Small Steps

From the outset, sensible advice given to me by friends for dealing with cancer has always been: “Take small steps”. I just hadn’t expected to find myself needing to take those words literally.

Because a few days ago, I suddenly found that I could not easily walk, lie down, or even sit. Nerves in my back and the tops of my legs seemed to have somehow got trapped, making ordinary movement almost unbearable. (It turned out that I was probably experiencing pretty routine muscle spasms caused by the filgrastim injections, for boosting my white blood cell count.)

Through the oncology ward I inched then, making my painful path towards a treatment room. To be perfectly honest, it was a bit awkward. Like I was perhaps measuring the floor with my shoes in a really weird and inefficient manner. The ward itself also seemed curiously longer than it had done during my first visit only a week ago. As I saw the friendly receptionist bounce further and further on ahead, I felt more and more like a child watching her mother disappear out of sight. Or worse: like an extremely frail, elderly grandmother struggling to catch up with her fast-vanishing, lively granddaughter.

So much then for the previous 6 days of me performing a daily, gentle, brief, high-spirited dance to reassure my family that I had not yet experienced any significant negative side-effects from cancer medication whatsoever! (“Look! Just look at me! I can cancan! I am absolutely normal! And this is scientific evidence!”) For nearly an entire week, I had been confident that I was miraculously both completely happy and completely healthy. Despite one round of chemotherapy, plus numerous pills and injections afterwards. How incredible indeed.

As I shuffled past everyone else already on the ward, I was embarrassed by my own new behaviour. “Hello, hello, hello.” Accidental Drama Queen coming through. I could hardly believe this dreadful manner of walking. Maybe a dog would have provided a convenient excuse for such absurd slowness? It might have put people, including me, a great deal more at ease? I know that The Queen famously enjoys the company of her three small but possibly very irritating dogs. I immediately wished I could conjure up just one of them, please, for a personal emergency. But then I remembered what a nurse had mentioned the previous week – dog poop can be a serious risk to chemotherapy patients, so they are best avoided. Instantly, I had to unwish that dog again. What a shame! In a flash, the notorious poop-everywhere corgi was gone!

That was one of the longest short journeys ever for me (so far).

Soon after arrival at the treatment room, being offered a cup of tea felt like a fitting reward. The Real Queen may opt for sitting in a floral armchair, Darjeeling and messy corgis. This is clearly not my style. Instead I chose standing mostly upright, ginger tea and waiting for magical pain relief. As for the pet company, the truth is that my preference is for large and lovely huskies anyway – ideally with at least one beautiful blue eye. Unlike corgis, huskies are well-known for being remarkably self-cleaning and needing only a few baths per year.

So, this week I have learned that there’s actually quite a lot to be said for the benefits of clean and invisible dogs. Especially when they might be needed for long, hospital walks (which may or may not involve measuring floors). Next time, I really must remember to bring mine along.