Saturday, September 20, 2014

Counting the cards

My father taught my brother and me to play cards when we were very young. Many hours were spent sitting around the dining table at my grandparents' house in the country, playing hand after hand of '500' late into the night.

My grandmother clearly couldn't concentrate
for long enough to smile for the camera.
The game was frequently enlivened by the fact that our pack of cards had no joker; my grandmother, struggling to communicate with us in Franglais and subject to spasmodic lapses of concentration, regularly forgot that we'd substituted the two of spades. This threw my father's card-counting pedantry into total chaos. Often she played it as a discard, causing him to become incandescent with frustration. Once she threw it out in kitty, a fact only discovered after the playing of the last trick; I can still remember the sound of my father's chair being pushed back in disgust as my brother and I fell about laughing.

The levity was always welcome to me, as for some reason I've never been lucky at cards. Usually I'd be dealt hand after hand of complete crap; I'd spend the hours tossing out fives and sevens with mounting gloom. Thus was I introduced, painfully, to the origin of the expression 'I can't take a trick'.

And I've got to say, lately that saying seems particularly apt.


I mean, take this blog post- really, the least of my worries. I was planning on calling it 'The gift that keeps on giving', a reference to the Freeloader's habit of tossing some new and delightful consequence of our illness in our path the moment we stagger to our feet after the last trip-up.

But right now I can't even take a simple little trick like that. Writing while depressed is a bastard of a thing, but I'm trying to keep everyone up to date, aren't I? I had to try. So I sat down, and started, and stalled, and stopped. Weary of trying to squeeze the words out, short of confidence, fearing my post was just a series of pathetic whinges strung together on a twist of self-pity, I took a break and went over to read the excellent and often hilarious breast cancer blog 'Boob in a Box'. And found THIS.

Trumped. It figures.

So here I am trying to hang my post off a new image. Gotta try. Five days and counting, when a post usually takes me less than an afternoon to put together.


Four of diamonds. Five of spades. Six, seven, nine of hearts.

Finding that the name of my blog post was already in use is, of course, the most minor of irritations. As mock-cream icing on the sheepshit cupcake on my plate right now, it would be enough to cut through my self-pity and give me the giggles if I wasn't feeling so damn depressed. There's an awkward truth for you- depression has noooooo respect for the size of one's problems.

See, nothing that's happened to me lately is life-threatening. Very little of it, in the whole scheme of things, is earth-shattering. I feel supremely guilty for even mentioning the latest tripwires the Freeloader's laid across my path, given the genuinely deadly hurdles lying in wait for some of my friends. In my head I'm a two-year-old, protesting mama's failure to purchase a lollypop at the supermarket checkout.

I mean, I'm not dying, or not right now. I'm not in total physical agony. I know I have multiple blessings I should be counting.

But depression doesn't care about that. It just is. And on top of the screwed-up chemicals in my head, I feel like I'm being tossed hand after hand of crap. I've been stoically playing the hand I've been dealt (another of my father's favourite catch-cries) for two years now. Enough already.

So I'll play this round with cards on the table, and you can do the counting and judge for yourself whether this is really such crap after all. Just be aware that if you tell me it's nothing to be depressed about, I'll probably come after you with a length of 4x2.

Or cry, even.


Perhaps I shall add some completely distracting photos in the margins, just to stop you being dragged into the mire with me. They represent things that have made me feel better, for however short a time. Honesty requires me not to keep the king of hearts up my sleeve.


The first piece of rubbish dealt to me after the trip to Melbourne was a deep crack in one of my oldest friendships. I shall not shine a bright light on that one in public, but suffice to say that one of the two central pillars of my support system is no longer regarded by me as weight-bearing.

Cleaning out some old boxes of
photos, I found a picture of a
close friend from primary school.
We lost touch years ago.
Weirdly, within days she'd asked
to friend me on Facebook. Love
you, Viv.
Does that pillar need to be removed, replaced or repaired? I have no idea. Right now I don't much care. I'm exhausted, I'm depressed, I'm still coping with the fallout from surgery. I don't have the energy or the patience for the careful insertion of glue into the cracks of something that might, despite my best efforts, be beyond fixing. My trust has never been easy to mend once it's fractured.

It's a card that lots of us have been surprised to discover in our hand, this breaking down of supposedly secure relationships after a life-threatening diagnosis. Partners who cut and run when the Freeloader gets his hooks into their loved one. Friends who suddenly turn on you when you're at your most vulnerable. Sadly, they're a dime a dozen. But it's the first time anything of the sort has happened to me. It's a huge shock, to have the rug ripped out from under me when I haven't even walked all the way to the end of the Freeloader's stinking red carpet. I really thought that one was glued to the floor.

