Eight months, six chemotherapy and twenty three radiotherapy treatments ago, one of my very best friends was told the heart stopping news that she had breast cancer.
She came round to tell me and although I can’t remember everything about that night (I should add there was no alcohol involved, just the earth shattering news) I remember (after I stopped crying) laughing together and being really positive knowing she would absolutely kick the arse of this hideously cruel “thing”.
I think the first thing I felt afterwards was some sort of weird guilt. Why has this even happened? Why couldn’t I take it all away for her? An odd sort of grieving feeling for the first few weeks. A sense of it not being quite real, being in limbo until things got very real and operations and treatment began.
There is always that weird thing that people do when they find out someone has cancer. This generally involves a tilt of the head and the “look”. The look of pity, of not knowing what to say, of feeling trapped and using this odd mannerism as code for “I have no words, if I do this then surely she’ll know what I mean”. She’s had that a lot. It has happened a few times when I was with her, when I would become fiercely protective and either attempt to change the subject or get the hell out as quick as we could. All the times it did happen though, we would walk away, groaning but usually laughing our heads off exclaiming “Oh God, the look!”
Then there was the hair thing. She has always had amazing hair. Like ridiculously amazing. One of our hobbies, aside from sending each other pictures of tattoos we like or shots of David Beckham looking hot as per usual, is to send each other pictures of hair colours, styles, extensions, you name it, we would find it and usually plan to do it. So when the hair went it was, in the words of Ron Burgundy, kind of a big deal. But she trotted off and got some awesome wigs, some not so awesome and one in particular that she sent me a picture of, saying she had dropkicked it across the room for being shit.
The three weekly sessions of chemo were brutal and something no rational human would wish on their worst enemy. We planned nights out on the weeks when she felt vaguely human again and lunches for when she was almost there. In between I would send the daftest pictures, memes, messages, whatever I could find to try and cheer her up. I’m hoping that I never did the tilty head thing, it’s very true to say no one knows what to say in these situations but I just tried to take her mind off it any way I could find, followed up with a quick “you ok?” If I got a reply, we’d chat, if not, it wasn’t a biggie, I knew she’d talk when she wanted to.
In August we had a week in Cornwall together. Both families doing what we do best, spending time together eating, drinking, being generally daft and of course taking the Mickey out of each other as we always do so well. How the hell she coped with that week away, arriving just hours after having a chemo session and still managed to join in with pretty much everything we did, even playing an 18 hole round of pitch and putt I genuinely have no idea. Yes she sunbathed under a blanket, wearing a woolly hat in the shade as she felt the cold so badly, yes she couldn’t eat everything we ate because of those nasty little chemo side effects of everything tasting foul but the morning she announced she fancied a boiled egg, I set to work trying to make the best bloody boiled egg I’d ever made in the hope it might make her feel a tiny bit better.
Despite having two friends diagnosed with and thankfully out the other side of breast cancer, I still don’t think I truly realised the utter devastation it causes. Mentally, physically, you name it, it’s the gift you never want to have that just keeps giving. Her husband, her family, her friends have all been incredible but most of all, somehow (and my God, I don’t and will never know how) she has been incredible.
I hope to God that at some point in our lifetime there is a way to cure and end this evil disease. She’s been officially cancer free since the op in March but didn’t get properly battered by it all until the chemo began. Seeing someone you care about dealing with it all is mind-blowing. And I didn’t see her on her worst days.
But now, it’s over. It’s done. No more long trips to the hospital for 58 seconds of getting blasted by radiotherapy, no more feeling the worst you have ever felt through chemo. She has completed the very worst of it and then some, it’ll be a journey all over again coming out of this but here’s the recovery part. Here’s where your life begins again. Where things don’t have to be put on hold, you can have the holiday and enjoy it properly, you can move on and do what the hell you want.
I wanted to write this blog this week to say how proud of you I am my friend. In fact proud doesn’t even come close. Just as we predicted eight months ago whilst we sat crying on my kitchen stools, you absolutely kicked cancer’s backside. And next years holiday? I’ll even let you get a better tan than me, that woolly hats not invited. xx