Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Dr Mumbles is surprised

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the worst part is the waiting.

While you feel you're actually doing something to beat the Freeloader, you're pretty well fine. You can throw your nervous energy into coping with your sick chemo tummy, or the nerve pain in your arm, or your daily shoulder exercises. Or whatever.

But when you get to a hiatus between treatments, and somebody suggests it's time for yet another test to see what's happening inside you... whether you're winning...

...that's the worst part. Waiting for the test, imagining all the scenarios. And worse; waiting for the results. That moment when the doctor's mouth opens, and time stops.


The radiotherapy secretary rang me months ago to make today's appointment for a CT scan. She wasn't any more specific than that- just relayed that Professor Power Ranger needed me to have a cat scan before he set up my rads regime.

I filed that away at the time under 'too far away to worry about'. I was flat out coping with the chemo side effects, and April 9th was about as close and relevant to my daily concerns as the moons of Jupiter. But then chemo was over, and April 9th crept closer and closer until it became tomorrow, and then today.

Which, of course, did my head in.

I didn't want to know. I didn't want to have to face the possibility that four months of feeling like crap had been a complete waste of time, because little spots of horror had grown up anyway in vital and indispensable places. My ovaries. My bones. My liver.

It didn't help that I'd told the chemo nurses that my next stop was a CT and a visit to Dr Mumbles, and they'd reinforced the idea in my head that this was a progress report.

"By the time you get to your appointment with Dr Mumbles in the afternoon, he'll be able to access the CT results online," Margaret had offered helpfully.


I DON'T WANT TO KNOW, I bellowed... inside my head.

(Heaven forbid that I let anyone else know I was terrified.)


So the last few days have been characterised by sick apprehension as I thought about the possibility of taking the slippery slide from 'curable' to 'maintenance'. (Yeah, that's the euphemism du jour.) I wasn't ready for that- not at all. Not before I'd even come out from under the black cloud of TAC chemo.

The Bear was sweating it too, of course. You can't hide the nuances from him; he's been here before. He knows the significance of everything that happens to me. He's way ahead of me half the time. Sometimes way too far ahead, charging forward fuelled by a cocktail of fear and ghastly experience. I have to pull him back sometimes, back into today, and remind him who I am and where I am.

Relax. It was all a false alarm. It wasn't that sort of CT scan.


When we got to the hospital the Bear did a kiss-and-drop and went off to hunt for unicorns, which apparently are more common than parking spots. By the time he found one I'd already been swallowed by one of the zillion doors. I guess it spared me having to watch him wait. Probably a mercy.

And I thought of him out there waiting and worrying still as the radiotherapy ladies relieved my mind by explaining exactly what was going on today. I was going to be lying on the scanner for about half an hour so they could render me motionless by various devious means, call Prof PR in to find my treatment spots, which would be lined up using lasers and the CT scanner, and finally tattoo those spots to preserve them for posterity.

No injected dye. No 'metallic taste followed by sensation of wetting your pants'. It wasn't that sort of CT scan.

WHY, I asked myself, WHY didn't the secretary make that clear when she made the appointment?

Because she's never had cancer herself, said a little voice in my head.

Probably true. You just don't realise the stress these things can cause unless you've been there, or someone's taken the time to gently rub your nose in it.



Even after I'd had My First Tattoo (OUCH, some people get a kick out of this? Seriously?), it would be a little while until I could relieve the Bear's mind. I was sent on to the radiotherapy nurse, who gave me the twenty-questions regime on how I was coping right now. It was the second twenty-questions in the last hour; I'd managed to crack up the rads staff completely with my answers to theirs.

"We ask you these questions once a week during your treatment, so we can monitor how you're going," began Rads Sweetie 1. "So how are you feeling right now, with regards to fatigue?"

"Like crap."


"And have you noticed any changes of mood?"

"Yes, I'm a total bitch."

(Rads staff fall about)


Fast forward three quarters of an hour.

