Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The magical mystery arm, and defining 'normal'

Okay, I have got over myself. Please excuse yesterday's mega-vent. Sometimes you just have to let it out to let it go.


Today started considerably better. Maybe the iron tablets are having an effect, or maybe I'm particularly susceptible to the placebo effect, but whatever. The Bear still had to 'encourage' me into consciousness this morning with the verbal equivalent of Chinese water torture (which usually takes the form of repeatedly asking if he can 'get me anything' until I mumble an incoherent answer), but after I'd eased out of my coma-cocoon and into a sitting position, it was relatively easy to get out of bed.

THAT is an improvement. Previously the only way to get me out of the rack before 10am has been to sit on my bladder (thank you, Velcrodog). Or something similar.

I even managed to be showered, dressed, breakfasted, Megwigged and made up in time to drive myself to my late morning physio appointment with Little Miss Sunshine.

(Did you hear that? DRIVE MYSELF. Now, that is a red letter occasion. It's been a long time.)

I even managed to get my head together enough to write myself a shopping list, and I remembered to take it with me.

(Stop laughing.)

Now, don't get too excited yet and start asking me if I'm all better, or I may have to smite you into the middle of next week. I still have a crappy taste in my mouth, a delicate stomach and weirdly numb extremities, just to mention a few of the lingering PIA side effects one has to cope with post-chemo. But what was that Dr Rosie said yesterday? Small steps. I feel like today I took some small steps forward.

And when I got to town, the upward gradient continued. Huzzah!


Miss Sunshine was unusually frazzled when I arrived. The waiting room resembled Wynyard Station at 5.30pm, with more physios than I'd ever seen in residence arriving at the work station and retreating immediately with a patient in tow. Sunshine bundled me into the back room with somewhat indecent haste, apologising profusely for the fact that it was still littered with towels from the last patient.

"It's only Wednesday, but it feels like Friday," she mumbled from underneath a pile of used laundry as she rushed out the door again, clearly a little bewildered and gesturing wildly for me to get myself undressed while she was gone. I smiled as I stripped down to scar and undies and got myself into piece-of-meat position on the table. Presumably everyone made their appointments for today in the hope of a miracle cure for their dodgy knee before the usual sporting and drinking debauchery of Anzac Day, which falls annoyingly on a Thursday this year.

(To my non-Aussie readers: know that most employers will be completely unsurprised by a sudden epidemic of diarrhoea and flu amongst their staff this Friday. If New Zealand's the Land of the Long White Cloud, Oz is the Land of the Long Weekend. Not my line, but it still makes me chuckle.)

She'd calmed down considerably by the time she returned and connected me to her weird Frankensteinish machine, the one that measures the lymph retained in the compromised arm via a complicated system of wires and stick-on terminals on the extremities. Her eyes popped as she saw the reading.

"That's wonderful," she enthused.

"What does it say?" I asked, expecting maybe a 2.

"Minus 1.25," she replied.

Say what?


She did the reading again, just to make sure.

"It's reading .2 better now," she laughed.

And then of course, wanted to know how come my magical mystery arm had come down over 6 points from my last visit.

Here is the truth: since the last visit, I have been on strike. I haven't done my massages properly even once. Or my exercises, for that matter. I've been a complete slack-arse, and I'm rewarded for it with a negative reading? I didn't even know you could have a negative reading. (Apparently it's anything between minus 10 and 10 that's normal, not zero and ten.)

Tell the truth, Candy. What has happened is that every few days, despite my own inaction, my dear Bear has been massaging the fluid in my swollen underarm (which I can barely reach myself) and pulling it away across and down my back. And clearly it's made a huge difference to the efficiency of my lymphatic system as it tries to adjust to new pathways, as well as reducing the swelling where the infection was.

"Has he got calloused hands?" asked Miss Sunshine, still star-struck by the improvement.

"Absolutely. He works outside all day."

"I wish I did. They're so much better for this sort of massage than smooth ones like mine."


Bless that Bear of mine. What would I do without him? (Apart from having a dodgy swollen underarm, of course.)


Mind you, I still have an annoying hard lump under that arm where the scar tissue and lymph seem to have come to some sort of agreement to join forces and piss me off. It means that, although I have excellent shoulder mobility, it hurts like hell to put my arm right up.

(As I pointed out to Sunshine, my 'excellent shoulder mobility' is more about bloody-mindedness than comfort.)

Anyway, then she got out this mini-ultrasound machine and zapped the lump with a bit of internal sound massage. Or something. Buggered if I know how it works, but it certainly softened the lump up a bit. The arm still hurts when it goes all the way up, but maybe if I keep massaging that lump...

...and stop being a slack-arse about my exercises...

...I mean, exactly what do I achieve by sulking and refusing to do my exercises? It's not like it'll make the miserable after-effects of chemo go away. It'll just make the whole experience a damn sight more inconvenient.

Sometimes one just has to combat the inner two-year-old's tantrums with stark logic.


I emerged wearing my virtual star-pupil badge with pride, and happy to be able to hand it on to the Bear when I got home. But before that I had a list of purchases as long as my arm to complete, if I had enough 'spoons' of energy left.

Amazingly, I found I did.

I braved Super-Cheap Auto, which has even less appeal for me than Bunnings, and got the power steering fluid for our other car (NB: before this morning I had No Idea that such a product existed).

I managed lunch at Cafe Cappello (suffer, baby!) before doing the full round of the local op shops and finding everything I needed, including two 'new' shirts for the Bear who has worn all his 'good' shirts to cuff-fraying, collar-parting death. (Bless his recycling-conscious waste-hating heart; he often has to be surgically removed from his old clothes before they fall off him embarrassingly in public.)

I did a slow and careful round of the supermarket, and wasn't deceased by the time I reached the checkout (that's a first) despite having to unpack the trolley myself for the first time in months.

I picked up the turkey food from two different locations on the way back to the Bungy, instead of thinking fuck that, I'm too tired and going straight home.

And yes, I'm tired now, but I'm not totally buggered. I didn't come home and sleep for three hours, like I did after the freezer-buying trip (and I was being chauffeured that day). In fact, I still had the energy to cook and eat dinner.

is progress, isn't it?

Isn't it?


So today has seen an improvement in my quality of life, in a mathematically geometric manner. I'm still not back to normal. I don't know whether I'll ever be normal again. When you've had cancer and start trying to come out the other side, people talk about a 'new normal' that you have to find; I can see that this is true without liking or accepting it at all. Of course, I want to get back to how I was before! Doesn't everyone?

But I've been irrevocably changed by this, and it would be stupid to think that the changes only apply to my body shape. I have different interests, different priorities, and I guess I may have to accept (eventually) that I also have different capabilities.

Certainly in the short term.

And how do I measure 'normal', anyway?

Well, one day I hope to be able to pick up and stack firewood again, while the Bear cuts and splits it. Right now, that's about as likely as waking up on the moon. It's heavy, exhausting work, and it's something we have to do all winter, every winter.

The day I can do that again- yep, that's the day I'll know I'm back to 'normal'.

1 comment:

  1. Showered, dressed and drove - now that is something! Been thinking of you x