Part 8: It has a happy ending

As the weeks tick by we start to prepare to move. We have planned it so it is shouldn’t be too stressful – keeping our apartment for an extra month so that we don’t need to rush the rigorous handover.

I am keeping faith in the Dr’s graph (that the low point is the end of the first treatment and that you recover through the second course), but then I start to get severe headaches. When Mark asks how it feels I lean over in bed and grip the sides of his temples (maybe too tight) to demonstrate. I have had headaches throughout, but they are getting worse and seem not to be touched by any pain relief. I feel fairly fed up as I’d like to be able to help a bit with packing/the move…

I discover that the route of the headache is a very low sodium level – so I am told to eat plenty of salt and reduce my water intake. Honestly, a week of coconut water and isotonic sports drinks and salty food isn’t so much fun, but I am determined. Smoked salmon for breakfast, lunch and dinner – with capers and gherkins! I love salt so would have thought it would be a pleasure, but honestly, I dream of iceberg and a liter of water!

After a week of salt-loading the headache isn’t any better – actually, possible it feels a bit worse. So, I call my oncologist and he books me in for an MRI. At this point, I just want the headache gone – but also don’t want anything to stop my chemo – that 23 December end date is psychologically so important.

The reason you have bad headaches with low sodium is that there is an imbalance so your brain swells – we all did osmosis in biology at school… The Dr also told me to take four times the dose of the steroid he prescribed during the first round of chemo. Thankfully this cuts through the headache.

The MRI shows that there is no cause for concern – woohoo… so I know I just have to keep on with the sodium. The next day I have another blood test that shows my caper, salmon, gherkin, coconut water diet did the trick… the headache is a little better.

To be honest, the weeks kind of blur into each other. I am still working, but being selective in which meetings I attend, but I still find that work massively helps. It makes me feel like ‘normal me’. And stops me from considering the side effects.

One week I have low iron – so, diet changes to be spinach, broccoli, kidney beans and orange to ensure iron is absorbed. I have quite a few days of an upset stomach. Unfortunately, I have more days when I struggle to go for a walk than when I can go. Early in December, we have a major virtual event and while I am happy that I manage with the preparation at 4am on a Sunday morning I recognize that a) I couldn’t safely drive to the office; b) I may faint on camera; c) I should just ask for someone to step in and moderate in my place. (Huge thank you Sia, Caro and Jennifer)… This was a turning point.

It was also the day that my Mum arrived. This was amazing. The… best… hug… It was just amazing after 10 months of only FaceTime calls to be in the same room together. It gave me a huge lift. The next day was a public holiday where our office is so we went for a walk in the city. I thought that it was the end of working. Then I woke up at about 4am on the Wednesday and realised that if I stopped working what I really didn’t want to happen had happened. The treatment and this horrid disease had won. I would be sat thinking about my side effects (neuropathy added now)…

So, I woke up on Wednesday and carried on working. I now knew that I had to listen closely to my body not to overdo it, but it felt good. At times I had to admit that chemo had won a round, but overall, I am determined that I win the match.

The final hurdle

The last few weeks were a real challenge – physically feeling pretty unwell. You can’t describe it really – it is a bit like having flu without the cold symptoms. The tough part is that just as you are starting to feel human it’s back to chemo to be nuked with the stuff that will make you feel awful again.

But as the day of the last chemo approaches, I feel awful, but so full of light and optimism. I feel so grateful that the cancer is long gone and all this treatment gives me a great prognosis. So it’s time to look forward. And what I look forward is to just feel normal.

The last one

I write this on 23 December. I feel so grateful that I was able to have a good day celebrating my Mum’s birthday yesterday. And I have woken up to beautiful flowers and gifts and many messages of support.

I will never be grateful that the random hand of cancer picked my left boob. But I will be forever grateful for my amazing support crew. I wrote earlier that I felt beautiful and loved. Right now, I just feel loved. I look a wreck, but I am a wreck surrounded by the most incredible family, friends and colleagues.

I still have another week to go feeling yucky. But, this time next week, I will not be rushing around packing up with a pit of dread in my stomach. I will be getting started on the road to health.

Thank you is not enough, but it comes from my heart.

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