Late last year, Bekky and I watched a fascinating and eye-opening documentary by Adam Curtis called Hypernormalisation. It was long, meandering and obviously only portrayed the view of the documentary maker himself which may not be entirely accurate. But it was a fascinating view nonetheless. The BBC iPlayer gives the following description: “Our world is strange and often fake and corrupt. But we think it’s normal because we can’t see anything else...”
While our little world of cancer is not necessarily corrupt (albeit my internal organs are a bit corrupted), and it’s definitely not fake, it is most certainly strange. With some regularity both Bekky and I are hit by a reality check - in the chemo department, in the dead of night, in the car, in the shower, over dinner - that I have cancer. WTF, as the yoof might say.
However, and I speak mostly for myself here, much of the time our situation doesn’t especially phase us. It is our new normal.
I’m not saying it’s not unpleasant, nor a touch frightening, let alone uncertain. But what has struck us is just how normal our new normal can be. Having been on this journey for 10 months already, we have fully adapted to visits to the hospital at least once a week, trips to London to see surgeons and have meetings, visits from the district nurse (sadly not called Gladys Emmanuel, nor driving a Morris Minor), stoma bags, tubes and wires coming out of me, weight loss, weight gain, not to mention chemotherapy and its glorious trappings. Occasionally the word “cancer” will go entirely unmentioned for days at a time. Not because we are trying to avoid it, but because there’s no reason to talk about it.
I suppose it is a coping mechanism - life, as they say, must go on and these days, instead of stressing about work I now have a new subject matter to stress about. Bekky, on the other hand, sadly has to continue to worry and stress about work, university, AND cancer, let alone her own selection of horrid health issues which are ongoing. Unlike my life, hers has not and cannot be put on hold, and that is monumentally tough for her, although she has done her very best and has, for the most part, been coping fantastically. She definitely deserves a medal or a gold star or something.
But we can’t worry continuously about cancer - it would be of no benefit to anyone, least of all me, so the easiest thing to do is to shut it away in a little box and access it only when necessary. Or, of course, when one of those reality checks strikes.
Going back to the blurb about Hypernormalisation, we haven’t hypernormalised but we have certainly managed to normalise which, I suppose, is a good thing. And as the blurb says, we think our world is normal because we can’t see anything else. Cancer and cancer-treatment is all encompassing.
And that is in part why I often think that my cancer could almost be seen as being worse for you lot - the spectators, the concerned friends and family, the onlookers. To me, sitting in a big purple chair for 6 hours being pumped full of Oxaliplatin every other Friday is normal. To others, not so much. To me, feeling like death warmed up for a few days afterwards and then feeling pretty much perpetually exhausted is also normal. Again, to others this would appear to be a bit of a nightmare.
But please don’t think this is an appeal for sympathy - I suppose what I am actually trying to say is that it ain’t all that bad much of the time because we have a bizarre new normal. MOST of the time. There are, obviously, plenty of times when it is horrendous. Frightening. Painful. Anxiety-inducing. Exhausting. And that goes for both Bekky and I. But it is astonishing how quickly the brain can adapt to new situations, and for this I am thankful.
Enough of these philosophical meanderings. The News, for those that would like to know, is that as of yesterday I am now 5 cycles into my 6-cycle chemo treatment. There may be a 7th, depending on timing of scans and things, but we won’t know until nearer the time.
The tumour markers in my blood have decreased fairly dramatically too, which can only be good news - when I was first diagnosed back in late April last year, they were at 25 (what, I don’t know - pounds feet? Gallons? Miles per hour?). Shortly before my bowel tumour was removed in November they were mid-teens and as of about a fortnight ago they were at 5. Apparently they don’t tend to drop below about 3 even if you are healthy, so 5 is definitely good.
It does not, however, mean I am in the clear yet. The liver resection will, as far as we know, still go ahead, most likely in mid/late-April which will involve another major operation followed by another 10 day stint in hospital. I hope they will be able to reverse my stoma at the same time, thereby saving me a further few days in hospital, but that is not confirmed yet either.
Then there are the lung nodules to think about. These have grown since they were first identified (but are still comparatively tiny) meaning they are linked to the cancer, but the hope remains that the chemo is zapping them and they might therefore disappear of their own accord. If not, further surgery may be required.
The other unknown is whether I shall have to undergo yet more chemo after the liver resection. It wouldn’t surprise me, but again, we shall have to wait and see.
So what we know for now if I have one more round of chemo on 10th March, followed by scans and then we’ll see. And as we have come to learn, there’s no point in looking too far ahead in this journey.
So there we are. That’s you lot up to date.
Thank you as ever for reading and being interested in my witterings.
I’ll update you in due course once there’s any news.