The last bit of the red fluid is squeezed from the syringe into my canula. I feel relieved that the fourth dose is finished, even though the consequenses are still to come.
The nurses ask me which date has been set to start the twelve weeks of taxol. "On my birthday" I reply. "Oh no. We can do better than that. We'll change it for you" they say. I tell them that I'd rather have it on my birthday on the Friday than miss a Thursday morning swim. The paper work is changed to Thursday the 29th at 12pm. Suits me.
We choose 'Shrek's green swap' as the spa colour for the evening. There's time to enjoy the moment rather than anticipate what is ahead.
Sleep is begging me to close my eyes. Erin tries to hold them open for me. They're too heavy for both of us.
8th April 2021
Liam and Erin are laughing as we get pulled around the sandbank by the outgoing tide. The water is moving quickly out to sea but passes over the shallows first where we can stand up and run back around to do it again and again.
I've had to bribe them with ice cream just to get here. Now they're having fun as well as learning what to do in moving water. I got my swim. Callum filmed a train. We ate fish and chips and the promised ice cream cones. I hope these memories are stronger than the ones where I'm too tired to join in. I don't know what they'll take from the good days or from the bad ones. Today was a good one.
7th April 2021
I look back at the reflection of the person brushing her teeth in the mirror. I stop brushing and lean forward to look more closely. I stare at one eyebrow and then the other, and then back again. I can't help but smile. It turns into a giggle. It's not ideal that my eyebrows have started to fall out, and one is far thinner than the other. I ask a few people if they can tell. They kindly deny that there is any difference. My brother on the other hand gives it to me straight. He says I look like 'The Rock' (Dwayne Johnson) when his eyebrow is raised. Google 'the rock eyebrow'. You'll see what he means.
I question Jon as to why my eyebrows are falling out now. It's been three weeks since my last dose of chemo. He says he reckons it works like round up. I tell him that I don't want to do the forth dose of the awful red chemo. He quickly replies that it would be like swimming a medley without the butterfly at the end. He's tried really hard with his analogy. If only he knew the order of strokes in an individual medley. Freestyle is last. And it's just as well. Butterfly at the end would be torture. I've only got freestyle to go. It burns at the end of a medley. But it's not butterfly.
6th April 2021
It's low tide. The sand is flat and hard and reflecting the sky. It's too good not to jog. So we do. The river is brown and I can't see the bottom. My swim doesn't come effortlessly today. I increase my kick to try and take some of the work load off my arms. My body is tired. My mind has begun to build up apprehension about the week ahead. I set the dread aside and spend the time immersed in the comfort and familiarity of the water and this place instead. I can't change what is ahead. I'm powerless to be able to alter it at all. I'm frustrated each time I remember how incapable I'll be next week. I'm relying on others more than ever before. It's a lesson that I don't want to learn.
4th April 2021
I tap my card but the automatic door to the pool doesn't open. I check the time. It's 5:59am. I'm a minute too early. The guy comes in and unlocks the door and I wander through to the pool deck that looks out over Darling Harbour. I'm not meant to swim in public pools due to the risk of infection. It's a beautiful infinity pool. There has been no one in it for at least eight hours over night. It's been fourteen days since my last dose of chemotherapy. I'm getting in.
The weightlessness erases all of yesterday's insecurities. My confidence increases as I stroke up the pool on my back. The buildings tower around me. The half moon is still up high in the sky. I'm in the middle of the city but alone. It's the good alone. The quiet peaceful alone. Not the isolated lonley one like the day before. I'm comfortable. I'm happy. I'm well.
3rd April 2021
I turn around quickly and squeeze my eyes shut. No no no no no no. A young man is about to offer me his seat on the busy light rail. Had he caught my eye I wouldn't have turned down his kindness, but I don't want to be the person who looks like a cancer victim that needs the courtesy seat.
Before we left, Erin helped me choose what to wear and pick out jewelry. I needed her help to make sure my head wear didn't clash with my clothes. We went for classic black and stuck with the bandana not the scarf that I had spent the time learning how to tie.
I'm now in the long line for the women's bathroom at the Lyric theatre. I lower my head and blink until the tears stop threatening to spill out. Everyone is at the mirrors adjusting their pretty hair and checking on their dresses. I try to avoid my reflection, but I see a plump sick looking person with dark circles under her eyes. I feel completely alone. I certainly don't belong here. I stop and think of where I do belong. It's on a boat ramp in my swimmers with a bunch of blokes.
I can feel my phone buzzing in my bag. I pull it out while I wait. There is message after message of "beautiful" on the photo collage that I posted of myself with no hair. The timing is perfect. The reassurance appreciated. I'm not alone.
2nd April 2021 Irritable is probably not a strong enough word. I've slept on and off all afternoon. Twice I tried to get up but with no success. I'm now using all of my concentration to follow a recipe card from a grocery box. It's chorizo pasta. It's not difficult. Erin is asking me questions about how to draw a rabbit and the boys are poking each other. By the time Jon comes inside and asks me to help him with something he cops it.
My fuse is short. I've said "bloody hell" twice this week. The kids have been shocked and disgusted at my language. It's only a matter of time before they hear worse from me. Jon suggests that I get back in the spa. It's for everyone's sake.
There's no moon. It's dark and the stars are out. It's a public holiday so there is no smell from the wood fire pizza shop wafting up and over from the main street. It's quiet. I can breathe. The air is crisp and I can feel it's coolness when it's sucked down into my lungs. I rest my head against the spa cover and fall back to sleep.
