I’ve seen the movies, I’ve read the books. The ones where people get cancer and along with it, get a video montage of treatment, complete with vomiting into buckets, along with a cool club of people who all hang out together getting pumped full of chemicals. They may shave each other’s heads, they may choreograph dances with their IV poles, some of them die.
I’ve never had that. I’ve made an occasional friend or connection through treatment (I’m looking atcha, you know who you are), but it’s usually because of the blog that we stayed connected, not because we really got to see each other much during treatment. We were more like ships passing in the night as we went through it. I’ve also made lots of great friends in the cancer community through social media or various cancer related events and the like, some have become my closest friends, but again, that’s not really the stuff you see movies. Which is fine, life obviously isn’t a movie, we know Hollywood isn’t real.
Though… Maybe it is…? Turns out I just needed to get myself some radiotherapy.
Picture a long corridor. I’m walking down it in my sequin jacket and my pirate boots, striding my way down to machine F. Then two people come into view. We see each other and throw our hands out, meeting triumphantly in embraces (except that we don’t, because I think people have become a bit scared of hugs post Covid, especially if you’re not already close and have judged each other’s willingness, but it feels like we did hug). It’s JB and C, two members of my club. JB has just finished for the day and C, his wife has come in with him because it’s his birthday. We are all excited. We don’t get to see each other every day, only every few days, as our times don’t always overlap so it feels like Christmas when we do. Or someone’s birthday. Eventually we reluctantly part ways as they go off into the world and I go to get zapped.
JB was my buddy and we would usually be found waiting together, huddled in a conspiratorial pair, talking about one thing or another, solving the world’s problems or trawling through stories of our past and present. Then there was T and her fried S, who came with her most the time. One time when S couldn’t come, T told me about how they had such a special heart connection (a feeling I know well within my own close friendships) and how much it meant that she was there with her. I love that so much, it’s a feeling like no other, which I cherish. I also appreciated S’s support as she would often keep me company if T was called in before me, or the three of us would chatter away together. We really felt like a club. One day I even hung around for an hour or so after my zapping just chatting to everyone. S wasn’t able to be there on T’s last day and I was scheduled to have been and gone before she even got in. So I made her a poster saying congratulations and left it with the Zappers to give to her when she came in. She appreciated it. Then there was C, the last member of our little crew (not JB’s wife). She was having some hard times (other than cancer) and we talked a lot about what to do. It’s amazing how quickly we inserted into each other’s lives and were talking like we’d known each other forever. I’m sure there’s a word for it… trauma bonding… probably brings you together sharing something as chaotic and serious as cancer treatment. And we were probably happy to talk about everything that wasn’t related to cancer. A welcome escape. We’re all planning on catching up soon.
Then outside of our little crew was someone I met who was having prostate cancer treatment. I don’t know if you know anything about prostate cancer RT, but I first learned about it when Dad went through it. They zap your prostate and in order to give them best access to it and avoid zapping things they shouldn’t, you have to have an empty bowel and a full bladder. I sympathised with my prostate cancer friend about having to manage that (to differing levels of success, understandably – both one way and the other) and he sympathised with me about having the mask/shell over my face. It’s a phenomenon I’ve seen time and time again in cancer treatment (and illness in general, I think). We find a way to get through/cope with whatever horror we’re dealt, but couldn’t possibly imagine managing what someone else is having to deal with. Perhaps this is what leads to (some) people who haven’t had cancer telling us ‘you’re so brave, I couldn’t do it.’ When the reality is that we can’t do it either, we just have to find a way. There’s no choice, we’re not the special one, chosen to go through this because we’re somehow more able to cope with it. It’s truly very difficult, but yet humans are resilient, and here we are.
So I’ve collected some chums over my latest cancer treatment, which made going in every day pretty fun, really. I had seeing them to look forward to and we would start comparing our schedules to see when we might overlap in the week ahead (because of course they only gave us our schedule for a week at a time). Comrade Clarence was of course always there with me too, and was doing his usual thing of making friends with everyone – nurse, radiographer, doctor and cancer chum alike. I worried that I might forget him at some point during the 6 weeks of RT, but it never happened. He was there, smiling and dancing through every zapping session, occasionally popping into my eye-line to reassure me when my brain wanted to test panicking.
When it came my turn for my last day of zapping, they all messaged me with kind words. I took chocolates in for the reception staff and for my radiographers. And one of my favourite people who work in the radiotherapy department swung by from where she was working and brought me this amazing card she’d made that is just so good I had to share it (yeah I probably cried when she gave it to me)…