The final chemo

I can’t know for sure that my sixth chemo was the last one I’ll ever have. I’ve come across too many women lately who’ve been through this more than once to take anything for granted. But it’s the final one for now; a door gently closed.

Because Elodie had been projectile vomiting on and off for a few days, we decided that Paul should stay at home with her, and I asked Mum to come with me to chemo. There was a nice symmetry to it. Mum had come with me to the first one, and Kate, the nurse who’d looked after me that first time, was with us again. Partway through, Mum had a call to say that her cousin’s daughter had safely delivered her baby. It was a lovely boost, and I was reminded that, during my first chemo, we’d been waiting for news of my nephew’s birth. Thinking about all that had happened since then would have taken a level of bravery I didn’t feel that day, so I just focused on the matter in hand.

I’d been dreading this final confrontation with the cold cap. So much so that it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. My hair was thin and brittle, but I still had a full covering. Like it had been all along, it was manageable. For the first half an hour or so, I listened to my audiobook with my eyes closed, and then Mum and I went back to chatting, and I knew the worst was over.

I’d taken a chocolate cake in for the nurses, and Mum cut it into big chunks, but it was a hard sell at first. Everyone said they were trying to be good, and I thought I was going to end up taking it all home again. The way my appetite for sweet food has been, I was actually quite looking forward to eating the entire thing myself. But gradually, people started to help themselves. Kate took charge and distributed it between the nurses, the receptionists and the pharmacy staff. Later, one of the other nurses took a piece for my oncologist. There was something comforting about the idea of feeding these people who had been helping to fix me. So as the tray emptied, my heart filled.

When it was over, I wasn’t sure how I felt. I knew it wouldn’t be as simple as elation. Yes, this step was over, but I was exhausted, and I still had the side effects of this round to come. I left quietly, hugging the nurses on the way out. Thanking them for what they’d done, on the edge of tears. I will miss these women. They are skilled and compassionate and good. I hope they know what a difference that makes, in times like these.

A couple of days later, three friends arrived from London and Oxford, complete with ingredients for an enormous breakfast. One to help Paul look after Joseph and Elodie while the other two accompanied me to a local spa for a day of complete relaxation. It was blissful. We lounged around, ate cake and caught up. It was a glimpse into a happier, less frantic future.

I’ve started to try to prepare Joseph for my upcoming surgery. I’ve told him I’ll have to go to hospital, and when I come back, he’ll have to be careful with me. ‘You will be all right,’ he tells me, and I say that I will. But then he has questions. Will I be able to talk? Will I be able to cuddle him? It’s clear that he’s thinking of Rachel, and it’s heartbreaking. I reassure him as best I can. Because I’ve learned this year that we really don’t know anything. But I’ve also learned that we’ll make it work regardless. He’s counting on us, and I don’t intend to let him down.

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