Thursday, 29 August 2013

Your knee bones connected to your - thigh bone, your perineum is connected to your...???

I am now in possession of my chemotherapy treatment schedule which consists of eight sessions in total with a two week gap between them. After the stress of trying to get any dates at all this year I am now holding a piece of paper that maps out the next sixteen weeks or four months of my life. It doesn't really matter which way I chose to say it its still adds up to a quarter of the year ahead and this is just the first part of the whole treatment process. It is, however, the part I am most scared of and frightened to begin. However by having these dates I keep reminding myself that I can begin to fight this disease head on.

Before chemotherapy begins I have to have an induction. The word 'induction' always conjures up to me visions of starting a new job and you are being 'induced' into the ways of the company you are working for. The terminology feels strange and out of place, but as this all starts to take shape and become very real it's actually not that odd at all. I've left my job and actually fighting this cancer and concentrating on getting better has taken it's place and become my new job. Therefore I need to be 'induced' into the ways of this new company - the cancer centre - and all its different departments -chemotherapy, surgery, radiotherapy. Starting firstly with the chemotherapy suite where I will effectively begin my 'probation' and if I do well there will move onto the next stage. However if I am basically a bit rubbish and don't show any aptitude or initiative in this new role my 'probation' may need to be extended - something I am very keen to avoid. I have proven myself in the past to be a quick learner and adaptable to new environments so why should this be any different to my other jobs? I suppose the big difference is there is much more at stake here but I am always up for a challenge and this is going to be one hell of one. I need to be shit hot in this post because I want to move on up this particular career ladder as quickly and as well as I possibly can and show what I'm made of.

I can't start as quickly as my oncologist would like me to but I have been booked into my induction a few weeks prior to my chemotherapy starting. My lovely friend who came with me to get my results insists on coming with me to my induction. She doesn't want me to face this alone and knows me well enough to know that I will have a hundred and one questions for which I will forget all the answers they will have given me. I will need to have someone to turn to for affirmation or at least reassurance and she wants to and is the best person for this. She's my voice of reason and doesn't put up with my melodramatic bullshit or tendency for the melancholy when up against it. She says it like it is and I need that right now. 

I have asked if I could have chemo on the Tuesday of each cycle. This is because I am at home with my son on Mondays and he is at nursery on the other days. It's also far enough from the weekend so as not to impact too much upon it. This is all worked out with logic and a real sense of planning which for those of you who know me know are not my strongest traits. I am sure when I spring into your mind it's not alongside the adjectives 'logical' and 'methodical'. Yet here I am masquerading as both these things, but how quickly this is dispelled. In fairness to myself the logic wasn't flawed. It was the lack of knowledge and experience of the situation that was. It would make absolute sense to plan it in order to cause as little disruption as possible, but of course not knowing what lay ahead of me it was foolhardy to think in these terms. Anyway as always I am running ahead of myself. All will be revealed later, but at this stage, right here, right now, I am off to my induction which falls on a Tuesday as will all my subsequent treatment dates (on a bi weekly basis). 

The traffic on the way to the centre is so busy due to a number of roadworks all going on simultaneously in that annoying way they do and what should be a ten minute ride from my friend's house to the hospital has taken nearly half an hour already. My friend calls them to explain we are on our way and although they are very understanding and I gather that others have called with the same problem, my anxiety levels are still rising  We eventually arrive at the hospital to encounter another delay - one which I will soon get use to and become more ofay with as the months progress - the queue for the subsidised cancer centre car park. Spaces are like gold dust and patients and their drivers will queue patiently to be let in for this £1 parking space in the middle of Brighton where on-street parking is limited and costly and the hospital NCP parking a complete rip-off. So I experience my first car park queue. As daunting as it looks when you arrive it does actually move fairly quickly. We all know the score so we try to get in and out after treatment as quickly as possible to free up those premium spaces for the next 'customer'. Some are a bit cheeky (myself included) and maybe slip in a swift coffee or lunch after treatment, but personally for what you're going through the odd pleasures are truly well deserved and depending on how you react to treatment few and far between. 

This is the first time I have ever seen or been to the Sussex Cancer Centre. I wonder how I have never noticed it before. The signage is clear and there is nothing obstructing it but yet in all the years I have visited the hospital for appointments for myself, my mother, visiting friends or relatives I have never ever seen this building. What I really think it is that I have quite obviously seen this building before. It's on the road that leads up to A&E which I have visited infrequently over the years. My god mother and her husband lived in sheltered accommodation right opposite the entrance so I would have walked past it when I visited them yet I cannot remember ever seeing it. Suddenly it's there. Big as life and twice as daunting. There's no mystery to what goes on inside there. It's writ large over the front entrance. But I know the real reason why it's never registered. It's because it's the building nobody wants or chooses to go in. There is nothing inside those doors that would tempt me in. There isn't anything sparkly or shiny to get my attention. No buy one get one free, no half price sale or even a good old fashioned full price have to have it allure. That's why I haven't noticed it because it has had nothing to do with me. I'm not in their demographic. I am not their typical customer. There 'niche' appeal was not to my taste. Its a building you choose not to acknowledge because it means nothing personally to you. You may know people, been close to people who have had cancer. But its abstract because its still not you and anyway what's the odds it ever will happen to you. About the same as winning the lottery? Well fuck aren't I the lucky one. Actually the odds are a lot higher but until you're there you don't know that and you believe it's something that happens to other people. Well I certainly did. 

