Chemo, a year on

On this day last year, I had my sixth and last chemo session.

There are a few dates I won’t forget, my diagnosis day and this one.

Looking back at my day today, which was all sunshine, long walks, good food, coffee, beer and hanging out with my boys, the dude and the dog, makes me realise how much I have to be thankful for.

Last year I couldn’t have spent the day in the sun, my skin was too sensitive, I wouldn’t have had the energy to walk around Paddington, Double Bay, Darlinghurst and Rushcutter’s Bay, I had no appetite, I couldn’t drink coffee as it dehydrated my mouth and beer was out because all alcohol tasted metallic to me.

Life is so much sweeter now and as well as learning to appreciate the good things in it, I’ve also learnt a few other lessons.

Be kind to yourself
I remember at a checkup a few months after chemo where I was complaining to my oncologist that I wasn’t where I wanted to be physically and mentally. She gently explained that it can take a year to recover from chemo. It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, I expected to be back where I was pre cancer and I was frustrated with my progress, but the more I pushed the worse I felt. So I learnt to back off, give myself some slack and let my body heal at its own pace.

Be selfish
If there’s ever a time in your life when you come first, this is it. Made plans when feeling OK but then hit with a bout of nausea an hour before going out? Cancel. Want to spend the day watching back-to-back Law & Order episodes? Do it. Don’t feel guilty. I had planned to catch up on reading in between chemo sessions, but a case of chemo brain fog meant I couldn’t concentrate on anything more than a page. So it was trashy TV all the way and I was cool with that.

Celebrate small milestones
At times it felt like nothing was happening, but then I noticed that little things in my life were changing. I grinned the first time I made it up the hill without having to stop and gasp for breath. I was so proud of myself the first time I got through a whole day without having to nap. I saw myself in a new light when a stranger asked where I got my haircut and I realised I no longer looked like a chemo patient. I didn’t wake up one day and feel amazing, but I realized that these were all markers of my progress, small milestones that meant I was a step further away from the oncology ward.

Let people help you
People want to help you. Let them. Asking for help is difficult, but for most people having a loved one go through chemo is unchartered territory and they don’t know what to do. My big issue was loneliness. I felt isolated being home sick and realised that if I asked, people would happily drop in for an hour on their lunch break or take a day off to keep me company.

People are awesome
I was overwhelmed with love and support when I was diagnosed. From my girlfriend who flew interstate to see me the weekend after I broke the news to unexpected care packages from acquaintances and protective talismans from colleagues. It was as if the universe was giving me a great big hug and saying ‘You got this.’

And then there are those that aren’t
It took me a long time to realise that when someone doesn’t step up, it’s about them rather than you. Getting a big blank from someone you expected to have your back, whether it’s family or close friends, is devastating but it’s not worth the stress or energy. Some people don’t have the emotional intelligence to deal with mortality, whether it’s yours or theirs, so they ignore it or try to minimise what you’re dealing with. Fuck them, they’re not worth it.

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