Claire went to the cancer treatments like a champ. Radiation and Chemotherapy. Not what you’d call a real good time. She had cervical cancer, what’s called an adenocarcinoma type. The trouble with radiation being applied to this area of the body is that it not only kills cancer cells, it kills all kinds of cells, including a good part of what makes your digestive system work. There’s all kinds of bacteria in there that keeps you running well, and when you slaughter it all, you don’t run well at all. It also takes forever to rebuild it. The progress of the treatment was a miserable affair. I have a co-worker (Steve) who has come to be a very good friend to me. He had cancer, and went through treatment. He survived. I had not known that he’d gone through cancer but it happened that he was the first guy I told when we got the diagnosis, and he’s been an absolute rock to me through these difficult times, which is not to say that his opinionated views don’t put me right over the edge from time to time. When Claire could not have the cancer surgically removed he told me words to the effect that “now is when it gets really invasive, and you get to know what you’re made of”. At the time he said it, I wondered how it could be that medication and radiation would be more invasive than surgery. I came to learn that he was absolutely right. I’d spoken to Claire about what he’d said and she came to see the wisdom in what he said as well. Cancer treatment is a slow miserable grind, and the person that is getting the treatment is the grist in the mill. There was no sudden day that Claire was sickly and weak. That didn’t happen overnight. Instead there was a progression, days that were pretty good, and she felt pretty strong, and then more days where she didn’t feel strong at all. Then there were more days, and more days, where she didn’t feel strong at all. My beautiful girl is a sturdy sort. She’s not what you’d call willowy. She’s strong, and can hold her own during the yard cleanup. She’s not afraid to get in there and lift the heavy stuff, and she’s been up on the roof with a reciprocating saw cutting a hole for the new bathroom vent. I note that I struggle when I’m on the roof, something about my quivering knees and cowardly whining really slows down my production rate. She saw this strength slip away, a little bit, and a little bit, and a little bit more. Eventually she had to say one day, I’m weak as hell, I can’t do this. That’s not something that easily comes out of the mouth of Claire. It really brought home to me how badly she was feeling. This had not happened overnight, but it sure as hell happened and it happened to my partner.
Cancer treatment is no doubt different for everyone. Cancer is not a well defined thing at all, it has a hundred faces and there are many different treatments. Every person that experiences cancer brings different physical and mental attributes to the experience. My spouse is a physically capable and mentally strong individual. The treatment and the fear brought tears many many times, sometimes out of the blue with no warning, sometimes at night in the bathroom when she thought I could not hear. The treatment brought times where she just couldn’t do it, and those times meant just getting out of bed and getting some clothes on.
Moving forward in time, after completing the treatment she still feels like death warmed over. There’s no amazing time where she’s just feeling good. Instead there is a very slow moving forward. It’s not leaving the misery behind, it’s more like not just having it right at your shoulder all the time, maybe down by your elbow. It’s a pretty small difference. BUT, it is a difference.
Again forward in time, the treatments are finished and it’s time for another MRI to see how it went. Okay, we’re not at all interested in “how it went”. Horseshit, is it gone or not. Gone, not going, not getting better, gone. The scan is getting to be second nature. Don’t get me wrong, an MRI is a challenging thing. Claire tells me that it’s a claustrophobic experience to say the least. The machinery is very close, and the sound is very loud. They offer you music but really you couldn’t hear it anyway. The operators know that its a very difficult experience being in the machine, but there’s really very little that can be done about it. It’s a really frightening experience. (As a bit of a sidebar, my father had multiple sclerosis, and had some MRI’s before he died. He told me that he cried throughout. It’s no joke. ) A few weeks later it’s time to meet with the doctor who has reviewed the MRI, and he says. … wait for it. .. yep, wait for it….. There’s still something showing on there,, but it could be scar tissue from the treatment, or it could still be cancer. WHAT?? Are you serious? Then the next part. In a few months we will scan it again and that will tell us whether it’s growing. If it’s growing it’s not gone, and if it’s not, it’s scar tissue. How the hell is that an answer?? That’s no answer at all. That’s saying it might keep growing in the next few months until we take another picture. That’s saying we might be 3 more months behind the eight ball after they take the next scan. The eight ball here kills you. I want no part of it for my beautiful spouse.
3 months go by. 1…..2…..3.. months, waiting for a bomb to drop again. A bomb to drop that kills us, kills my girl, kills me. That’s a ticking thing in the back of our heads every day. Pressure doesn’t go away, it’s there in a big way, a huge weight there, all the time, and it never ever goes away. Instead I find I’m acting crazy, and she is too. We both say and do things that we are not proud of, it’s a percolator for stress, a pressure canner. Keep it up, keep roasting, and see what happens. What happens is not pretty at all.
3 more months – christ really, we have to keep at this? Yep, another 3 month MRI, and then the meeting with the doctor. He says, yep, how’s this, “there’s no sign of cancer” . Can I do backflips down the hallway?? Oh yeah, I can now. I can damn near fly off the balcony if I want. Hell, I can glide around the house. Claire… is over the moon! OUtstanding!!! Such a huge weight lifted from us. Such a vast vast weight lifted off our shoulders. It’s amazing to hear this, and I soon appreciate that cancer has coloured every aspect of our lives. I feel I walk a hundred pounds lighter, Claire does too. it’s amazing, it’s everything, fucking cancer, fucking cancer, fuck… totally helpless. Not today, today is a great day, a day of growth. Walking forward, but not keen to look back, worried about something coming along behind. I want no part of that. I’m a coward to that one, I want no part of it, and I surely hope that it leaves us alone.