And that, says the little critic on my shoulder, concludes a despicably mixed metaphor- but I'm beyond caring about that, too.


Then there's the small matter of living with my redesigned chest. What chest, one might ask; there's a five of spades if I ever saw one. I have a scarred hollow where the left and right bower of hearts used to be. Almost every item of summer clothing I own now looks ridiculous on me, and when 27 degree temperatures started to hit this week, I discovered that I have almost nothing cool and comfortable to wear. Or rather, nothing that isn't likely to send small children running screaming for the safety of their mothers' skirts.

Meet Suzie. She doesn't care
what my chest looks like.
Getting ready to go out now involves about eight failed costume ideas, safety pins, swearing and tears, followed by considerable discomfort for the duration for the excursion. Unless, of course, I'm prepared to feel publicly humiliated by the discovery that my newly vacant top is gaping open and showing my scars in all their puckered and tagged glory.

Or perhaps my soft tits have ridden up to my chin while I've been talking to someone. Is there any polite way to reach into one's clothing and pull one's bra back down to a semi-normal position? Discuss.

And as much as I tell myself this is only temporary, the fact remains that unless I take to the burqa, I'm going to feel ugly every time I have to go to town until after my reconstruction. Don't even start on buying myself a new wardrobe. Hours prowling the op shops resulted in more tears (there was one vertically gathered pink top which really did succeed in making me look like a turkey carcass), and finally, ONE rather formal summer top with the right cut to disguise the damage.

I suppose I could just wear that one everywhere till it stinks and falls to pieces. And even with that one, I still have to safety-pin my ah-bra to my undies to stop the pretend tits popping out the top. (Try it sometime. Wedgie city.)

Call me vain; I'm not good at feeling ugly. It just makes me want to curl up under the doona and cry. Or perhaps demolish the Swiss GNP in chocolate- I've somehow managed to gain back too many of the kilos I'd lost, in a lot less time than it took to lose them. That's what happens when I'm not able to exercise for a few weeks and feel pole-axed by misery to boot.

The wistaria and jasmine are out. The smell
is intoxicating.
Oh, I did try to get back into the exercise once I'd recovered enough from surgery. And then I turned away from the laundry sink too fast one day and banged my knee on the washing machine- another triumph of clumsiness- and could barely walk for a couple of weeks.

And did I mention falling off my bike when I tried to dismount, the first time I rode it after surgery? No? I'd forgotten how careful I had to be since Taxotere killed some of the nerve endings in my feet.

And then- probably because I was still sleep-deprived- I forgot my tablets a couple of times, which immediately gave me joint pain because there's only fish oil standing between me and screaming heap, and then when I started taking the damn Arimidex again I got all the side effects double-strength all over again. And then the friend thing with my bestie came to a head after festering for ages, and then another friend's disease progressed, which I found completely devastating because it's so fucking unfair, and then the depression came down around my ears like the sea closing over the Titanic, and all in all, well, four of fucking diamonds all round.


To top it off, when I was drying my feet after a shower the other day I glanced at my chest and realised I had what looked like a misplaced booblet growing at the bottom of my rib cage.

I distracted myself from myself
by making a mosaic panel for
the bathroom wall. Note that
the mirrors are small enough
not to reflect my chest.
Oh, relax, it's not cancer. Just bloody lymph gathering in the wrong place. But it shouldn't be there. Off I went to Miss Sunshine to get it checked out.

Yup; lymph reading up to six, still normal but as high as it's ever been. Cording in my left arm, which explains the pain shooting down my forearm when I bend my wrist backwards.

And just to make it clear to you that this is, indeed, the should-be-joker two of spades, reneged and then played illegally as a discard:

The reason for this sudden reversal of my lymphoedema fortunes is- yup, you got it! A little extra gift from my BRCA2 mutation. (All together now: Fuck you, cancer.) I spend HOURS of my life retraining the lymph from my left arm to move across my chest to my right armpit after the first mastectomy, and the second mastectomy goes and puts a bloody great wad of scar tissue in its way.

Jesus wept.

So it's back to the massages and exercises every day for me. So much for getting my life back. Oh, and did I mention wearing the damn anaconda sleeve on my arm till it settles down?

There's a fashion statement to distract you from my gaping top and wedgie.

(Just reminding myself: There are worse places to be depressed. I know I'm depressed because this doesn't fix it, and it should.)


So there you go. That's my life right now. Whatcha think of that hand?

Sorry. I know open misere is such a bore for the other players.

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