Fiona O’Donovan doesn’t have any advice on cancer treatment, parenting or how to stop your dog peeing on the wet room floor but she does have a way with words and a no-holds-barred honesty we love. Follow her story of life with two boys, dogs, gerbils and breast cancer in her new column for Smallish
Words: Fiona O’Donovan
Clearly none of my friends have done battle with WordPress. I want voice recognition tech, so when I swear my instructions at the keyboard things happen like I want them to. I don’t want to watch a tutorial, the last tutorial I watched was some woman who managed to take 15 minutes to explain how to fold a fitted sheet. I could have ordered a new one on Amazon and had it delivered faster. I could probably get one of the kids to explain it all but they’re too busy arguing over whose turn it is on the iPad. And my husband is an IT person so he takes a very dim view when I start banging the mouse on the desk. Not that I care, it just means I have to shout at him and the screen. It’s annoying.
Given the events of the last few months you’d think I’d have learned a bit of patience, or mindfulness (is that what we’re calling it now?). I haven’t.
In January, after a three week wait, my biopsy results showed I had breast cancer. After quite a few cysts and other nameless anomalies you stop listening when the Dr says it’s nothing to worry about, you’re gathering your bag and coat and getting the hell out of there before they change their minds. This time I was the statistic. No, really. This is not in the plan, not that I have a plan, but if I did this definitely wasn’t in it.
“Yes, yes, mastectomy and chemo. Can we start now? It’s instant, right? Whoosh down to surgery and then plug me into the radioactive stuff. I get a hat and skinny and we’re done by…Easter? How long between sessions? Can I have them all at once? Yep, that’s how it’ll work.” I was sure that’s what was going to happen because breast cancer is so common and everyone and their brother is fundraising to wipe it out.
It turns out the process is somewhat slower. The surgery was pretty instant, but then you fall into a pattern of waiting three weeks between each step. Surgery to results. Results to healed enough to start with the big scary drugs. Each session of chemo is three weeks apart if you manage to stay healthy and infection free. Three weeks. I’m developing an irrational hatred of the very concept of three weeks.
It’s not just the three weeks I despise. The list is growing but it’s not the things I’d expected to hate. The chemo isn’t as awful as I’d feared. So far I’ve been lucky and coped reasonably well. A few shit days and then recovery. That’s do-able.
Even being bald isn’t so bad once you get used to it. It’s actually an advantage in the morning. I’m last on the rota to get in the shower, after I’ve cattle-prodded the rest of them to achieve an acceptable level of cleanliness. And because ALL the hair disappears, not just the hair on your head, I’ve clawed back a whole five minutes in there. No shaving. The schedule is screwed once it starts to grow back. “I’m sorry the children are late again, but it’s sunny and I had to shave my armpits so I can wear a sleeveless top.”
But back to the things I hate:
Steroids. I know they’re keeping me healthy but they don’t half make you eat. Through mouth ulcers and all. The food must go in, or the hanger will finish us all off. Who bloody knew that cancer treatment makes you fat (ter)? Gone are my dreams of getting into the size 10 jeans still stashed on the top of the wardrobe.
Head tilters. I know you feel sorry for me but it takes every ounce of self control I have not to poke your head back into an upright position.
Wheat bags. It’s taken me weeks to work out what makes my stomach turn on the chemo ward. I knew it was a smell, I just didn’t know what the smell was. I am very sorry to the little old lady I was blaming. There goes my karma again. It’s the microwaved wheat bags they use to raise your veins. I’m taking my own hot water bottle and Penhaligon’s Luna next time.
The effect on my children. I hate that this hurts and worries my family, especially my children. The only time I’ve got angry about it is when they got upset. How fucking dare it upset my children.
Read more of Fiona’s story on her blog here.