Olivia Rose Smith

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

A day in the life - on a chemo day

I couldn't wake up that morning because I had been awake half the night excited, excited that tomorrow I would be hitting the half way line. Its funny what I get excited over. In my head I have climbed the mountain now I’ve just got to come down the other side. Easy.

What can I get you to drink this morning? asked Dad, as he always does if I am awake before he leaves for work. Gin and tonic. I mumbled. Tea then? he replied. I pretty much downed my cup of tea as I always wake up so dehydrated in the mornings now, probably because of night sweats. Glorious things.

I hopped in the shower, not forgetting my Picc line cover, a huge plastic tent for my arm to stop the wound or the line getting wet. I can’t wait to wash my arm properly I thought, as I do every day. I washed my hair with baby shampoo, it seems to be falling out more and more at the moment so I thought I better use something a bit more sensitive. Is that even more sensitive? I doubt it. It makes my hair even more limp than it already is. I put on my full face of makeup, moisturiser, charlotte tilbury light glow foundation, highlighter, bronzer, eyebrows, mascara. None of this was to be seen on my face by the end of the day of course. And a light summer outfit, it was boiling outside, but freezing in the hospital, obviously. I always want to at least look the best there -  which is entirely pointless and probably really annoying for everyone else who turns up in their PJ’s. I feel like a fake turning up with my head of hair and face of makeup looking like the picture of health.

I had my blood tests done, and made my way up to clinic, where we meet with an oncologist and talk through all the retched side effects to have graced my body these last two weeks, and prescribe more hundreds of pills to take home for these new side effects, to add to our own mini pharmacy on the kitchen work top. Its always a long wait to see the oncologist, its always over subscribed so they run at least an hour late without fail. Don’t think we will bother with the last few months, joked mum. Its getting boring. 

I get called to get weighed before the oncologist see’s me. 61KG. Yesss I’ve lost 2KG I thought. But thats not praised by cancer nurses. Its like weight watchers in reverse. They want to see you putting weight on. Makes you stronger I suppose. But I’d just gone gluten free and cutting out the fresh french stick my Papa buys me everyday and wedge of butter has definitely been in my favour. I had actually managed to put on a stone in 2 weeks on previous occasions. Doh.

Olivia Smith? The nurse called. The oncologist will see you now. YESS! I threw my arms up and cheered. The waiting room full of 90 year olds always seem amused by me. 

I swear she hates you. Mum said as we left the oncologists room, but then we never have liked that oncologist. She always seems full of bad news and fills me with dread. Yes the side effects will be worse and worse from now on she assures me. Great thanks hun.

We now have to wait in the queue to make next times appointment now, a man in front of me in a wheelchair sneezes/coughs/gags and deposits a pile of snot, maybe flem, maybe sick, you cant be sure, onto the floor in front of him. We need tissues over here! Shouted his wife. I took a few steps back. Wow. I should probably feel bad, but I don’t. I just want out. I do not fit in to the cancer community, theres no doubt about that.

Mum and I always leave the hospital between clinic and chemo, at about 10:30, theres a couple of hours where you have to wait for the chemo to arrive. We usually go for brunch, or go to west quay. I then come back to hospital at 1, which is the time I am due to start chemo. 

Did you not have a blood test this morning asked the nurse? Yes. I replied. Well we have lost your blood it so we will have to do it again. Gahhh. Classic. Theres always something. We didn’t end up starting chemo until about 2:30 meaning I wasn't home until about 6. The day is always long and drags like hell watching the bags of poison drip into me and the colour quickly drains from my face. I sit there eating nuts, sweets, raspberries, mints anything to take my mind off the fact I swear I can taste the chemo. I’ve said before but I am so lucky that I get to be treated in a Teenage Cancer Trust unit. I get a nurses full attention all day, my own bed, usually surrounded by other teenagers going through the same thing. Instead of the 90 year olds in wheelchairs who swamp the other wards. 3 hours later, and a dressing change for my Pic line and I'm done.

Travelling from the hospital bed to my bed at home is always a chore. The car journey makes me feel sick, and we always leave at rush hour. I get home to everyone asking how did it go, how are you feeling, can I get you anything. Mum made me sausage and mash and I cleared the plate and then Harry went and got me chips from the chip shop. Yes I had mash and chips. Standard chemo food for me. Harry and Archie are such feeders. Always asking if you could have anything to eat in the world what would it be and they will go and get it. Doesn't help because I am literally a hoover. I cant stop eating. I wish I was the opposite, I wish I’d lost weight. I’d rather not be fat and bald. Not the best combo. The nurses always put on their sympathetic voice and ask how am I getting on with food, as if its supposed to be my worst enemy, mum and I just crack up. 

I feel like everything is ‘mum and I’ in this blog post. But actually I guess we are practically one person at the moment. She lives in my back pocket, or I live in hers as she drags me round delivering me to various appointments. Both having withdrawal symptoms whilst she works.

I had told the oncologist that last time I had chemo I had felt a lot more sick than in the past, I didn't even like water anymore. She told me she expected that this would be the case and prescribed me with more anti sickness medication, just to take at night because they would knock me out. I took one, a tiny tablet, half the size of a tic tac at 9 and by 9:20 I was fast asleep. It was bloody lovely to have a proper night sleep. They worked a treat. Unfortunately I was told not to put them eBay, sorry guys.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

How I stay resilient

Staying resilient isn't about not feeling the things you feel, or suppressing negative thoughts, nor is it about not being honest when things are hard. Letting go of your expectations to be ok is ok, it is scary to go there… Confronting fears, being afraid you wont mend after you have broken. But “ruin is the road to transformation”.

It is also about working with what you've got, finding the strength in yourself to be happy and thankful for those things, rather than feeling angry at the shit you have been dealt.

Your resilience level is so much about perspective, you may not feel resilient right now, yet to others you appear to be thriving during a challenge. It may take time and distance from that challenge for you to begin to acknowledge how resilient you really were.

I have realised that instead of portraying myself as totally resilient, it may be more comforting to others to show what is is really like in the depths. So that you understand its not just you who feels like this… There is strength in both numbers and honesty.

One persons coping mechanism will be very different to the next. Personally, I find comfort in using my experiences to help and even inspire others. But its about what works for you and not according to anybodies expectations - your strategies may be quiet and not apparent to others.

Yes I am 22 and I have cancer. Yes I feel like cancer has stolen a year of my life. But, Hodgkins is curable, I am being cured, my recent scans show no remaining tumours after only 2 cycles of ABVD. (I still have to go through the full 6 months of chemo to make sure none of the buggers ever come back.) But I believe everything happens for a reason. That reason being I will grab life with both hands after all this bollocks. I believe my future would have been entirely different had I not been faced with this at such a young age. I used to be so comfortably numb, but now I feel everything with such passion. And for those reasons, cancer, you can have my 22nd year.

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