This morning I made a mistake. Instead of comforting myself after a night of restless sleep (bald heads, sleep caps and hot flushes do not great bedfellows make) and a day without tastebuds, I stood on the scales. My first day back at work after chemo two decided to wreak havoc on my bloodstream and I started it by making myself feel bad – rather than by making myself the cup of tea I probably deserved. Don’t ask me why I did it. Let’s just say, I won’t be doing it again.
Having now experienced two rounds of the toxic stuff, I have decided that chemotherapy is the medical equivalent of a dementor (feel free to swot up on your Harry Potter knowledge here). Ok, so it’s not exactly a figment of my imagination or a creature of the night and, I appreciate its main target is cancer cells and not my soul, but I do think that if you let it take hold and define your life, chemo will drain you of the hope and happiness you need to keep going. After all, anything that steals away your ability to taste food, sleep well and think straight is not going to be high up there on the Christmas card list.
The trouble with chemo is that if you can only feel happy when you feel yourself, you might be in for a very very long wait. While I am not a big fan of the fact my eggs taste like cardboard, the skin is peeling off my mouth and I am now only at the right temperature when my leg is hanging out of the bed, I know that I need my positivity as much as I need the drugs. Chemo, with its systematic destruction of the body, does not care whether you smile when you wake up in the morning, so you have to.
While there is no magic Patronus charm (apologies to all non Harry Potter lovers out there) to snap you out of that bad start and banish the toxins from your bloodstream, here are five tiny top tips for taking control away from the chemo
1) Get your kit on: I may be sporting a rather odd combination of suntops, a sweater and a fluffy poncho to keep warm, but I didn’t sleep in it, so that makes it clothing!Dress for the day and you’ll find it a lot less daunting.
2) Open those curtains: Clouds or no clouds, daylight is always more inviting when you can actually see it. Let it in and it might just lift your spirits.
3) Variety is the spice of life: There is more to life than the sofa, even if it is your current place of work. A day without structure and a change of pace will probably never be a day you wish to repeat.
4) If you have time for Facebook, you have time for exercise: It doesn’t have to involve lycra, and sweat is purely optional, but it’s amazing what even a bit of stretching can do for the mind, body and soul. I’m looking forward to pilates later.
5) Make the little things matter: from an unexpected piece of news and a kind message to a perfectly fried egg (even one you can’t taste), the little things often make the biggest impression.
Of course, sometimes it’s just not possible to change the course of a day. But even if chronic fatigue, mouth ulcers, temperatures and sickness stand in your way today, just remember there is always tomorrow.Chemo isn’t conquered in a day. Don’t aim for 110% if 75% is all that’s needed. And, don’t feel guilty if the day you thought you’d have is not the one you end up living. For all its nastiness, chemo is at least trying to make sure you have lots of tomorrows.
And, one bonus tip: THERE IS NOTHING TO BE GAINED BY STANDING ON THE SCALES ON A MONDAY MORNING AFTER EATING A LOT OF TASTELESS AND UNSATISFYING THINGS THE NIGHT BEFORE!
Chemo or no chemo, it’s a rare day that brings with it the right amount of sunshine. It’s up to you to find a break in the clouds or, better still, smile even when the rain falls.