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The Chemo Affair front cover

The Chemo Affair is fiction

The Chemo Affair is fiction, the characters are fictitious. Will is not the author, Faith is not his wife.

Some themes derive from a lived experience with bowel cancer and some are purely figments of the author’s imagination.

The author is not a clinical practitioner or qualified professional in the field of cancer mentoring and has no wish to be.

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

 The author’s no expert on the subject but he did have advanced bowel cancer and underwent extensive chemotherapy. The Chemo Affair is his contribution to cancer research.

“Writing the book wasn’t cathartic, as some assumed  – I just like writing. Some were surprised I didn’t want to forget about it. But cancer’s not like that. It won’t let you forget. And I wanted to understand the impact of love upon the disease.”

“When asked the genre of The Chemo Affair I replied flippantly, ‘a cancer romancer insofar as it’s about love and cancer’. I meant to say it’s realistic fiction drawn from intensive action research to which anyone who’s ever heard of cancer might relate.”

“The Chemo Affair is certainly a story worth telling but whether I’m the story-teller worthy of telling it is something you have to decide.”

“I’d suspected for some time all was not well but kept delaying the colonoscopy. Complacent readers, take note!”

“Learning of the cancer was like a bolt from the blue, turning my world upside down, muddling and confusing everything, leaving my life dangling on a string.”

“The last thing I wanted to do was worry people or be a burden but even when I thought I knew what to say I was never sure how to say it. It was like I was making it all up. Which I was, because this had never happened to me before.”

                                                                     **

“I remember the nurse’s kind face and warm voice when I awoke and the panic that gripped me when suddenly she left the ward. I’d never felt so utterly alone in my life. I could feel great anger building within me: all those happy, carefree people cavorting on TV – what did they know about cancer or care about me? I realised anger was precisely the wrong response to my predicament. My best hope lay in staying strong and positive, tapping such strength as I still possessed. I had love, masses of love and my parents’ fighting genes

Losing sight of the future was like surrendering and I wasn’t about to do that. I had to avoid self-pity, resentment or dwelling in the past. There were still plenty of reasons to live. “

                                                              **

Apologies in advance to those wonderfully emotional, empathetic and loyal souls of the Cancer zodiac to whose astrological sign, the crab, represented by ‘6’ and ‘9’, reference is made in The Chemo Affair. 

Considering chemotherapy
I didn’t rush into chemotherapy, wracking my brain through many a sleepless night wondering if I should proceed and hoping to find a reason not to. I read extensively, wading through a lot of contradictory information on the internet garnering a few helpful insights. I studied fact sheets and read about the drugs’ potential cardio-toxicity and the risks of secondary cancer, which worried the life out of me. But what could I do? Chemo was a gamble but so was doing nothing, or some clinically-untested alternative. And now, not yet two years since its completion, I’m still not sure if it was the right thing to do, though I want to think so and desperately hope it was. Time will tell. It certainly was a rough time.

Approaching the Cancer Centre
I’ll never forget the sense of foreboding I experienced on the day of the first infusion  joining a parade of elderly people rugged up in duffle jackets, jumpers, scarves, beanies, gloves, flannel trousers and woollen socks, some supported by walking sticks and frames, shuffling along a slippery and frosty footpath toward the hospital entrance. Boarding a lift jammed with dejected people scanning the indicator for the Infusion Ward was like being entombed and I realised right then I’d need to tap my deepest reserves of character to survive this ordeal. As the lift ascended, so did my sense of dread.

Volunteer angels
Whilst receiving the infusion volunteer grannies came rattling along with a tea and food trolley, drawing me out of a gloomy trance. ‘What would you like, dear?’ one asked. She was off to England to visit her place of birth, which she’d never seen as an adult. The other lady was about to visit grandchildren overseas she’d never seen. I always looked forward to the arrival of the grannies, their appearance a high point, insofar as it’s possible for an infusion to have a high point. They quickly learned my favourite combo was green-tea and milk-arrowroot biscuits and with biscuit on saucer, cup of tea in hand and steroids playing tricks with my mind, I felt invincible, the sense of connectedness to a good and caring world the grannies transported with them on their trolleys inestimable in maintaining a cheerful and positive outlook.

Toilet on infusion day
If, while undergoing an infusion, a visit to the toilet was necessary, you’d arise from the recliner chair, gather the infusion pole, bags and all, and with your free arm  wheel it ceremonially along the ward, rather like a bishop’s staff. Patients would smile knowingly; they’d all had to do the same; and send you the thumbs up sign while you  ‘bestowed blessings’ upon them passing solemnly by. Once, a fluid sack emptied before my bladder did and a loud ‘pinging’ noise erupted, which, with only one arm free and my tubes in a tangle, I couldn’t stop. A nurse rushed in to check everything was OK, stopped the ‘ping’ and escorted ‘the pole and I’ regally back to the recliner chair, reconnected me to a new sack of fluid and resumed the infusion. It was very theatrical – but deadly serious.

The cancer ‘to do’ list
There were so many things to learn and remember in coming to grasp with the chemo regimen. Above all I was to stay warm and avoid touching cold things; cutlery or taps; the fridge; car-door handles; cold food and liquids. I had to learn how to use a thermometer and keep a phone and emergency numbers nearby. I needed to apply sun-block liberally, wear sunglasses and a hat when outside. I should wear gloves to avoid infection in public places and pay strict attention to hand and mouth hygiene, using a child’s soft toothbrush and warm water, rinsing my mouth afterwards with a sodium bicarbonate mouthwash. I was advised to use baby-shampoo when washing my hair, which I hoped I wouldn’t lose,  and regularly apply skin-moisturizer to my hands and soles so they wouldn’t harden.  I was to report any sudden variation in weight or temperature, keep a supply of anti-nausea pills nearby, have frequent small meals rather than three large ones and take special care with breakfast on infusion day, when I should drink plenty of fluids. I was never to double up on medication, or forget it, and was to expect fatigue, confusion, interrupted sleep, unsettling dreams and possibly hallucinations. As far as possible, I was to maintain normal activities, including driving, though not for long trips. There was much to learn and it took a while to get my head around it all.

Cancer and bowels
With a sizable portion of my large bowel now missing a major achievement of the day was a good bowel movement and I’d be exceptionally proud of a classic Grade 4 stool like the one on the GP’s chart. At least my bowels were working normally again! There were many bleak days through the treatment but a good day always ended with a diary entry stating proudly: ‘good bowels.’

Cancer and alcohol
Out of consideration for my kidneys and liver, which were already working overtime dealing with powerful chemicals coursing my veins, I stopped drinking alcohol. To calm the ‘cold turkey’, I concocted wine from blackcurrant and red-grape juice’ serving this in a wine glass and rolling the red liquid around my mouth pretending it was the real thing – but it fooled no one. Then I shifted to non-alcoholic wine, which was drinkable – just – allowing me to maintain a vestige of ‘normalcy’ in observing the social rites on those few occasions we had visitors or went out.

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