Monday, December 10, 2012

'Twas the night before Chemo...

I've taken my Dexamethasone. I've had my blood test. I've freshened up my nail polish. I've bought the Maxolon, the Imodium, the thermometer, the bicarb soda, the wig, the wig stand, the turbans, the scarves, the fake fringe, the forty thousand varieties of food I'm guessing mightn't offend me in times of pukiness (that's not a word, you say? It is now- don't argue, I Have Cancer), the meal replacement in case none of them works...

...and so ad infinitum.

I've written the list of Things Not To Forget tomorrow. More tablets. Questions to ask. Books to read. iPod. Computer and DVDs. Jacket in case it's frickin' freezing in there.

The only thing left is to reframe the whole thing. Make it look less like "I think I'll go get poisoned and feel like crap for four and a half months", and more like "Let's get this war on the road, baby".

Because it is a war. Like I said to Dr Goodguy, my family doesn't survive cancer diagnoses. I plan to change that. Starting tomorrow.


My Real Hair Wig arrived today, curled up in its net like a dead puppy. Perhaps a red setter with a bad dye job. Describing it to my son by Gmail chat, I unleashed a barrage of Indian cuisine puns which left us both on the floor by our chairs, merely by mentioning that the streaks resembled tandoori smears. (I exaggerate. A little.)

At least it felt nice to pat. I let it out and started trying to bring it back to life; all the way from Hong Kong flat packed, and you'd be having a bad hair day too.

Meet Truvy and the dead setter.
 I think she's been embalmed,
but she maybe doesn't know it yet.
Let's not disillusion her, hey?
They make a great pair.
It didn't look anything like the one in the picture, of course. There was a disclaimer on the bottom of that page telling me the wig in the picture had been 'trimmed and styled'. Riiiiiiiiight. So I put it on Truvy (yes I know, she doesn't look anything like Dolly Parton in 'Steel Magnolias', but once something names itself in my head, that's it) and set about trimming the fringe and taming the curls, which seemed to be having a severe attack of ADHD- all over the room in no particular order, and awfully hard to bring back to their place and keep there.

The dead setter responded well to a sharp pair of scissors and low heat on the blow drier, especially once I realised that the only way to do this was to face Truvy to the mirror and look at myself and her in the same orientation. I straightened the crown a bit, puffed it up a little by blowing it the wrong way, gave it a good combing, parted it on the right side.

Not bad. Hey, it's exactly the same length as my hair, and it's curly. How much more could I ask for? (For less than $300 delivered?)

By the time the Bear arrived home, I was quite pleased with myself and quickly put it on to show him; I'd tamed it into something that vaguely resembled how I used to look the time I dyed my hair really, really dark brown when I was about thirty.

Sadly this error of judgement was well before I met the Bear. He took one look at me and cracked up laughing.

That wasn't the result I wanted, but on the Night Before Chemo it did well enough. It inspired me to further experiments; a loose pony tail with a few long curls hanging out of a lurid headband in front of my ears, and it was Back to the Sixties time. Joan Baez eat your heart out. Seriously, all I needed was a pair of earrings made out of ping pong balls and a guitar, and I was there.

By this time the Bear was having convulsions on the kitchen floor, and I wasn't much better. He begged me to put the damn thing away before he gave himself a hernia.

So the wig's still a bit of a work in progress, but at least the feel of it on my face doesn't turn me into a gibbering wreck. It will do. I can make something of it, particularly with a bit of creative styling and the odd headband or scarf. That's thing about real hair wigs- you can style them. With the fake ones, what you see is what you get.

(Like, an echidna on your head.)


In between my blood test and my dental appointment today (hurrah! No more dental appointments for six months), I found myself back at Cafe Cappello. The nice thing about having Centrelink come to the party is that I don't have to choose between food that's bad for me and food that's just bad when I'm in town at lunchtime; I can spend the extra bucks without worrying so much that I'm going to regret it later.

They've come to know me there. I told the girl behind the counter it was my Last Supper, and we got chatting; as you do, when you're inspired to be up front about your illness, instead of shoving it in the back drawer and trying to pretend it's not happening. (Believe me, sometimes the temptation is there.)

Mostly, people don't run away once they realise that you're cool with talking about it. Mostly, people are wonderful about it.

So I told her I was, by turns, belligerent and fucking terrified. She totally got that. I told her that tomorrow was about sending in three different divisions of the army; hit 'em hard, hit 'em early, take no prisoners. When I look at it like that, it's easier to think about being poisoned without throwing up prematurely.

I told her that the stuff people say about cancer making you look at the whole world differently- you know that touchy-feely crap almost everyone who's had cancer ends up spouting? Yeah, that. Sunshine and fucking fairy floss everywhere- well actually, I told her, it's true.

I told her how I was walking down the street the other day- the day I blogged about, where I was just sooooo happy to be out by myself- and I was grinning my silly head off. And I was surrounded by all these miserable, frowning sods who'd let their Christmas spirit turn into a fermenting vat of rage, and I just wanted to yell "FFS, I have cancer and I can smile. What the fuck is wrong with you?"

Because they just didn't get it. They just didn't get that wandering around the shops is a privilege. They've never had that choice taken away from them. I see good stuff everywhere, as well as the terrifying stuff. And that's the honest truth.

The girl in the cafe got that, too. She's a champ. She's not scared to talk about stuff that's big, and real. I like that.


Coming home, I kept thinking about the war. And how the Freeloader, for all his bastardry and terror tactics, has actually given me an unexpected gift. See, this blog has been the greatest gift I've been given in a very long time. For a creative person like me to have something as huge and important as this to write about- that is a privilege.

I guess I feel like Picasso did, when he was commissioned to paint Guernica. Anyone can write a bland list of what happened at a terrible time. A historian can write a book about what happened in Guernica, just as a doctor can tell you what happens when you have cancer. But for me to have an opportunity to turn something life-changing, something that affects thousands and thousands of people, into art- to try to go beyond the facts, and let people actually feel what happened, to see the pictures behind the pictures and make connections like they were there- that is the ultimate challenge.

That is a privilege.


So one of the things that keeps me floating is knowing that I have the deep, strong joy ahead of me of shaping the words about the experience, of telling you what it's really like to have chemo.

Or rather, what it was like for me; I don't claim to be representative of everyone. My mother was rendered almost catatonic at times by the nausea. My Bear's partner went into a diabetic coma. Neither of those reactions is typical. Another of life's mysteries is about to be revealed; how will my body react? How will my soul cope? Am I strong enough? Will I be reduced to a puddle of desperation on the floor?

Last chance to see... me looking
like ME. For a while.
Tomorrow, as they send in the navy for the first hour, the ground troops for the second, the air force for the third, I'll be trying to play Generals. I imagine myself calling those bags of poison to attention and shouting "Get in there and take no prisoners. Yes, I know, collateral damage, blah blah blah. I don't care. Take no prisoners. Get in there, do what you have to do, and we'll get you out of here as quickly as we can."

That's when I'm not shitting myself in anticipation. I'll be using all the analogies in the world to help myself through this crap. (And I use the word advisedly.) I'll try to be graceful and strong, but I'll try to be realistic too. I'll try to be a squeaky wheel when I need to.

Remember, Candy: this is a privilege. Few artists can make something worthwhile out of unchallenged joy. We remember Guernica much more readily than we remember Child with Dove.  Joyful art becomes wallpaper; unchallenged joy leaves the artist with nothing of great import to say.

I don't want to leave just wallpaper behind me.

Here we go. Wish me luck. Awooga! Awooga! Diving! Diving!

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