Saturday, November 24, 2012

The problem with trying to be normal

The arm went all the way up- woohoo!
This morning, aware that my brother was coming for lunch, I decided I was over this whole being sick thing. My live-in carers had all gone home. I'd ditched the strongest of the painkillers last night, and the sky didn't fall. I did my physio exercises, and the left arm went almost all the way up above my head without me screaming or fainting.

So enough of this la dame aux camelias crap; it was time, I decided, to act normal.

And step one was trying to look normal. The first thing to deal with was my hair. After the fiasco at Turban Central and the meltdown at the hairdresser while looking for a wig, I thought I'd better make the most of what I've got while it's still here. What the heck, if I'm going to try to make my own wig out of my own hair (and that seems like a more attractive idea every time I remember the feel of that synthetic echidna-thing on my face and the Anne Geddes-style flower headband), I'd better make sure it's the right colour to start with.

So out came the dye, and I rejoiced in the extra movement in my arm as I applied it, washed it out and wielded the hair drier. (YOU try washing your hair after underarm surgery. Go on. The first day after surgery, I couldn't even pull down my own dacks to go to the loo.)

I am Woman, hear me roar.

Step Two in Reclaim Myself was dealing with that fake boob. It hasn't got as much airplay as the wig, but the problem of Wun Hung Lo has been something of a bugbear too over the last few days. When you have one F cup breast and one floating mound of teddy bear stuffing in your bra, Steps Must Be Taken to even things up before people start unconsciously cocking their head when they look at you and wondering if they had one too many tequilas last night.

Truly, it's offputting. It was bad enough when I used the special mastectomy bra that Berlei had kindly donated- a relentlessly practical garment, and somewhat reminiscent of the undergarments worn by 80-year-old grandmothers whose sole aim is to stop their tits from tripping them over. But when I tried venturing out in one of my own more attractive bras, with the teddy bear tit tucked into one side and secured with bobby pins, I found the whole left side riding up as I walked along and Tubby Teddy nudging me under the chin at awkward moments.

(When you're out in public trying to do the shopping, all moments are awkward. Down, Teddy! Sit! Stay!)

So I stood in the bathroom considering my options. I frigged around with that fake tit for about an hour, reshaping it with bobby pins (what did women do before bobby pins?) and pushing the synthetic fairy floss this way and that (fortunately I've had a lot of practice stuffing turkeys).

I put the bra on. I took the bra off. I poked and prodded. I still looked like the Titanic after the iceberg.

The problem was the weight. The more stuffing I put in the stretchy pocket of My First Prosthesis, the more I looked like a Frankensteinian blend of Dolly Parton and Whistler's Mother. One side of me came charging through the door full steam ahead and taking no prisoners, and the other was still rocking to and fro staring at the floorboards.

Gentle reader, there was only one option available to me. I put a rock in my prosthesis.

And do you know what? That side is still lighter than the real thing. But at least I can put a spirit level on the poop deck without it sliding off.


The Elmo look.
Flushed with that success, I made coffee, washed two days' worth of dishes, checked on the turkeys and watered the vegie garden. (I am Farmer, see me slave.) I made comic wigs out of fur fabric and took photos of myself being an idiot in them to entertain my Facebook friends. I cooked my brother a gourmet lunch- four types of pan-fried fish with home-made chips and broccoli- and it was delicious. (I am Elmo Durie. See me perform.) We broke out three varieties of chocolate for dessert. I felt like Queen of the Bungy again.

Till my arm started to scream, that is.

Dammit, I keep telling my body I'm all better, but it seems to have a short attention span.

So, belatedly realising I needed to rest, I sat down to find myself an attractive medical alert bracelet on the net (how's that for a convincing excuse for running up another $70 on the credit card?). I'd already had one moment of panic the night before, when a random mosquito bit me on the left arm after I forgot to apply my insect repellant; I found myself simultaneously applying ice to reduce the swelling, raising my arm to let gravity pull the lymph away from the bite and applying aloe vera to stop me breaking the skin by scratching it. (I am Octopus, see me break-dance.)

Such a pretty bracelet... especially with
dark red stones instead of pink...
Given that the Bungy mosquitoes are unlikely to scream to a halt, read my bracelet and say "hey folks, no injections in this arm- let's be kind and go for the other one!", you may be wondering about the sanity of my thought processes here, but I'll plead narcotic-induced haze. It seemed logical at the time. (And who knows, the chemo may disagree with me to the point that I faint in the street; better safe than sorry. It was such a pretty bracelet.)

The pain in my arm continued to increase. Chatting to Jools on the phone, I discovered that I'd forgotten most of what she'd told me about combining the different medications; chastened, I swallowed the appropriate drugs and stopped trying to be Action Woman.

The rest of the afternoon has been spent lying in bed trying not to moan. The doctor did warn me about letting the pain get on top of me, but of course I had to find out for myself, didn't I? With neither Vi nor Jools here to howl at me to take my medicine and quit overdoing it, I fell at the first hurdle. And dammit, it hurts. The narcotics have given me a false sense of security, and I am suitably chastened.

So I guess I'd better try again tomorrow. With chemo approaching like a runaway train, I desperately want to cram some normal life into the weeks I have left before I'm tied to the tracks. But for me, 'acting normal' tends to mean juggling half a dozen hats simultaneously whilst walking a tightrope.

That's all very well when I'm in my usual rude health (and no smart remarks from the peanut gallery about that adjective); seriously, I'm just not used to being without my safety net. This afternoon I crashed to the floor. Tomorrow I have to lower the wire and reduce the number of hats.


But somewhere at the back of my mind, the unpleasant thought niggles that even when I recover fully from this surgery, even when chemo and radio and hormone therapy are over, I might never get back to what I think of as my normal life. I'll be doing my lymphatic massage, applying my insect repellant, doing physio, wearing gloves, having check-ups and tests, taking pills and waiting for results for much of the rest of my life. My life has changed, whether I like it or not. Things will always be different.

My friend Lyn, alias Lucy the Lump, has all but come out the other end of this disease now, and for her it's been like walking off a cliff. The Bear warned me about this. When his last partner died, he was the one who walked off the edge into mid-air, as all the professional support disappeared and he was left to try to rediscover 'normal' in a vacuum. I know that, really, he's never found it, though he managed to stuff his cancer experiences in the back drawer for a few years. He slipped back into PTSD far too easily when I was diagnosed.

I've thought of Lyn a lot this afternoon, and all the others like her, stumbling back into 'normal' life after their endless rounds with the Freeloader, carrying their backpacks of bruises and scars and trying to fit into a world where the people are clean and unmarked. Fighting death puts us into Fight Club forever. It puts an extra dimension on every single thing that happens for the rest of our lives, and yet nobody will expect or want us to talk about cancer forever.

So I may never find my old groove again. It's always going to be some sort of a fight, even in six months or a year, or whenever the doctors ring the bell for the end of this bout. It's going to be confusing, and it's going to be challenging. My life's never, really, going to be 'normal' again.

Ah, what the hell. When was I ever happy with 'normal', anyway?


  1. Your gift with words make you so much more than normal. I laugh, I cry, but please keep sharing your story, because...........well, because it matters.