The best way to make the gods laugh is definitely to make plans. Or even a plan, especially when you are going through chemo. We completely cleared the diary when all this started, taking everything very much as it came along, as we never knew what might crop up that would involve a visit to the hospital. That spontaneity can in itself get a bit boring sometimes, and it can also make life a bit difficult. My brother and his family wanted to come and see us before the transplant date; this was quite tricky to organise given my hospital appointments and their far-flung living arrangements and shift patterns, but organise it we did. I was really looking forward to seeing them and to enjoying a few final days before the transplant without going to the hospital. For some reason my emotions in the last couple of weeks have been very up and down – well mostly down, to be honest. The spectre of the transplant and its attendant risks and discomfort had reached gargantuan and unmanageable proportions in my mind, aided and abetted by all the forms I had to sign to show that I knew just how horrible and risky it would be. I was finding it very hard to be positive and my normal bounciness had bounced elsewhere. Spending three out of four days last week at the hospital in what was supposed to be my appointment-free time didn’t help matters either. I was low, grey and extremely fed up, but very much looking forward to the family visit. We were literally just walking out the door on Friday, off to get the party food, when the phone rang. It was the Macmillan nurse saying that at a team meeting that morning (touching that they were talking about me!) it had been decided that I should have another blood test before the transplant to check that my platelets were coming back up. Today. Nooooooooooooooooo! I told her that we were literally off to the shops to buy food for our guests who were already on their way to us. She replied that they really wanted to do it today and the nurses on Ward 10 were all ready for me. How can you say no? They all have this amazing way of making you feel like the world revolves around you and all of this is for your own good. Which it is of course, but not on your only hospital-free day when you are preparing lunch for seven people. Grrrr. I said I would come but could I just have the blood test then zip out again – they could call me if there was a problem. “Well, the doctors do want a quick chat after the results come back.” This would mean a wait of at least 45 minutes on top of the blood test time and the car journey there and back. It was starting to look like a seriously late lunch. Hurried phone call to my brother. Fortunately Number Two son had blessed us with his presence so we did at least have someone to let them in if we weren’t back.
Bloods duly taken, we waited patiently for the results – the Macmillan nurse came to get us for the ‘chat’, and I did notice she wasn’t clutching the usual paperwork. Hmmm. We all sat down and she prepared the ground, reminding me that my (fabulous) consultant, along with his equally wonderful team were worried by my blood results. This wasn’t looking good from where I was sitting. These latest results weren’t any better than the last lot and the team needed to find out why. And the only way to find out why? A bone marrow biopsy. Now. Doctor primed, ready and waiting. Again, Nooooooooooooooooooooooo! My only day to do something for me, and all this happens! At that point, I really did wonder how much more miserable I could get. I couldn’t think of a single funny thing to say, which isn’t at all like me. Readers of Blog 30 will know how much I didn’t want the biopsy as it is incredibly painful and it isn’t at all the thing to do as a precursor to greeting a houseful of guests. I tried feebly to get out of it, but the nurse skilfully countered every argument. At her suggestion our lunch menu changed from chicken breasts stuffed with mozzarella and basil, wrapped in parma ham, to french sticks and rolls served with a selection of ham and cheese and salad. Stephen was despatched to Tesco while I underwent the procedure.
There were two slightly more cheery points that quickly became apparent: Number One, it was my favourite doctor and Number Two I was offered gas and air, which I wasn’t when I had this done before. This isn’t at all the same gas and air I had when my boys were born twenty years ago. Oh no. This was twenty-first century gas and air that blew my socks off. Needless to say I made very good use of it and was just starting to get lightheaded when the nurse said I should give it a break as I would start to become lightheaded. Oh. I thought that was the whole point :-). Then she said that if I didn’t stop I could risk an Out Of Body Experience. I laughed out loud. “And your problem is?…..Right now that is exactly what I want!” General hilarity all round, which took my mind off what was going on. And I’m not going to tell you what is involved. If you want to find out more go and Google it for the gory details. It isn’t nice and I really don’t want to have another one ever, but at least the gas and air gave us a laugh and took the edge off things.
Procedure over, my (lovely) consultant called by and that is when it got a bit serious, although he said it all with a smile on his face. He started out by saying that the team had decided on the blood test and biopsy and he knew how unpopular it would be with me. That was the general laughter bit. Then he said that there would be two reasons why the platelet count was low: one would be that I had had a lot of chemo in a short period of time and that my system was taking a while to recover. That was fine and if this was the case the transplant would go ahead next week. The other was that the bone marrow was permanently damaged by the chemo. This would be very bad. The only way out of that scenario would be a bone marrow transplant from someone else – which carries a 40% fatality rate – or blood transfusions every few weeks for the rest of my life. Which wouldn’t, I gather, in all probability, be that long. Definitely not the information to take to a family party. Gulp. My Family Friday had gone really pear-shaped in the space of a few hours. He said that he would take the samples to the lab and call me as soon as he had looked at them, either later that day or Saturday morning. Poor guy. He was off on a family holiday the same day. Bet that was popular.
