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 Synopsis: The Chemo Affair

The Chemo Affair is about the impact of cancer upon a marriage.

Will and Faith are happily married ‘empty nesters’ preparing for retirement.

A biopsy confirms Will has advanced bowel cancer and, following urgent surgery, he begins six months of intensive chemotherapy.

Meanwhile, Faith unearths a misappropriation in the organisation she directs. Feeling responsible, she postpones retirement to the end of Will’s treatment to fix the mess.

And so begins the chemo affair.

At first Will thinks the side-effects aren’t going to be too bad, but he’s mistaken. Within days his mouth is sore, his fingertips and toes tingle, his eyelids tremble and his hands and feet are numb. Most foodstuffs make him want to throw up. Touching anything cold shocks him and breathing winter air triggers terrifying choking fits. Within weeks his feet and ankles are so painful he can hardly walk. Bone-weary and lacking motivation to do anything, he’s increasingly dependant upon Faith but tires of having to apologize for being a burden while fighting for his life. Feeling utterly useless, the treatment’s more sinister psychological and emotional side-effects plunge him into a deep melancholia. Only dimly recalling the man he once was he realises nonetheless how appalled he’d be by his indifference to anything but his own survival. Barely in touch with reality, one minute incapable of putting two thoughts together the next unsure which is the real or imagined worlds, after months of medical blitzkrieg Will doubts he has the resilience to complete the treatment – or even wishes to.

Faith, chronically exhausted and working far longer hours including weekends to deal with the malfeasance, worries all day about Will and feels guilty about leaving him alone. Never knowing what she can reasonably ask of him, or his capacity, or where in a chemo-cycle his moods might be; variously morose, clinging, obsessive or delusional; she’s doing virtually all the housework but resents being taken for granted, as if Will isn’t there any more, has withdrawn into an impenetrable chemo-fog. Bottling everything up she needs periodically to vent to release the pressure in her chest, saying things in the heat of the moment she later regrets.  

One night there’s a violent electrical storm. A blocked drain threatens to flood the house. Will can’t attend to it because his immunity system is compromised and so Faith must brave the elements. They have a terrible row, Faith accusing Will of manipulating and controlling her all their married life and dredging up old and unresolved antagonisms in the relationship. Will retreats, longing to be somewhere quiet and peaceful where he can concentrate on nothing more than getting well.

Faith goes to an annual managers’ retreat and won’t be back until the following day. She tries repeatedly to ring Will but he doesn’t answer. She’s worried sick. What she doesn’t know (and he never tells her) is he’s locked himself out and is perched above a river contemplating ending his life.

Retired, her power and authority stripped away, her identity mislaid, her self-confidence shaken and everything now reduced to just the two of them, Faith is devastated to learn the Board has dropped all charges against the fraudster and handed her a substantial pay-out. Feeling betrayed she breaks down and, suddenly, after months of debilitation, dependency and mental and emotional instability, Will has to be the strong one.

Will’s chemotherapy ends and with the consequences of the prognosis slowly sinking in he and Faith prepare for an uncertain future.

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