The fourth chemo

There’s no doubt about it; the chemo sessions are getting tougher. Before the cold cap is fitted each time, one of the nurses covers my hair in conditioner. I remember being told at the first session that I shouldn’t use my favourite conditioner for this as I might never want to use it again. By the fourth session, the second they opened the bottle, I felt sick. The food Paul and I had ordered arrived just as the cold cap was going on, which was pretty terrible timing. I felt pretty sorry for myself throughout the session.

Paul asked whether I wanted to visit Rachel on the way home. In truth, I didn’t. I was very tired and felt quite nauseous. I wanted to go home, to bed. But we were so close to where my sister was lying in a hospital bed, unable to go home, so we went. She’d been making gradual improvements, and that day, she’d mouthed a few words to her husband, Scott. We didn’t stay long, but it was good to see her. It’s always good to see her. When we were leaving, I told her I loved her and she mouthed ‘love you’. It broke me in the best way, and I was in floods of happy tears as we drove home.

Soon after that, Rachel started talking. Her voice was barely a whisper, and you had to get very close to her mouth to hear her. At first, she repeated things people said to her, but within a couple of days, she was conversing. It was only then that I fully realised how much I’d missed her. We’d only lived in the same village for a year, but we’d talked on the phone several times a week for as many years as I could remember. I felt like we’d got her back. It was wonderful.

And then, another huge step. Rachel started to eat yoghurts and pureed meals. She’d had a feeding tube in her nose since the stroke, but since being more awake and alert, she’d been pulling at it. There’d been talk of putting a peg in her stomach and feeding her through that. But if she started to get enough calories from eating, that wouldn’t be necessary. After weeks and weeks of very little progress, it seemed as though things were finally happening. Every day, there was news. She’d shakily written her name. She’d supported her weight when sitting up. She’d joked about turning 21 this year (she’s actually turning 39, but she’s always said she started going backwards when she got to 30).

One afternoon, Elodie and I went to meet a woman called Rachel in a local pub. She’s a friend of a friend of my sister’s. She was 36 weeks pregnant and had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, and she’d got in touch through my blog. It was hard to believe that someone else in my local area was facing the same thing I had.

And I hoped that meeting us would somehow be a comfort to her. That she would see how Elodie was thriving, and that I was coping with chemo. She was due to be induced the following week and to have surgery the week after. She seemed brave and in control. I was daunted just thinking about it. And then I realised that I’d been through those things too, just in a different order. It made me take stock. Things have happened so quickly that I sometimes forget just what we’ve lived through.

Shortly before the end of the cycle, Paul and I took Elodie to hospital for her follow-up check. It was two months since we’d taken her home, and she’d doubled in weight. I hadn’t spent a single minute worrying about this appointment, as I was convinced she was healthy. The midwife and health visitor who’d seen us several times at home were happy with her, after all. But in the waiting room, I started to wonder. Could they have missed something? Could we be about to have our world shattered, yet again? The answer was no. The paediatrician checked her over and pronounced her a very healthy little girl. There was no need for further appointments. It was another sign that things were taking shape; getting better.

And what about Joseph? Over this time, he’s made me laugh and driven me insane with frustration every single day. He’s recently stopped wearing nappies, and he’ll tell anyone he passes in the street that he’s a big boy now. He’ll show them his Thomas the Tank Engine pants, too, given half the chance. After a short lifetime of easy bedtimes, he’s started to fight going to sleep, even when he’s so tired he can barely stand. Some nights, he comes to his bedroom door again and again, asking us to put his covers back on. Some nights, I’m so tired I can barely stand, and I think if I have to climb the stairs to put him back in bed one more time, I’ll collapse.

But all of that is so easily forgotten when he sneaks into our bed in the morning and whispers that he loves us. When he strokes Elodie’s head ‘very gently, Mummy’ and tells me that we can’t tread on her, or throw her, and I tell him that we can’t do that to anyone, actually. For some reason, he can’t remember the name for nipples. The other day, he was running around naked and I touched his nipple and asked what it was called. ‘Testicles?’ he tried. ‘Sausages? The smartest giant in town?’ And suddenly, it didn’t matter one bit that I’d lost one of my smartest giant in towns, as long as I had this tiny, wonderful man and his delicious baby sister in my life.

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