"We ask you these questions once a week during your treatment, so we can monitor how you're going," explained the nurse.

I was starting to get a severe sense of deja vu. Fortunately the questions were expressed in a marginally different way, or I may have started looking for groundhogs popping out of the walls.

"So- fatigue. How are you coping with everyday tasks like housework?"

I cackled derisively.

"I'm not. I'm hopeless. Exhausted all the time. I don't even make it all the way through the day without a sleep. Thank heavens I've got a partner who fills in the blanks."

Ain't that the truth.


By the end of our interview, I was relieved to find that the Bear's method of dealing with radiotherapy burns was totally accepted in the mainstream.

"Bring an aloe vera leaf with you," suggested the nurse, "because it's wonderful for taking the heat out of the site immediately. The moment you get off the table and go to get dressed, apply the jelly all over the treated area. Then after half an hour add a thick coat of sorbolene cream over the top. Do the same at night before you go to bed- aloe vera, then sorbolene half an hour later."

"Can I use Moo Goo instead of sorbolene?"

"Oh, that's become very popular in Queensland- yes, that's a good product. I'll give you a tube of sorbolene anyway, but you can use either."

It's always nice to know that what you fully intended to do from the start won't cause any ripples. Aloe vera is a miracle cure for just about everything in the Bear's books. And when it comes to radiotherapy burns, he should know; he's been here before.


We had over two hours to kill before we saw Mumbles, so I hijacked the Bear into a day trip to the coast. It wasn't hard once I mentioned the magic word 'Shawsy's', a favourite pub of his which nestles on the water's edge at Shaw's Bay. We've run away there before in times of stress. The Bear definitely needed an attitude adjuster after the morning's lows and highs, and I wanted to test my alcohol tolerance. I haven't had a drink since way before chemo started- just didn't fancy it before, and Ferdinand had told me over and over that he was teetotal.

Until today, anyway, when I think he must have hit his teens.

Tia Maria and milk, he wheedled.

Are you dinkum?

Would I lie to you?


He stuck out his bottom lip then, so I ordered his tipple of choice in a long glass (the more milk the better, I figured) and prayed that he wasn't setting me up for a fall again.

He wasn't. Yay for Tia Maria and Coopers by the water, and for watching distant rain fall on someone else for a change.


We just had time for barramundi and chips at the Fisherman's Co-op (I told you, I'm going to say YES to myself more because of all this) before heading back to the Mumblatorium. To my amazement, Mumbles had already been cremated and we were greeted by a sparkling Dr Mellow in fine form.

Another session of twenty-questions ensued. No, my fingernails are not displaying any new and worrying features other than changing colour (guffaw).Yes, I've finished my course of antibiotics and my armpit is fine (confirmed). No, this is not a new wig, though I suspect you didn't even recognise me the first time you saw me wearing it (smirk).

Huh? That wasn't a medical question.

And so on.

To cut a half-hour story short, I got lots of ticks and no crosses, and half of Mellow's time was spent buttering up the Bear with stories of his own humiliation at the hands of two electric fences whilst helping a neighbour muster cattle. (No, Mellow, it's not a good idea to hang on to an electric fence with each hand whilst standing in a puddle of water. Cackle.)

And at one stage, he looked down at his notes almost with disbelief.

"You've done it," he said, and there was definitely a level of surprise in the tone. "Six rounds of TAC, and you got through them. And you're really well. That's great. Well done."

Shaking his head in amazement. It seems he expected me to crack- expected to have to adjust the dose because I was too sick, or to have to change the drugs halfway through because I couldn't tolerate the mix. He warned me from the start that TAC was the toughest regime.

But I told him something at the start, too, and I reminded him of it right then. With a twinkle. Because nobody ever quite believes me when I say it, till they test me. I look utterly like a girl, and those who don't know me usually expect me to be girly. Right down to being a bit of a wimp sometimes, when the heat's on.

Wimpy? I don't think so.

"I told you I was tough," I said.