It felt like forever, like a prison sentence, a life time of hospitals, injections, needles, drips and drugs. But after 24 sessions of chemotherapy I finally waved goodbye to the chemo ward on December 7th 2016. The night before I felt surprisingly on edge, there was an anxiety festering deep within me which I couldn’t quite place, a mix of feelings swirled around in my underbelly. You would probably think that after 6 months of pummelling my body with toxins I’d be pretty bloody relived that soon it was going to be over. Wrong! Suddenly it all seemed very abrupt, very final, a quick, swift ending to what had been a huge, life changing journey.
Chemo passed as it always does. I rocked up in my standard comfy attire; nike leggings, an oversized jumper, trainers. I got on my lazy boy, reclined a little, moaned to the nurses about how my last chemo went, how I was feeling, how all the drugs were starting to catch up with me, I exchanged a few words with my fellow comrades about how they were getting on, how long left they had to endure. My two besties Megs and Han came to visit, bringing cake and good cheer. Bazza came too, and my mum, and my sister and brother. We ate pret sandwiches and gossiped about people in the real world, with real jobs and real lives. It was quite the send off. So why was I left feeling so empty? What was I expecting? A brass band fanfare, a crescendo of fireworks and a medal ceremony as I walked out into the car park of the RUH?! It felt as though something big should happen that afternoon. That when I stepped out of the chemo ward into freedom and my new life suddenly all the fears and anxiety and stress would lift from me. But of course it doesn’t, it is in fact all rather anti-climatic. Like most things in life, it ends as quickly as it started. What seemed like a huge, unfathomable task to take on in June, was now, just like that, over, finito, Romeo done. Yet something was just not sitting right with me, the fear still clung.
There is something very comforting about being in chemo club. You are being looked after by incredible nurses, with their beady eyes and caring hearts, some of whom have worked in their field for over 20 years, there are numerous drug checks before anything enters your body, oxygen tanks sit waiting patiently in the corner, doctors and consultants are available at the touch of a button, there is an A&E ward and intensive care unit 5 minutes away on a trolley, the smell of antiseptic and bleach fills the air, pastel hues of pink, green and yellow adorn the room, nice old ladies bring you tea and biscuits and, most importantly of all, everyone around you has cancer, which makes you feel less like you have cancer and more like you are just part of a special, let’s-make-you-better club. Everything about the chemo ward is SAFE. From the moment you step into the room a warm, protective bubble shelters you from the big, bad, nasty world – from reality. When you leave the chemo ward suddenly that lovely security blanket is pulled from beneath your feet, your support network crumbles, the life you have known for the last 9 months is suddenly over and you’re left not really knowing what to do with yourself.
Once all the drugs had been pumped into me it was time to get my PICC line out. I’d had the line in for 6 months and I absolutely hate it. It just looks ridiculous, like I’m some sort of robot from 2050 that needs to be charged up every so often. It also acts as a constant reminder that I am having chemo, that I have cancer and that I am a prisoner to the NHS. Normally to remove the PICC line a nurse quickly, easily and without any pain to the patient is able to pull the line clean out of the vein. But oh no, not me, that would be way too easy wouldn’t it?! As one of the nurses exclaimed “You’ve always got to be different, haven’t you Ariane”. Yep, yep I bloody do. So there I am, led on the lazy boy whilst a nurse starts to pull at the line. It will not budge. She tugs harder. I yelp. About 5cms comes out, she tugs again. She is pulling pretty fucking hard now, this is really fucking hurting. “I’ve pulled out over 1,000 of these lines in my life, this has never happened before” she proclaims. Oh great, fucking great, fucking typical, fucking standard my fucking luck. After a good 40 minutes of various nurses tugging and pulling, it’s clear the pesky thing ain’t coming out. My vein has decided it loves my PICC line so much it’s going to cling onto it. The line has literally become a part of me. For fucks sake! Couldn’t write it, couldn’t write it if I tried. So what was already feeling quite anti climatic now seems even more anti climatic. I’m back in hospital the very next day. Luckily I have it removed by a Radiologist consultant under x-ray. It’s pain free and over in about 5 minutes.
And although it is still not quite the end (I have my final scan in January to find out whether I’m in remission) I’ve come to realise it is important to celebrate all of life’s victories, no matter how big or small. I come back from hospital, sit on the loo, have a chemo poo and the crying comes. Thick and fast (I wish I could say the same about the poo). I don’t even know why I am crying anymore. I have been through so many new, conflicting and strange emotions over the course of this illness. And suddenly, right there on that toilet it hits me. Pride. The over riding feeling is of pride, a staggering, mind-boggling sense of achievement. I have never felt as proud of myself as I did sat on that toilet that day, and I’m not sure I ever will again. That fuck yeah I have achieved something purely for myself and my body. You smashed it mate, I tell myself, you fucking smashed it. You did it. And like all big things in life, in hindsight it seemed easy to achieve. You forget in an instance all the pain you felt, the anxiety that over took your mind, the fear, the not knowing, the frustration. It magically disappears. The human spirit is extraordinary, it is beyond resilient and a tough little fucker. Us humans really can endure a lot of what is thrown at us. Something’s are inevitable. People will get ill, loved ones will die, wars will break out, crazy people will become world leaders, freak accidents will happen in the lottery of life. But your spirit will see you through. Look after your spirit, nurture it, honour it, thank it every day for looking after you. It will most certainly repay you.