But it isn't happening to someone else. I am standing here outside of this building and its happening to me. Suddenly all I can see is this building and what it has to offer is more important, more sought after, more coveted than anything shiny and sparkly with cut price tags attached. Even though I am scared shitless I know this building stores all the goodies this girl needs to keep on going in this world and that is more important than any retail therapy could provide right now.  

It feels like the longest walk to the reception of the chemotherapy suite but once there I wish it had been longer. Not because of how bad it was when I arrived. Far from it. It was welcoming and actually peaceful and calm considering what those waiting were going through. The atmosphere was quite light and upbeat. It was better than any hospital or doctor's waiting room I had ever had to wait in. No. I just wanted to string out this bit for a while longer. To suspend the inevitable and what was to follow. To walk through the doors of the chemotherapy suite to what would be my new 'place of work' for the next four months. 

My name was called along with a number of other people - my fellow inductees. There are about six or us and we are all accompanied by someone. It's mostly women, but there is one man who I sit next to. They are also appear to be older than me. They all have different forms of cancer as we find out. The one thing we all have in common and is etched across our faces is that we are all anxious and undoubtedly scared. Even if we think we are composed we would all be really crap at poker!

While waiting to be seen I take a look around the room. It isn't what I expected at all. I imagined it to be a lot more clinical and more like a hospital ward, but it isn't. There are no beds just very comfy looking reclining chairs. The room is a light pastel kind of blue which though not my cup of tea is quite calming and relaxing and there are some interesting prints on the walls too. It's still quite early so there are only a couple of other people here bar us inductees and a couple are hooked up to IV drips. If it wasn't for those drips and trays of drugs we could be all waiting for a manicure or a pedicure as really doesn't have that clinical feel about which is a credit to those who work there. The ability to make a place that is clearly very clinical not feel so sterile and clinical is, in my eyes, phenomenal. 

 A nurse sits down with me to go through the respective paperwork asking a number of questions. She also needs me to have a number of tests to ensure that I am physically able to endure the chemotherapy such as an ECG to make sure my ticker can stand up to the strain of the treatment and another test were I have to take a swab from the inside of my mouth, my nostril and my perineum to see if I have MRSA screening test which ascertain whether I am a MRSA carrier. The first two parts are easy enough. She then gives me a test tube and she asks me to 'brush' the perineum with the swab and put it straight into the test tube. I smile and she guides me towards the toilet. I am hesitant and feeling quite stupid as I am wracking my brain to unearth some deeply buried information from old biology lessons which might shed some light onto where exactly my perineum is. If I'm being guided to somewhere private it's got to be in my privates region but where oh where is it. I haven't said a word. I am just smiling inanely as I shut the toilet door and lock it. She must have seen the confusion on my face as I close the door as she says something about the nobbly ridge between... but I don't hear the rest as she says it quite quickly and I'm not really paying attention and the bathroom door has just shut and I don't want to open it up to ask her as feel I should know where it is. Fuck why didn't I bring my phone then I could have googled it or at least phoned a friend. I can't believe that I never paid attention in school as quite clearly it's something ever body knows and why hasn't it registered in my psyche over the last 42 years of my life. Quite clearly I have had absolutely no use for it in that time. What seems like an age passes but probably is only a couple of seconds whilst I hunt for my perineum or something that looks like a perineum that I could brush a swab against. I try and try to hold onto those last words as if they are a clue to where the treasure is buried and my 'perineum' is the gold. But the only nobbly ridge thing that springs into mind is my clitoris. But it can't be. When did it change name and why didn't I know? Maybe it's its full Latin title is something like clitoris perineumus. What again seems like another age passes and there is a tap on the door and the voice of the nurse asking, "Are you alright in there?" I am mortified but can't keep up this charade any longer. I imagine everyone waiting for the induction to begin whilst I have swabbed my entire body in the hope that I've come anywhere close to my perineum. I sheepishly unlock the door and before I can even say a word the nurse says, "it's the area between your vagina and anus". I need no further guidance and as quickly as possible shut the door and do what I need to do. 

There are a few inquisitive looks from my fellow inductees as I return but I try not to make eye contact with anyone. Soon after the induction begins. I had planned to regale with what happens, but will tell you more in my next post as frankly just reliving the search for my perineum has well and truly exhausted me and undoubtedly provided you with more information than you really needed or wanted to know. And before you all get smug I'd like to know how many of you knew where the perineum is because it certainly wasn't a fact on the tip of my tongue. No you fool, I hear you shout, it's not on the tip of your tongue its between your...but I've already shut the door again. I think it's best left right where it is. Out of sight and most definitely out of mind...

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