When you train for any long distance run you have to take two things into consideration. The physical stamina required, and the mental battle that will come about. You hear about it all the time. How runners hit the wall.
They start at a steady pace, and move along. They mark off each mile or kilometre as they pass, and slowly progress. But then something happens. They run out of steam. They let the remaining distance get the better of them. They crack.
This very wall exists with chemo. People start their treatment. They go to chemo. They deal with it as best they can. Then suddenly they just want it to be over. The side effects get too much. They want to give up.
I’d hit the wall a month ago, but recently hit that wall again. This time with full force.
It was a Friday, and I was at home, getting dressed for a night out at the Sky Garden. Lotis and Tony had flown over from Canada, and had five more days left of their European trip. Chris and I had decided to take them out for the evening.
I was coming out of week one after my last chemo. I had fully recovered from my cough. I was so desperate to be out as I’d been a recluse for weeks. I knew I had to wrap up warm as it was cold outside. I stood in my room, looking at the clothes on my bed. It was a pile of things that didn’t fit me.
It had been 2.5 months since the work Xmas party, where I had made a decent effort to dress up. I had spent most of the last few months living in yoga pants and baggy jumpers. And there I was, trying on top after top, and nothing fit me. NOTHING. I felt defeated.
The steroids from the chemo had caused the weight gain. I was up 10lbs from my normal weight since chemo had started. The steroids had caused my weight to fluctuate by a further 5-6lbs each time I had chemo. Add to that the Zoladex injections to protect my ovaries. This triggered temporary symptoms including a slower metabolism.
I felt like a sack of potatoes.
I managed to find something which was remotely suitable. So, I got ready, grabbed my scarf and woolly hat, and headed out to Fenchurch Street.
By the time we got to the Sky garden, we discovered that despite being indoors, it was cold. Really cold! I kept my hat, scarf and coat on.
All the stress of finding something to wear was for nothing. I could have left my flat in my pyjamas and you wouldn’t have known. I was wrapped up with layers that kept me pretty insulated. I had learned that a scarf and hat was a must have for any outing. I didn’t want to get sick again.
For the remaining 4 days I entered tourist mode. We visited museums, had afternoon tea. We did the Saturday markets, and visited the botanical gardens. My mood was good. I was exploring the city as if I was on holiday, and for the first time in a long time, I felt great.
I was outside, rather than stuck in the confines of my home. I was no longer struck down with a cold or cough. The walking each day was putting the fatigue to rest. I was happy to just spend time with family that had flown over to see me, and just hang out. The stress of fitting into clothes had long gone, and I was doing good. Then the hot flushes kicked in.
Zoladex aka Goserelin
When chemo started, I was given the option of having an injection once a month, which would put my ovaries to sleep and protect them from chemo damage. Fun fact – chemotherapy can affect your fertility.
I was given the list of side effects that could come from having Zoladex, and felt torn. It would be like going through menopause. Did I really want to add more side effects to the ones from chemo? Would having the injection make any difference given my age?
My brain was going back and forth on what to do. My body was already going through so much, so dealing with more meds and symptoms – was it worth it?
From the beginning, I knew that with side effects like hair loss and surgery; these were either temporary, or could be substituted with an alternative. However, my fertility was different. My ovaries could not be replaced. I couldn’t swap them out for new ones. It just didn’t work that way.
I had done one cycle of IVF. I had some eggs frozen, but these were a backup. If my ovaries stopped working, the eggs would be my only option; and even then it wasn’t a guaranteed thing. Irrespective of how my body would be after chemo; of how the side effects would be; Zoladex would potentially help preserve my ovaries. So, when push came to shove, I went ahead with it for one reason alone. To have more options for the future.
I knew going into this, the menopausal symptoms would kick in. That my periods would stop, that hot flushes would start, and mood swings would come about. Suzy had told me that when my oestrogen levels were low, I would have hot flushes. I just didn’t expect them to be as intense as what they were.
For the remaining part of Lotis and Tony’s stay, I would happily be on a train, in a cafe, or at home, and suddenly a wave of warmth would hit me. It was a sign that the hot flush was coming into full swing. I was convinced I looked like a mad woman when I was out in public. One minute, wrapped up, with hat and scarf. A minute later, ripping off the hat and unzipping the jacket/coat.
That’s the thing with the flushes. They come in waves, and when they reach their peak, the beads of sweat appear within seconds. This happened every hour or so.
Given my buzz cut, the sweat was very prominent, and it felt (and looked) like someone had thrown water over my head. I didn’t have the long hair to hide my glistening scalp, or cover my soaked neck.
