Cancer 18: Back

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Cancer 18: Back

Paul Brasington 2023
Published by Paul Brasington in Good health · Monday 13 Sep 2021
Tags: Cancer
We arrived back in England on Thursday. It was hard shutting the doors again on our new French home, knowing it would be at least another three months before we could think of returning. I'd had a phone call a couple of days earlier confirming that the chemotherapy would begin the following Monday, and I'd need to go the hospital the Friday before for some basic checks and a conversation. It was suddenly going to be a busy weekend, cramming in last family visits before my return to a form of isolation.
Back to old pain
Just to compound things, on top of the return of full-on rheumatoid arthritis (because I'd had to stop taking the medication for the sake of the chemo) I'd woken on the Wednesday with the first signs of an old back injury which every couple of years comes along to make all movement difficult for a few days. I believe this injury goes back to a teenage rugby match, when I was deliberately trampled on by a hulk of a boy whose probably only function on the field was to do this to opposition players (he appeared to have no other skills). I had to leave the game, and I'm not even sure the idiot was sent off. The attack was so gratuitous, so blatant, I believe he should have been charged with causing GBH. After all these years it still makes me angry.

The acute back pain is still with me, and back pain like dental pain can be all enveloping, sweeping out every other sensation, but happily it has largely eased now (I made a point of staying mobile, which I've found to be the best response; the worst thing you can do is take to bed in the hope that the rest will help it).

So now I'm sitting here in the Conquest hospital's day care unit, the benign poison of the main chemotherapy drug seeping into my veins. So far at least I'm feeling okay, but I'll really have to see how it develops over the next few days. While the back pain has eased over the course of this last weekend, getting up and down from a chair still involves a sharp intake of breath. On its usual trajectory it will be pretty much better by tomorrow, but frustratingly it's meant I couldn't really savour a last few days resembling anything like normality.

Then again the side effects of the chemo may prove mild after all. I just don't know, and I've realised that in this return of uncertainty my apprehension about the whole procedure has been rising. In my rational head I've been reassuring myself that whatever it's like I'll just get through it, which is true, but on an emotional level the prospect of a grim few months has been eating at me.

A little later …
I'm home now, and still seem to be alright. I can feel the heightened sensitivity to cooler temperatures, though as yet it remains a moderate effect. When I stepped out of the hospital it was like having wet hands in a cold wind, though the breeze was not cold. Around my mouth and tongue I have not lost my sense of taste, but room temperature liquids taste cold. Of course it could all get much worse over the next few days, but at the moment it's not really an issue.

As yet of course I've only had the first drug, Oxaliplatin, the primary side effect of which is the cold sensitivity. I've also been pumped with an anti-nausea drug and some steroids to boost my body's ability to cope with the poison. I have to start taking the second chemo drug orally this evening, and this can affect hands and feet in a couple of ways, so we'll have to see how that goes over the next 24 hours.

I feel sensibly tentative about all this so far, but am living in hope. What's more there was no TV in our bay of the day care ward, and the radio was very quiet: a big relief, though I had my earbuds to hand in case!

So begins this latest, and I hope last full chapter in the story of my bowel cancer. So our lives take the shape that will be seen by others when we're gone.

I've been thinking about this particularly because on Friday night we went to St Leonard's, to have dinner in the gastropub we've booked for our wedding breakfast ("breakfast" seems a strange way of referring to a three course lunch, but it seems convention will have it so), and St Leonard's is graced by my father's ghost.

The excellent Royal
The food and atmosphere in The Royal was everything we could have hoped for. It is exactly what a good gastropub should be, unpretentious and unfussy, with an emphasis on good ingredients and good flavours. (That's my main course in the photo above, and it's just coincidence that so much of this blog keeps coming back to food!) This meal I guess doubled up as our pre-chemo self-indulgence, a worthy send-off for the last few remarkable months.

Afterwards with some time to spare before the train home (conveniently the pub is directly opposite Warrior Square station) we walked around some of the local streets and up to stand outside the house my father lived in through the late 80s and early 90s. It was the first time I've really been back to St Leonard's since he left, and it was a pleasant surprise. Under pressure from his then partner (who became briefly his second wife) he'd sold a gem of a cottage in Faversham's Abbey St, to buy an impressive lower maisonette in one of St Leonard's large Victorian buildings. My dad was an architect and he thought the house was one of the many in the area designed by Decimus Burton. I'm not so sure, but it was a large and comfortable home. I was however never sure he'd made the right move, because St Leonard's itself seemed dreary and dead. If we went out anywhere it was mostly across to Hastings.

It feels very different now, with a cluster of interesting-looking cafes, bars and specialist shops along King's Road and Norman Road, just a few minutes from where my father had lived, and a buzz in the air. As so often it seems he was ahead of his time, though this has to be scant comfort when looking at the trajectory of his life, St Leonard's the place where his second marriage fell apart, leaving him in what was in many respects a dark place (though it also brought out his Bohemian side, always the best of him).

So there seems a certain irony in our coming back there now to seal my second marriage. Certainly I'm hoping for a better outcome. Of course I would never have imagined then that thirty years later I'd be having my life saved in the hospital further up the road, but I know there's never any going back. The story always moves on, whether we like it or not. I'm in what is for me an unprecedented place, sensitive to every tiny sensation, every prickle on my skin, wondering if this is a sign of discomfort to come. It's an understandable anxiety, and one which I can only hope will soon be proved unfounded.

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