As you read this, I will be sitting in a beautiful house in Wales, with a hangover (I’m writing this on Friday, but there’s a big 40th birthday for my beloved friend Jude happening on Saturday night, and some things can be safely assumed.)
I had a great sense of foreboding last Monday, though, when I woke up with a miserable sore throat and what Jane Austen would have called a ’sick headache’ – the sort that seems to meander through your whole body and make you feel wretched. Tuesday wasn’t a lot better. Wednesday evening, we cancelled our anniversary dinner. I dosed up on Vitamin C and paracetamol and hot toddies and lots and lots of sleep and knitting and tea. And lo, by Thursday I was, if not better, then at least a functioning human again, albeit one with a spectacular cough. (Functioning enough to go through another tranche of edits on ‘Surrounded By Water’, which is coming on beautifully. More on SBW anon.)
I’ve come a long way since I wrote this post, in February 2010.
Something I’ve noticed over the last few months is how much my body has slowed down. I don’t mean in terms of what I am physically capable of: I still do pretty much everything I did before cancer, and where the body fails the bloody-mindedness takes over. I’m talking about ordinary functions that I wouldn’t normally think twice about. I’m especially talking about healing.
Last July, I sprouted an ingrowing toenail. Around December, after three courses of antibiotics and a lot of poking with a special stick (a stick designed for the job, not a stick with sentimental value), it stopped being ingrowing. There’s no infection there any more. I don’t screech in pain when someone looks at my toe the wrong way. But it has not completely healed. It’s still a little tender, a little ravaged-looking. The mosquito bites I acquired in Egypt at New Year have healed but the skin is still red and lumpy, as though those bites are no more than a week old. Three weeks ago, looking for lost keys down the side of the sofa, my fingertip found a pin which pierced the skin and went deep into the nail bed. It’s still red and sore.
I find all this frustrating, as I have found all of the peripheral stuff around cancer to be frustrating. Chemotherapy? If I must. Stomach too tender to tolerate fruit? Maddening. Radiotherapy? Very well. Two tiny blue dots of tattoos to line the killer laser beams up? Grrrr.
So, I’m doing what I always try to do when I’m in difficulty: find a new way to think about what’s going on.
And I’ve decided that what’s going on with my body is a bit like what’s going on with my house.
Last year, everything that needed to be done was woefully neglected: the leaky roof, the damp in the bathroom, the place where the pipes needed to be boxed in: the list goes on. (And in honesty I have to say that many of these jobs had been hanging around for a while.) This year, and partly prompted by the move, we have decided that it’s Time, and our lovely handyman has been, quite literally, mending fences, as well as sorting out the roof, the bathroom, the painting…. next week there’s more painting to be done, as well as recarpeting and cleaning. We have a lovely new fusebox. Alan and I are sorting through our books and possessions and seeing what we don’t need any more. Bookcases are going to new homes, lost treasures are being found in odd corners.
All of this is long overdue. But last year there simply wasn’t the energy for it. Last year we were so busy getting through the chemo cycles, through the breathlessness, through the constant changes in treatment that there was no time for anything else. Now, there is new energy, and because there is new energy, things are happenning. What was broken is being fixed. What was imcomplete is being finished.
So. I’m thinking that, sooner or later, I will do to myself what we are doing to the house. This quite amazing piece of human kit known as the body will find the energy to sort out all of the bits that need a bit of attention. Its blood will flow fiercely to those places that need a little extra. Its cells will repair.
Healing will happen. I just need to wait. And I’ve lived with a kitchen window with a broken catch for a dozen years, so I can hang on a bit longer for a healthy toe.