Over the weekend I gnaw on a painful problem. It is about the friends we have and the friends we lose, sometimes for no apparent reason. I write a whole blog raging about inconsistency and, most diappointing of all, the blank brick wall erected to repel me. it does not get published. In brief, a lovely friend has for some reason decided to cut off all contact with me. During my initial diagnosis, she was a reliable support, helping us with the garden and just checking up on me. Contact did tail off but she had a new, high-powered job which I knew she was working hard at so this was fine. When I contact her to tell her of my new diagnosis, I hear nothing. I wonder if she’s changed her mobile and not told me. I send messages on Facebook which I know are read because Facebook tells me so. Nothing. Cue the tumbleweed.
I know from friends that this is not an uncommon reaction when there is a diagnosis of cancer. Everyone I talk to has had similar experiences and we could all sing from the same songsheet. Best friends who disappear overnight, close friends who melt into the background. Balancing with this, however, are the diamond gleams of those who really step up. Perhaps casual or newer acquaintances who are really reliable and do the ironing/shopping/dog walking or who text you to ask how you’re doing. I had my fair share of those in the last couple of years, too, but the ones who melt out of sight always pull at my heart strings. I want to know why. I know some people just can’t take the news. It’s too painful for personal reasons or just because they can’t deal with it. And they do have the opportunity to step away from it so I can hardly blame them for wanting to do that. Wouldn’t we all just run a mile, given the chance? Actually, if anyone gave me the chance to run a mile I would be very hard pressed to do it, wheezing away as I am.
Yes, the breathing thing is not good at the moment. The fluid in my chest comes and goes so breathing is better or worse, depending on how much there is. I wake in the night struggling for breath sometimes. Sleeping propped up is not all it’s cracked up to be and sliding down the bed is a sure way to wake up, panting away. So, ten days after chemo and I am out and about again, this time to the hospital to get my blood checked to see if I can have a new portacath inserted in my chest tomorrow. Blood is taken expertly by Mark, the phlebotomist. I ask him where he was a couple of weeks ago? He says he was ill. I tell him the guy they got in to cover was useless, prodding away under my flesh in search of a vein. Mark says he can’t choose the locums but I tell him not be ill again, please! He always manages to get blood out and to do it painlessly which is a real art. After the blood, I go to Maggie’s where I am meeting Ms Marsden (and hello Mrs Marsden – nice of you to follow me!). We decide to go and buy sandwiches for lunch but Ms Marsden’s job is giving her hell at the moment and so a lot of our time is spent trying to work out why some managers really have no flair for it. This I don’t mind in the sense that I want to support her and wish slightly bad things for her manager but I don’t like the fact she is even in this position. Going back to work after cancer is fraught with difficulty. People tend to assume you are ‘better’ and just like you were before the illness. You may look the same (or be sporting a new, shorter hairstyle) but you are very much changed. Many people have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after diagnosis and treatment. Cancer is about the threat of death, and soon. It snatches hope from you and replaces it with uncertainty. The ride is a wild one and, although there are rosy patches, a lot of it is pure slate grey. Stomach jolts of good news, bad news, no news are all commonplace but no easier to bear for all that. So re-entering the normal working world can be a challenge and, just from my observations from those I know, can more often be a nightmare. Phased returns to work are thrown over in the reality of chaotic workplaces and well-intentioned plans are trampled over, leaving the returnee adrift and rudderless. It’s not a happy picture.
We eat our sandwiches while chewing over the problem in hand and we both agree Ms Marsden should go home and talk to Important People and come up with A Plan. I sit and drink some lemon Robinson’s Squash which I haven’t had since I was a child and really enjoy it. I also consume a small trifle which slips down easily. Many foods are too hard – toast crusts being a prime example – and cause pain in my oesophagus when I swallow. I am still choking on drinks and would really like to see an ENT specialist to understand why. Following my squash binge, I take myself off to the 6th floor where there is an oncology assessment ward and a doctor who will check my blood results. Hmmm. The results are not good. I have neutropenia – very low white cell count to those of you not versed in these things. They can give me an injection which might boost them. This is one I have normally given myself but today, I get a nurse all to myself. Inevitably, it all takes ages and the doctor comes back apologetically to tell me to come in at 8am so I can have more blood taken. Another test to see if the surgery can go ahead and another wedge of time to fill. She feels sorry for me and then says “No, make it 9am”. I have my injection and then Mr Mason is there to take me home. No sleep this afternoon. I am a very tired bunny. And about to do it all over again tomorrow.