So you’ve had your first chemotherapy treatment.
That first night, when you came home and carried the sick bucket around with you everywhere, it’s never going to be as bad as that again.
On the other hand it is going to get much, much worse. Believe me, throwing up is the least of your worries.
Tomorrow you are going to wake up (after waking up at least three times during the night) with a raging thirst and splitting headache, feeling as though you could eat your body weight in pastries. That will be the steroids.
Somewhere between your stomach and lower bowel will feel like a test site for nuclear fission. You will call the hospital about it. They will say you have tablets for this. It is normal.
The resultant energy will send you out of the house, striding with great purpose, confidence even, as you march with your son to school. People will stop and marvel at you, how well you look, how well you seem to be coping.
This is not going to last.
From memory you have about five days, exactly the duration of your steroid-dose. Then it gets interesting.
Far from bounding with energy, you will wake up on the sixth morning feeling as though cartoon characters have come in the night with baseball bats and used your limbs for batting practice. Fatigue, the crush and the snivel of it, will be in everything you do.
The six inches you need to stretch for the phone is suddenly too much for you. People have stopped waving on the school run. Yes, you do look good curled up.
It’s a good job you found those Frasier reruns (watch out for the ski-chalet one).
You know by now I have no advice to give you. Except to say: notice how addicted you have become to that Joni Mitchell cover you like so much, with the line about going and staying with it. Well, that is going to become a touchstone.
You won’t be able to go near it for months afterwards without weeping. But you know all this already.
(They take Frasier off during Cheltenham Festival week, by the way. It’s going to annoy you).
It’s probably best to get out of the house while you can.
As ever with fondest regards,
Isn’t it strange, how quickly you notice your passing from one world into the next?
One minute you are a healthy, family man celebrating new year’s eve with friends, another shivering with patients under blankets at the A&E department during a fire alarm.
Already you have passed through many doors. Some led to clean, white spaces where men and women waited for you in their masks. Others into offices much like your own, with a desk, pads of paper and a computer.
None of them had a view.
The world of work, that set sail a lifetime ago, it seems. You stay in touch now, giving and receiving news, via email. You notice the delicious feeling in your stomach as you post your ‘Out of Office’ message.
I am sure you have noticed it, too: you let go quite easily. You might like to reflect on this afterwards.
You notice, too, how calm you are. Even on the morning of your diagnosis. Even on the phone to your family. Even at the school gate. You do not know what to call it yet, but later you will call this lack of rage in your heart ‘acceptance’.
‘What’s the point?’ you hear yourself say. What is the point indeed. It happens, has happened, is happening. All you have is now.
It helps if you breathe.
So far, you are trusting the instinct to practise patience, kindness and answer people slowly. Quite soon you are going to find the slowness in particular is not really an option, so get used to it.
We walked into the brunt light, towards the hospital.
The air was dry, February-cold. Traffic was going about its business. Mostly we kept our eyes on the pavement in front of us.
The waiting room smelled of toast. This came from a serving hatch at the centre of the room, staffed by volunteers. Doctors also queued there, swapping bonhomie with each other.
Nurses came and went, sometimes stopping to call a name, or stoop to touch the arm of a patient. In the corner was a bookstall. The tables were piled with magazines.
I was shown into a small room with a large armchair and a stacking tray full of needles and swabs. In the corner on a desk sat a computer. Next to it a large machine, about the size of a bread-maker.
I proffered my arm for the bloods. They said I had beautiful veins.
A kindly-faced woman appeared at the doorway, cradling a cup of coffee. ‘You must be my new young gentleman,’ she said.
Shaking hands over her desk minutes later, I noticed she had the same radiant twinkle. She spoke slowly, asking us to start at the beginning and describe why we were here.
Looking us in the eye, she told us my chances. She said we would need to take the rest of the day off, to come to terms with it. ‘Be kind to each other,’ she said.
Leaving, we explained we had had eaten our Valentine’s meal the previous day, the better to focus on the details of the diagnosis.
You can find out more about how their review process works here.
To read the reviews, click on the image above.
With grateful thanks to all of the people who read and commented on my book, and to Sue Hawkins from Macmillan Cancer Support.
The views expressed are those of cancer patients and their friends and families, not Macmillan Cancer Support.