Anyhow, we took ourselves home and really did have a lovely time with the family. Nobody minded in the least that their lunch had transmogrified into a bit of a Ploughmans, and a good time was had by all. The evening passed with no phone call and come Saturday morning I was practising Mindfulness like crazy. The funny thing is that, although I had spent all morning quite a long way from the phone, it happened to ring on one of the few times I was passing it, so my (hardworking) consultant probably thought I was literally sitting on it. Anyway, all good. Platelets are clearly a bit tired by all this but are otherwise fine. There is also no sign of Mantle Cell, which is great. There wasn’t originally so I would have been very distressed if some had crept into the bone marrow while we weren’t looking. So all systems go for Tuesday.
But you know the weirdest thing about this – and we aren’t done by a long shot yet – is that before Friday happened I was dreading next week, and feeling very sad and negative about it. Now – I am delighted! I am well enough to go through the whole thing, as opposed to being much sicker than when I started out. Thank heavens for that!
There is more. You may remember from previous blogs that my dearest friend Judy Hall had taken our photograph on holiday with her to Egypt, so that she could take us to visit the temples of the gods who would help my healing process. Both her connection with the gods and the healing continued when she came back and while I was going through Cycle Four she went through the Egyptian Death and Rebirth ritual, the Weighing of the Heart, on my behalf. I was deeply grateful that she had done this, a ritual which Imhotep (High Priest of the Sun god Ra), had told her was vital to the success of the stem cell transplant. Last week, however, Judy said that I needed to go through the ritual myself; there had to be an etheric cleansing and rebirth as well as the physical regenesis I will get from the transplant in hospital. This really bothered me. I was tired, fed up and very negative about the transplant when she gave me the news. I have done plenty of regressions and journeys into the Interlife, and a lot of them are emotional and exhausting. I seriously worried that I didn’t have the resources to cope. But then Friday came and went, and the relief at the good result lifted my spirits immensely – I decided to go ahead.
Judy said I didn’t need to prepare in advance – it was important that I take each stage as it came without any preconceptions. After a few moments to relax and deepen my level of awareness, I was slowly taken through eleven gates. At each gate I had to lay down or give up something: starting with my clothes and moving through my personality, my past, my family and loved ones, ending with my Self. It felt amazing. Far from being frightening, the opportunity to give all this up was deeply liberating. And as I have no hair at the moment, I really did feel like an Initiate. I was more than ready for this and welcomed the chance to move into a new life. At the twelfth gate I was taken to meet Anubis (the jackal headed god associated with the afterlife) and witness my heart being weighed against the feather of Maat (the concept of truth, justice and law). I knew little about the whole ritual before I started, but I had heard about the weighing of the heart. It sounded as scary as being judged by your life flashing before you at the entrance to the pearly gates. Whether you believe all this or not, it is still a scary thought that you might someday be judged on the decisions you have made in your life. I needn’t have worried. I was allowed to see that during my life there had been times when I acted out of fear, sadness, maybe ignorance or frustration, but never malice. That was a big relief. It was an opportunity to forgive myself and release the burden of guilt I had been carrying for so long. I felt truly cleansed and moved joyfully through the rest of the ritual, in which I was given the chance to awaken to a new consciousness.
An experience I had approached with a degree of apprehension turned out to be one of the most liberating and beautiful rituals I have ever undertaken, and I am deeply grateful to Judy for guiding me through it. There are some things in life we have to do alone. We have to find the courage to face the unknown and trust that we will not be found wanting. I am being forced to do this on a physical level through the cancer and chemo; on an esoteric level, the shedding of different layers as I progressed through the ritual allowed me to bare my soul, and to discard years of accumulated baggage. It is so hard to describe, but I feel cleansed and liberated and ready to face whatever the transplant procedure throws at me.
Tomorrow the pink camel train starts up again as I gather Fenella, my duvet cover, towels, toilet bag and all the associated clutter needed for a long hospital stay, and this one will indeed be long. Six days of chemo followed by stem cell transplant, then several weeks of crawling back to health before I can plan my escape. This time I’m adding a cafetiere and milk so at least I can have a decent cup of coffee! I will be in touch as and when I can.
Wishing you all good health,