saline

Breast cancer lesson number 118: Keep running to that finish line

I have in my possession a blue oncology appointment card on which the words: ‘PICC flush and dressing’ have been written for THE LAST TIME! While it doesn’t actually mean an end to the PICC line (that comes later), it does mean that this time next week there won’t be any more scheduled trips to the hospital just for a shot of saline and a nice clean piece of tubi-grip. I could go as far as to say, this could be my last PICC line flush appointment EVER! But I won’t (just in case).

Ok, so I appreciate this flimsy piece of paper is not much in the looks department. But this card (which the unit lost at my last visit and have only just posted back to me) means a lot to me. For those of you following my #100happydays project, I described it as a reminder of the fact that, whatever race you are running, there will always be a finish line (and if there isn’t, you should ask for a refund on the entry fee!). And, every finish line, however small, is worth celebrating.

Sometimes in life, we are too busy running to make sense of it all. A finish line gives us hope, focus and the reassurance we’ve been running in the right direction all along. I feel like I have been running for my life for the last six months. Reaching the end of a stage (albeit a small one) is a great feeling. It is life’s way of saying the end is in sight and there will come a time when all that is left is you, the memory of an epic struggle and an invisible medal of honour, awarded for just making it through each day.

So whatever it is you’re running for right now, don’t lose sight of the finish line. Enjoy the run if you can, but remember, even if you’re climbing a hill right now, that hill will end – along with the pain.

Who knows? I might have just enough energy in reserve to make the end of the big race a sprint finish!

Breast cancer lesson number 110: See the everyday in a new way

On the train yesterday, when I realised the girl opposite was drinking something that smelled just like the sugary sweet pee created by injecting Docetaxel into your veins, it suddenly hit me. Life will forever be filled with both obvious and surprising triggers waiting to transport me back to cancer in a heartbeat.

Joining this turquoise-coloured soft drink (goodness knows what it was but I hope I never smell it again) is the smell of mouldy oranges. For me, I will now always associate that not-so-fragrant odour with the smell of saline. For anyone who has their PICC line flushed weekly, my thoughts are with you when that little solution goes in. I can taste it and I hope, once the line comes out in a month’s time, to never taste it again. I certainly won’t be going anywhere near a mouldy orange, that’s for sure.

Of course, it’s not just smells. Then we have sounds. I can no longer look at my fridge in the same way. Leave the door open just a second too long and it beeps like a chemo pump when the drug bag is empty. For anyone who has visited a chemo unit, the sound of pumps beeping (always at slightly different times and never in unison) is something that stays with you long after the PICC line valve has been closed. And don’t get me started about my cancer anthem. I love Pharrell William’s Happy, but why do I have to hear it (other than through my iPod) on important cancer days (diagnosis day being the first). Don’t get me wrong, as anthems go, it’s a goodie. I am certainly grateful it’s nothing morbid, like Hurt or Sister Morphine. 

And what about those sights? The Shard, The Houses of Parliament, Southbank, the Thames Clipper (a commuter boat on the river) and the lamppost opposite our house. Once just London landmarks (ok I appreciate the lamppost won’t be making it onto a city tour any time soon), they are now markers in my cancer journey. Even Big Ben is no longer just a bell (yes, folks not a clock or a clock tower, a bell). It’s the bell that kept me company on those long nights after DIEP surgery.

Cancer has even given activities, such as painting my nails, a purpose. How will I ever paint them again without reminding myself of the darkened and brittle nails I was once trying to cover up.

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Maybe it’s no bad thing. Maybe, instead of fearing the smells or launching at the fridge when I am unloading the grocery shopping, I should embrace them, safe in the knowledge that the everyday is still the everyday and I am lucky enough to be here to enjoy it. Maybe I should hug the freezer rather than shutting it, reminding me every day to keep embracing the little details of my life, knowing how quickly and how silently they can be taken away. 

A sound many trigger a memory of cancer, but a memory is all it will be.