I have really been enjoying telling my story on Madame Ovary. Last time, I left it in quite a dark period, which I’m afraid does continue for a bit longer. But it seems wrong to write a sad post when yesterday I received the news that I got the ALL CLEAR from my Doctor. The operation I had a couple of weeks ago had shown that there might have been some cause for concern, so some bits of me were taken for biopsies and checked out. Luckily, not one bit of cancer was found! I was hoping for this news, and trying desperately not to expect it, but I had been feeling so much more like my old self that I felt like I couldn’t have anything left. So let’s pause February’s story and fast-forward a few months, to Tuesday 12th June.
Doctor L sits me down and tells me immediately:
‘It’s fantastic news. They didn’t find anything.’
I grab my Dad’s arm and burst into tears. The tears only last a few seconds, because then it’s time to get on with that meeting and get out into the real world. My dad and I can’t leave before finding out what my next steps are. I’m told that I will return to the cancer centre every three months for check ups and blood tests to make sure my intruder is not making a return visit. Then, as time goes on, the appointments will happen more and more sporadically. I will probably be having the check ups for the rest of my life. This is completely fine with me, as although I am told my chance of reoccurrence is slim, this is keeping things on the safe side.
‘Now,’ Doctor L says, pointing to my PICC line. ‘Let’s get that thing out of your arm.’
My PICC line has been incredible when it comes to drawing blood and pumping in medicine pain and fuss free. But it is huge, and bulky, with a white bandage over it. You’re not supposed to get it wet because the film dressing will start peeling off. You have to go and get said dressing changed every week at the hospital. If it gets infected and your immune system is currently down due to chemotherapy you could get severely ill. I get people staring at it if I wear a sleeveless top. It ruins every outfit and really contributes to the ‘Cancer Look’. I cannot wait to get it out. If you read my last post, you’ll know when I had it put in I was extremely poorly and out of it, and didn’t actually know what was being put inside my vein. This time, I’m completely lucid and able to know what’s going on, and I’m actually shitting myself a bit.
The nurse has to take some bloods first, and then prepares all the bits and pieces needed to pull out the PICC line. He peels off the dressing, and apologises for the pinching that will be caused by removing the orange secure-a-cath from my skin.
‘Then I’m going to pull the line out gradually, and ask you to take a deep breath and hold it, and then pull out some more. Ok?’
I haven’t had any local anaesthetic but I don’t feel a thing as he removes the line from my vein. I’m surprised it’s all done so quickly, but even more shocked at how long it is.
‘Today, it’s Independence day in the Philippines,’ my nurse tells me. ‘And today, it is your independence day from your PICC line.’
I go for a wee on my way back to my Dad in the waiting room, and as I sit on the toilet, I think about how strange it is that he was the last nurse I’ll probably see in this hospital for three months. How the nurses have been the ones who have made such an impact on me whilst I’ve been having treatment. They have been from all over the world: the Philippines, Ireland, different parts of the Caribbean, Australia, Poland, Scotland. I don’t think I could list the amount of things they know how to do in one blog post, and I certainly don’t know how they juggle them all. When I would stay inpatient, the nurses on the oncology ward would greet me with a hug and spend time asking me what I’d been doing, whilst I’d not been sure if they’d even remember who I was. Even when doing something as mundane as having my blood pressure taken, I’ve discussed everything from Ru Paul to the Roman Empire with them. No request is too big or too small. There is always time to have a laugh, if that’s what you need. It almost makes you forget the reason you’re spending all this time together is because one of you is really poorly. As I leave the cancer centre and the nurses inside it, I feel so bloody grateful that they treated me like a human and a friend.
