It felt like forever, like a prison sentence: a lifetime of hospitals, injections, needles, drips and drugs. But after 24 sessions of chemotherapy, I finally waved goodbye to the chemo ward on 7th December 2016. The night before, I felt surprisingly on edge. There was an anxiety festering deep within me which I couldn’t quite place, a mix of feelings swirled around in my underbelly. You would probably think that after six months of pummelling my body with toxins I’d be pretty bloody relieved that soon it was going to be over. Wrong. Suddenly, it all seemed very abrupt, very final; a quick, swift ending to what had been a huge, life-changing journey. Chemo passed as it always does. I rocked up in my standard comfy attire: Nike leggings, an oversized jumper, trainers. I got on my La-Z-Boy, reclined a little, moaned to the nurses about how my last chemo went, how I was feeling, how all the drugs were starting to catch up with me. I exchanged a few words with my comrades about how they were getting on, how long they had left to endure. My two besties, Megs and Han, came to visit, bringing cake and good cheer. Bazza came too, and my mum, and my sister and brother. We ate Pret sandwiches and gossiped about people in the real world, with real jobs and real lives. It was quite the send-off. So why was I left feeling so empty? What was I expecting? A brass band? A crescendo of fireworks and a medal ceremony as I walked out into the car park? It felt as though something big should happen that afternoon. That when I stepped out of the chemo ward into freedom and my new life, suddenly all the fears and anxiety and stress would lift. Of course, they didn't. Instead, it was rather anticlimactic. Like most things in life, it ended as quickly as it started. What seemed in June like a huge, unfathomable task was now, just like that, over, finito, Romeo done. The fear still clung.
In the chemo ward, everyone around you has cancer, which makes you feel less like you have cancer and more like you are just part of a special club
There is something very comforting about being in chemo club. You are looked after by incredible nurses with beady eyes and caring hearts, some of whom have worked in their field for over 20 years. There are numerous drug checks before anything enters your body, oxygen tanks sit waiting patiently in the corner, doctors and consultants are available at the touch of a button, and there is an A&E ward and intensive care unit five minutes away on a trolley. The smell of antiseptic and bleach fills the air, pastel pinks, greens and yellows adorn the room, nice old ladies bring you tea and biscuits and, most importantly, everyone around you has cancer, which makes you feel less like you have cancer and more like you are just part of a special, let’s-make-you-better club. Everything about the chemo ward is SAFE. From the moment you step into the room, a warm, protective bubble shelters you from the big, bad, nasty world – from reality. When you leave the chemo ward, suddenly that lovely security blanket is pulled from around your shoulders; your support network crumbles, the life you have known for the last nine months is over and you’re left not really knowing what to do with yourself. Once all the drugs have been pumped into me it's time to get my PICC line out. I’ve had the line in for six months and I absolutely hate it. It looks ridiculous, like I’m some sort of robot from 2050 that needs to be charged up every so often. It also acts as a constant reminder that I am having chemo, that I have cancer and that I am a prisoner of the NHS. Normally, to remove the PICC line, a nurse is able to pull it clean out of the vein, quickly, easily and without any pain to the patient. But oh no, not me. As one of the nurses commented, “You’ve always got to be different, haven’t you Ariane?” Yep, yep I bloody do. So there I am, laid on the La-Z-Boy while a nurse starts to pull at the line. It will not budge. She tugs harder. I yelp. About 5 centimetres come out; she tugs again. She is pulling pretty fucking hard now, this is really fucking hurting. “I’ve pulled out over 1,000 of these lines in my life, this has never happened before” she proclaims. Oh great, fucking great, fucking typical, fucking standard my fucking luck. After a good 40 minutes of various nurses tugging and pulling, it’s clear the pesky thing ain’t coming out. My vein has decided it loves my PICC line so much it’s going to cling onto it. The line has literally become a part of me. For fuck's sake! Couldn’t write it, couldn’t write it if I tried. So what was already feeling quite anticlimactic now seems even more anticlimactic. I’m back in hospital the very next day. Luckily I have it removed by a radiologist consultant under X-ray. It’s pain-free and over in about five minutes.
Suddenly, right there on the toilet, it hits me: Pride
And although it is still not quite the end (I have my final scan in January to find out whether I’m in remission), I’ve come to realise that it is important to celebrate all of life’s victories, no matter how big or small. I come back from hospital, sit on the loo, have a chemo poo and the crying comes. Thick and fast (I wish I could say the same about the poo). I don’t even know why I am crying anymore. I have been through so many new, conflicting, strange emotions over the course of this illness. And suddenly, right there on the toilet, it hits me: pride. The overriding feeling is of pride, a staggering, mind-boggling sense of achievement. I have never felt as proud of myself as I did sat on that toilet that day, and I’m not sure I ever will again. That fuck yeah, I have achieved something purely for myself and my body. You smashed it mate, I tell myself, you fucking smashed it. You did it. And like all big things in life, in hindsight it seemed easy. You forget in an instant all the pain you felt, the anxiety that overtook your mind, the fear, the not knowing, the frustration. It magically disappears. The human spirit is extraordinary, it is beyond resilient and a tough little fucker. We humans really can endure a lot of what is thrown at us. Some things are inevitable. People will get ill, loved ones will die, wars will break out, crazy people will become world leaders, freak accidents will happen. But your spirit will see you through. Look after your spirit, nurture it, honour it, thank it every day for looking after you. It will most certainly repay you.