Why Christmas Chemotherapy is a Gift

I flew back to Australia a few days earlier than my family for a little bit of Christmas Chemotherapy. From the moment I was told of my treatment plan I began calculating how it was going to fit with the children and Christmas. If I was to have all four treatments in Doha it meant staying in Doha for Christmas, if I was to have radiotherapy in Doha it meant being in Doha when my eldest was due to start school in Australia in February. I didn’t want our life to change. I didn’t want that to be “that was the Chistmas Mum had cancer”. I wanted those few weeks to look the same: beach-house, summer, friends. To state the obvious, I didn’t want my children to feel like cancer had robbed them of anything. There was some re-scheduling that needed to be done. Chemotherapy at the time felt very inconvenient.

I’m not going to lie. Chemo has been hideous. While the first session was completely manageable work wise, the side effects and the emotional distress on my family have been obvious. My children have been scarred, we’ve had conversations that have kept me awake at night, made me angry, and at times made my heart physically hurt. Without too much detail, on the first day of my treatment one of my children developed a twitch – an external physical reaction to the internal pain. As a mother there is nothing more alien than the idea of inflicting so much stress on your child that their body can’t cope. Chemotherapy at the time felt evil.

By the time I’d reached my third session our life was pretty much consumed by cancer. Yes, we continued on as usual; big smiles, birthday parties, baseball games and student/teacher nights rolled by but cancer somehow made its way into every conversation. “Mum can’t come to the school today because it’s day three after chemotherapy and her immunity is down”. I was bedridden for a few days after round three, there was a day where I crawled from the bathroom to my bed and was caught by a child who’d run back into the house to quickly grab something. “Are you okay Mum?” I could hear the fear in her voice. Chemotherapy at the time felt unfair and cruel.

By the time I reached my fourth session I was an expert. I drove with my parents to my appointment, my mother assuring me the night before that with my cheekbones and eyes I didn’t even need hair (this I beleive is what they refer to as a mother’s love). I met my girlfriends there, they came armed with magazines, smiles and love. We’ve known each other for over thirty years now and although it was our weirdest venue for a coffee and a chat it felt completely normal to be there together. Our conversation focussed on family, footy, holidays and the future. Chemotherapy had become part of my routine.

There was a moment when I was alone and had time to chat to those around me. I met a fantastic bloke, a father of five who was on treatment number nine, we celebrated our final round together. I then began chatting to the woman next to me who I instantly identified as a woman I could be great friends with. Her sense of humour was very similar but she was a no BS kind of girl, a few years younger than me, and a mother of three. We talked about cancer as only people who have or have had it do, there’s a different language a whole new understanding. Her cancer had spread, it wasn’t only in her breast, it was in her liver, her bones.

“How long will you have chemo for?” I asked

“For as long as they let me”

Chemotherapy suddenly felt like a gift.

For those who are terminal chemotherapy will last for as long as they can make it. While it keeps working, life keeps going.

This may feel like the biggest downer to read on Christmas Eve, but I promise you it’s not. It’s a celebration. If you’re not having chemo, please celebrate it. It’s corny to be happy for your health, but it’s true that without it everything else is worthless. Think about it.

While this whole cancer palaver has been a complete pain in the butt (or the boob), it’s given me a new perspective. I took this shot of my heart wading into the water last night.

Beach.jpeg

 

So so lucky to be here.

We are having Christmas lunch together, just the six of us, a complete gift.

Merry Christmas to all.

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