My dad and I go for a cup of tea before he has to get the train back to Yorkshire, and we’re both kind of sat in a stupor. My mind isn’t letting me take in the news yet, just in case it isn’t real. I’ve texted my closest family and friends to tell them the news and the responses are pinging back on both me and my dad’s phones. That’s when the first surge of unfiltered, unapologetic joy hits me square in the chest. No more worrying. No more WhatsApp messages full of bad news and crossed fingers. No more hosting in the hospital bed, plugged into chemo and unable to talk without being interrupted by the bleeping of the machines. Now I can give back what all these brilliant humans gave to me. Our conversations can return from medicines and blood counts to music and boys. Fuck me, I can’t wait to discuss the weather. I can’t wait for my weekend plans to fill with food and alcohol and dancing. I can’t wait to visit my family home and make them endless cups of tea for a change. I can’t wait to have plans. I can’t wait to be bored out of my mind and be able to do something about it.
Another surge of joy when I meet Lizzie at the nail salon to get my nails done for the first time in my life. Post-Cancer Rosa gets her nails done. She also drinks prosecco out of plastic champagne flutes Lizzie bought from Tiger, and when her nails are in the weird heater thing they use to dry your nails, she lets Lizzie feed her the prosecco. She then walks home instead of getting the bus, because she can. Her blood will let her. She isn’t anxiously reserving energy. And then she orders celebratory Nando’s, and drinks more wine with her flatmates, and doesn’t care how she will feel in the morning.
All I do feel in the morning is another surge of joy. I get another when I meet Grace and we sit on a rooftop bar in Waterloo and cry together over our happy hour cocktails. I get another when I see all my drama school friends in the evening and the surge runs through my veins like the chemo used to and spreads all over my body and it doesn’t go away. Archie puts one of my favourite songs, ‘Ms Fat Booty’ by Mos Def on the speakers and we dance in Freddie’s kitchen, and I don’t even care that the steroids have actually given me a bit of a Fat Booty. I see friends who have been away on tour – India and Max, and they have brought champagne and flowers. My friend Jenny comes straight form LAMDA to make the party on time. Caitlin Moran tweets about my blog halfway through the night and everyone screams with me. When Teb comes through the door we have a huge, weepy hug and don’t let go. Rhi can’t be there, as she’s touring with the Globe (no biggie), but we FaceTime the next morning, both hungover and bleary eyed, both so ready for what our futures have in store. If there’s one thing a horrible experience like this has taught me, it’s how to be a good friend in a bad situation. And the reason for that is the example my friends have set. I might have overdone the cheese on this melt, but they’re the reason I kept going. They know that.
I wish I could say that I can put this journey behind me and move on without any influence of cancer on my life, but that’s not how it works. Actually, I don’t want it to be how it works, I don’t think. I know that I want to keep on telling my story, in as many different ways as possible, to as many different people that will listen. It’s kind of weird to think of myself in January, staring at a blank notebook and wondering how I was going to write a one woman show with no story to tell. Wondering what I was going to change, or help by writing what I knew. I’m a middle class, white woman with a lot of privilege. That hasn’t changed since having cancer. Having an illness doesn’t change the amount of privilege you have and how much you should check it, especially in a country like the UK where healthcare is free. But cancer has given me a story, even if the exchange was a couple of my organs and a head of hair. Cancer doesn’t discriminate. Trudy* fucks with anyone, and if telling my story can help anyone at all, then I will continue to write it, or tell it. I want to write that one woman show. I want to help people who are still undergoing treatment, if they want my help. I want to work for ovarian cancer charities. I want to promote gynaecological health and reduce stigma surrounding it. I want to work with women and men of all walks of life who want to do the same. I want to come out of my comfort zone. I want to show my gratitude to the unbelievable efficiency and love of the NHS by loving it back and fighting for it to stay in our lives – because I owe mine to them.
Finally, I want to say to anyone reading this blog, thank you. I feel a bit icky making the end of my cancer sound like an Academy Award acceptance speech, but I do really mean it. I was so happy that even my friends were reading it, so when strangers started to it was a complete shock. A cancer diagnosis is a lonely place, and the messages I get from people wishing me well are so brilliant. And even more brilliant than that is the messages I get from people telling me I’m making them feel less lonely after their own diagnosis. I really appreciate having this platform, and I hope you keep reading my story.
*the name given to my tumour (the intruder) by the brilliant Madison Clare