite the best of intentions, use the days productively and spend the downtime watching lots of honorable films and documentaries or read worthy literary works. I watched undemanding telly instead. Out goes Moonlight, in comes The Princess Bride. No Handmaid’s Tale for me thanks, I’m watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
Every year I take a SIB – Summer Internet Break, to enjoy time with my family, have mini-adventures and just do stuff and not be influenced by social media.* This year it’s not because I’m having lots of fun and adventures but because it’s hard to watch others while I can’t. Yes I’m bitter, I’m allowed to be. I’m also tetchy. Someone close to me said to me the other day: “Everyone has their shit don’t be the ‘my life sucks the most’ person”, and I am trying really hard to not be that person. But first let me tell you this thing I read the other day which made me snort tea out of my nostrils. I can’t remember exactly where it was so I’m paraphrasing, forgive me. It was someone in the same cancerboat saying how she wishes to write bitchy comments on facebook statuses like “I’ve just endured 3 gruelling months of chemo so I really sympathise with your 3 day seasonal cold”.
Thus I’ve deleted my Instagram app which was as much social media I could cope with when I was healthy. I did the same thing at the end of last year and it was good. So good in fact that a month became nearly 5 months and I hadn’t missed it for a second, missed out on anything and still functioned. WTF Suze? Instead I’m going deep into my everyday, the small moments. I believe it’s what they call mindfulness. I will watch my hair grow. I will concentrate on self-care. I will write snailmail, emails and accept 6 weeks of radiotherapy with grace. I recently did a Strengths Test – too much time on my hands? – and it would seem mine are determination, optimism, curiosity, innovation and faith. Let’s hope that’s true because that sounds like a secret sauce recipe to me.
Keeping creative continues to be the life raft I cling to. Painting & drawing, taking photographs, dyeing, sewing, gardening, making plant medicine, cooking wholesome vegan food. Pottering about, a little every day instead of grand schemes. I tell you what, I’ll update it regularly on here instead of Instagram. That sounds doable.
I’ll start here. At the beginning of chemo I set up a little photo project. I thawed out a slide film from the freezer that expired 10 years ago and put it in my Dad’s camera. I shot the flowers and trees, the river and grasses I saw on my daily walk. When that was done, I rewound the film and took pictures recording as my hair fell out, as my body weakened, as my mind went crazy as a coconut.
I began these photographs when the cherry trees were in blossom, and continued through peach and then apple blossom. As I write this I’m enjoying the local peaches, sliced up and topped with lime zest and a dusting of cinnamon. Enjoying my food again is a Very Big Deal to me. Perhaps it’s thanks to determination, optimism, curiosity, innovation and faith.
Yashica FXD | Expired Fuji Velvia 100