I hated it!
It was one thing managing the hot flushes in the privacy of my home. It was another thing managing them in public.
They were making me self-conscious. I was randomly breaking out into sweat and I had no control. I could cut back on caffeine. I could cut back on alcohol. Both of which I had reduced if not stopped altogether, but for the most part, there was nothing I could do. The hot flushes would continue until my body had stabilised.
Hey, are you free?
It was nearly 1am, Monday morning. Everyone was asleep, but I was lying wide awake in bed. I called Delph, and the tears started.
While being out had been great, the reminders of going through chemo had been constant.
Every morning we would go outside, I would be in my room, trying to find something to wear that would fit me.
Every morning I would put on makeup to hide the dark circles around my eyes, and the old eczema scars that were showing because chemo had changed my skin tone. And within an hour, the makeup would go, because the hot flushes would cause me to sweat it off.
Every day, I would wear a hat because it was cold, but also because my hair was not long enough to naturally keep my head warm.
Every day I would see the area where they had removed extra margins above my left breast, which caused the implant to not fill the area properly.
Every day I would see the fact I had no nipple on my left breast.
Every day I would see and feel the portacath on my right side.
While I had hated being indoors so much, I didn’t realise that going out on a daily basis would unveil a different level of difficulty for me.
I had hit the wall!
I sobbed when I said out loud that I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror.
I could not look at myself in the mirror!
Read that to yourself for a second, and let the magnitude of that feeling sink in.
It was awful. I felt awful. I hated the way I looked. I wanted my old self back. I wanted chemo to be over with. I wanted my weight to be back to normal.
“You’ve done so well. You’ve been amazing.” I know, but I just want it done. I just want chemo done.
I cried. Delph cried. We sat in silence.
I knew the hormones were in control, and I hated feeling so sh!t. I was frustrated at being frustrated, and all I could do was cry.
An hour later I fell asleep.
Let’s talk children
The following morning I woke up, feeling calmer for letting it out. I had a sense of relief, and felt better for it. I felt good enough to spend the remaining two days doing things at a leisurely pace.
Since diagnosis, Lotis and I had been using Facetime as a means for keeping each other updated. So, to have her and Tony here, in my flat, hanging out; it meant the world to me, and I wanted to make the most of the remaining time they had left. I chose not to dwell on the crying from the night before.
I was fine.
On the last night, I’d invited Mum, Chris, Matt and Fiona over for dinner as a send off. We laughed, we ate, we drank tea.
It had been 9 years since Lotis had last visited, and since then, there had been weddings, home purchases, and lots of life changes including children.
As we sat around the dining table, I listened to the conversation switch to pregnancy and birth plans; child-birth and having kids. My heart sank.
Would I ever be able to participate in this type of conversation?
I didn’t know, but, I sat in silence and continued to listen. It was tough.
I couldn’t be annoyed at the discussion. It was an innocent conversation that was legitimately happening because Lotis and Fiona were catching up. But, behind the silence and the occasional smile, my heart sank further.
Before cancer, I knew that age was working against me, but I hadn’t thought about my fertility being compromised. Now chemo was on the agenda, it was constantly on my mind.
It’s funny how you immediately obsess over something when it’s at risk of being taken away.
I hit the wall again after everyone had gone home. I was exhausted, and opted to call it a night. I cried in bed.
The child-birth discussion had been the trigger, which then caused all the previous nights insecurities to resurface. But, the reality of Lotis and Tony heading home the following day had also begun to sink in.
I had become used to having them around, and having the company. It was a nice change to my quarantined status a few weeks before. It felt good to have the buzz in the flat. To have the option of chatting till late, or taking turns cooking; to just have someone in the home. It felt so normal, and I knew after they had gone, I would be by myself in my flat, and I dreaded it.
While I craved time by myself, it was a reminder that despite family and friends being close by, I didn’t have anyone at my side in my home. Someone to help me deal with the constant emotions and body changes.
I knew it would just take a phone call to get someone over, but it wasn’t the same. I had to find a way to seek help from those that understood, as this was something that was bringing me down. I could feel it.
After taking Lotis and Tony to the airport; I returned home, stuck the washing on, and slept. I was emotionally and physically drained. While having family over was amazing, the “busy-ness”, plus the side effects, had come at me from all angles and I was wiped.
Unlike the runner’s wall, I hadn’t trained for my marathon. Hitting the chemo wall had taken its toll, and while I knew I couldn’t quit, I knew I’d run out of steam, and the only solution was rest.