Shit just got real – Chemo

Perhaps it’s because I’m a mother of four, but the similarities between the breast cancer experience (I refuse to say journey) and pregnancy are astounding.

It began for me with an ultrasound. The gel, the probe, all eyes towards the monitor; granted the location was different but the venue was all too familiar. “It’s a bit boring when you’re not looking for a heartbeat?” I’d joked with the radiographer who was just about to discover I had a cancerous tumour in my left breast.

There was a test to be done. Blood that was given. I broke the news to friends and family and made regular trips to the hospital. My body felt different, my brain a fog.

When I’d spoken to my boss about my change of heart on full time hours and my initial thoughts and feelings of denial, I’d made the analogy “you know when you’re pregnant with your first and you’re determined this baby isn’t going to change your life – I think I did that with cancer.”

It’s the unknown. The books, the websites. How is this going to go down? The shutting off of the horror stories. And just like anyone who has had a baby anyone who’s had cancer will give ideas on what to try, the tricks, tell their story. Your physicality will change and become obvious, a baby bump now replaced with a bald head. There’s no hiding what’s really going on. I’ve been told the nausea can be the most debilitating hurdle during chemo, the aching bones, the fatigue. I’ve added ginger tea and biscuits to the shopping list, just like I did when I was pregnant.

My second pregnancy began well but turned more than physically pear shaped around week sixteen. We were living in Kuala Lumpur when I became deathly ill. Nausea all day, diarrhoea at night. Jokes were made at the obstetrician’s office that it had become more like a weekly weight watchers meeting, another week another kilo. The child who arrived at the end of the longest pregnancy in history is by far my most stubborn and headstrong of the four. She also has an enormous heart, the soul and eyes of a chocolate labrador, and the naughtiest of giggles. She was worth every gut wrenching moment.

With chemo beginning tomorrow I’m feeling much the same as the mother who worked full time up until the day she gave birth. I’m ill prepared, the cot is not up, the nursery not decorated. I’m yet to buy a single grow suit and I’ll be sure to be stocking up on nappies/diapers on the way home from the hospital.

I’m choosing to see chemo as a difficult pregnancy. I’m heading back to KL, pregnant for the second time. I may be ill, but there’s a job to be done. Twelve weeks of chemo is nothing compared to what some of the ladies who are also in this hideous club have had to endure. I salute those who continue for many more months than I.

There may be no heartbeat on the monitor, no new baby, no ultrasound pic for the refrigerator – but I don’t need one. I have four living cherubs outside of the womb. I have them to touch, hold and live for while I go through this experience. They are the reason I do this. They are my strength, my humour, my heart, and my soul. They are no longer the unknown embryo, they are fully formed, simply, everything.

Tomorrow we begin, we continue, and we will get through. There will be champagne, chocolates and celebrations the end.

Shit just got real. Let’s do this thing.

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