“’Roid rage?” my son had asked. I had not been in the best of moods, and the steroids did have something to do with the general edginess that morning… although I am inclined, myself, to just lay the blame squarely at the feet of vanity. We were going out.
With another round of chemo and immunotherapy looming, no idea how well I will make it through this next three day course of treatment and lockdown happening once again, we were determined, weather permitting, to get out somewhere… anywhere… if only for a couple of hours. So, when a patch of blue sky showed on Sunday, we set off for Oxford.
This year has been difficult for everyone as far as getting out and about is concerned, but the last few weeks have been even dodgier on a personal level. There are too many unanswered questions, important ones like, how far can I drive? Or walk? What are my new limitations and how far can I stretch them? There was only really one way to find out.
The hour’s drive was fine. I was pleased by that. Then I had to get out of the car.
My personal Halloween horror story had happened the day before. Washing my hair, I had noticed the odd one slipping down the drain as I rinsed. It was not until I was almost done that noticed my hands we full of hair. Not just the odd strand… but handfuls of the stuff. Attempting to comb the remaining curls detached them too. Two minutes with the scissors sheared it short… and a good gust of wind will take the rest like a dandelion clock…
I cannot complain, as I expected to lose my hair very quickly after the first batch of chemo and it kindly hung around for weeks. For a few days, even the short-cropped hair clung to my scalp, looking as if I had just chosen a new hairstyle. That, along with the steroid-induced moon-face, knocks years off my age, as there is not a wrinkle, not a fold, pinch or crease in my face or neck with all the swelling. You could patent this stuff as the ultimate in cosmetic ‘fillers’…
On the other hand, I do look rather as if someone has strategically inserted a bicycle pump and has inflated me far too enthusiastically…
Then, to add insult to injury, you have to strap an oxygen tank to your back and do your wanderings feeling like some kind of surrealist turtle at the speed of a tortoise. This, I could live without.
So, vanity took a hit… until I realised that vanity could go take a hike too. I was out and about, after all, walking around and doing things, in good company and sunshine… and the alternatives were not exactly appealing.
So, that is one hurdle I am over. I hope.
It is odd though, to realise that even in a scenario like this, where ‘life and death’ is not just a figure of speech any more, that something as simple as self-image can still have so much impact. Thinking about it, though, it does go a little deeper than that. It is about control.
With cancer, as with so many other serious illnesses, not only are you at the mercy of an unseen assailant within, you seem to cede control of your body to the medical profession… and they do with it as they see fit. Your days march to the timetable of drugs and appointments… even your body responds on cue to what the medications do and what they ask of it.
It is an insidious process. Your sense of identity is leached away, little by little… your appearance is changed, your work, your routines are gone. You cannot eat or wear the things you would usually do, your sleep patterns are disrupted, in fact, anything that makes you feel like ‘you’ is under threat. And that includes any plans and pipe-dreams you might have had for the future… not least because you no longer know that you will have one.
It is not all that surprising, then, that it is the little things that begin to get to you. Those, you feel you may be able to control, at least in some small measure. I am beginning to feel it is increasingly important to find something you can keep within your control. That might be learning all you can about your condition and treatment options, so that you have the means and knowledge ready with which to make your own informed decisions. Or doing something creative… completely random… unusual… something just for you.
I’m cooking a lot more. Revisiting old favourite dishes, comfort foods and recipes that have been passed through generations. With each one, I am reconnecting with family, friends and memories… it is not so much for the food itself, but the love that keeps coming back to me with every bite and aroma. Being able to share these dishes and their attendant memories, passing along the recipes, bringing past, present and future together in this way, is a joy… and joy is always ‘out of control’… but only in the very best of ways.