A sure constant is change.
30th March 2021
The water is thick and my arms are heavy. I can't see through my foggy goggles or through the yellow water. The river is still recovering from the heavy rains. I'm still recovering from treatment. We both just need a few more days. It won't be long before were both sparkling again.
The rains and the tides have changed the shape of the beach. The sand is covered in debris. There are pieces of burnt wood and ash still washing up after last season's bush fires. How long will it be before the reminders of that summer's trauma stop, or for some, will they ever stop.
I'll get reminders too. Long after this is over. Memories that will hinder as well as thoughts that will cause me to reflect on my endurance. More than both of those, I'll welcome every moment that reminds me of the enduring care and support.
29th March 2021
The beach is patrolled. Mum said that if I went for a swim today it had to be between the flags. You have to do what your mother says even if you're forty one.
I look silly. I feel ridiculous. An incoming wave hides me underneath it but only for a moment. My cap slips, so I take it off. The insecurities of how I look change quickly into me not caring at all. I'm already out past the breakers. I line up the horizon and swim towards it. I wonder what would happen if I didn't stop. Would the life guards come and get me? I'm the only one in the water, it might give them something to do. I dive down deeply and scream in worn down frustration and dread as loudly as I can. When I pop up I'm faced with a big set of waves. I lean back in the water and let them roll me about.
I entered the water depleted. Fatigued. At a loss of how to even get from the beach to parking the car at the hospital, let alone sitting through an oncology appointment. I leave the water stronger. My calve muscles tighten as I pound up and over a dune. I get dressed under my hooded towel, get in the car and get on with it.
My appointment is two hours late. The doctor lays it flat out. She says "If you were seventy five, I wouldn't charter another dose. You're forty one. You have too much to lose". The 9th of April is confirmed for my next treatment. I stand up to leave and she says "You're stoic aren't you". "I'm going to be the winner" I say over my shoulder like it's a childish game that I've decided to play.
I like that she thinks I'm stoic. If she's confident that I can do it, I must be able to.
28th March 2021
It takes all my concentration to stay standing. I'm dizzy and I'm tired. It was explained to me in the very beginning that my energy levels would be low. I've never been someone to want a rest during the day but I can't continue without one. I need to make the decision to lie down before that decision is taken away from me and my body does it by itself.
My pillow is comfortable against my bloating face. Our bed looks out through a bay window onto our front yard. The Christmas bush is poking up higher than usual. I've asked Jon to leave it for now, so that at times I can be hidden behind it as I lie here this season.
I struggle with the balance. How hard am I meant to fight the fatigue and keep moving? When am I meant to let my body rest? Am I being lazy or am I being wise? Everything has become a juggle. Hydration. Digestion. Skin protection. Basic things are taking their toll on my time and energy.
My family and friends are patient. They'll wait for me. They know that this will pass even when I can't see the end of it. No one has made me feel like a burden. I'm continually reassured that it's okay for life to be different right now and that I'm not letting anyone down.
I close my eyes just for a bit and enjoy the sounds of life outside our window instead of the sights. It's a beautiful autumn day and I can still appreciate it.
Still 27th of March
I don't want a DNF (Did Not Finish) next to my name. I already have one. It was from a team triathlon where our very capable runner though it was only one lap, not two, of a circular course. I don't want another one.
I have to be able to get through this treatment, but there's no finish line. There's no due date. There is no firm end that I can aim for. Everything is so variable. Decisions depend on my body's reactions, on test results, on Doctor's assessments based on their knowledge and experience.
I can't tell Erin I'll be better by her birthday. She says "I just don't know how a birthday would work if you are sick". I know I won't be okay by then. Her birthday is in May. I don't know if I can aim for Spring or Christmas or a year after diagnosis. They say it takes another six months for energy levels to return after everything is all done.
Then what if it returns. What if I have to do this again in five years time.
Again I have to go back to one thing at a time. The alternative is too unpredictable. I have things to look forward to. At some stage this might seem like a small piece of time in a very big life.
27th March 2021
The moon creeps it's way from out behind the tree and slowly makes its way west across the sky. It's not quite full. It's more like the shape of an opal. A big wave of cloud moves towards it and creates shapes as it passes over the bright reflection.
Erin apologises. "Sorry I'm being wriggly mum". She's trying to beat her time of four seconds by going under the water in the spa diagonally and back again in the dark. She senses the bumps into my legs are getting too much for me and comes and sits on my lap and says "I love you mum, you're the best mum in the world".
At the moment I'm anything but. I'm not the mum I want to be, or the wife, or the daughter, or the sister, or the friend. I'm not my independent self. I'm not someone you can call if you need help with anything. It takes all my physical and mental strength just to get myself through the days and then the nights. I'm not good company. I give only one word answers.
I wake and am hesitant to look at the time. I don't want to do another 2am to 6am stretch. I look at my phone. It's 4:58am. I'm relieved. I've had a solid sleep. I feel like I'm on the other side of this dose of chemotherapy. The ten percent reduction in dose has made a difference. The different nausea medication wiped me out with drowsiness for a few days, but beat the nausea.
I have no idea how many people read along with me. I deliberately have nowhere to subscribe or any button to like my posts. But every now and then I get a text or a comment in a conversation and know that you are reading along with me. We've made it through this one. You've listened to me when I needed it. I may never get to thank you for your time. Please know that I'm truly grateful for it.