Thursday, 7 June 2012

bad dreams

I'm a pretty good sleeper, on the whole. I haven't always been - for years I laid awake in bed each night, sometimes for hours, waiting for the curtain of somnolence to fall across my eyelids.

Whilst pregnant with my third daughter, I began listening to a relaxation CD at bedtime. Perhaps the strain of being pregnant for a third time in four years was the real cause, but I'm pretty sure those ten minutes I was guided by a soothing voice to "" helped me on my way to gentle rest.

Sleep problems are very common amongst people with cancer - stress and anxiety coupled with side effects of medications conspire to steal zzzzzzzzz's when they are most needed. Fortunately, I have rarely experienced disrupted sleep, for not long after I was diagnosed, I was given another relaxation CD by a friend's mother (I encourage you to check out her website), which has helped me to find sleep quickly and easily most nights.


Last weekend we took the kids to a music festival, where we camped for three nights. Cold overnight temperatures, the throbbing cadence of techno music played until the wee hours, a 2 a.m. gig by the (excellent) band who were camping next to us, and the unfortunate placement of my sleeping bag over a tree root all contributed to a couple of restless nights for me. This in itself didn't bother me - one doesn't expect to get a good night's sleep when camping at a festival.

But there was a downside to all the waking up I did. My dreams stayed with me each time I awoke. And some of them were more like nightmares.

One was particularly disturbing, and I haven't been able to shake its images from my brain and heart.

In the dream, I was sleeping and I awoke. Near my body was a clutch of eggs I had laid. There were perhaps ten brown eggs, and some of them had cracked open. Nestled in the jagged shells, glistening and almost translucent, were tiny human babies. Their bird-like eyes were closed, and I knew they were dead.


I knew right away what had prompted this sad dream.

Chemotherapy has stolen my fertility.

It has stolen a lot of my hair. It is threatening to take my fingernails and toenails. It plucks out my eyelashes and eyebrows when I'm not looking and meanly sprinkles them into my eyes. Chemo has hidden my waistline under a layer of fat, robbed me of muscle, pilfered my tastebuds and purloined the light from my eyes. My good humour, motivation and mental strength are slowly but surely being misappropriated.  It has embezzled months of my life.

But the loss I mourn most keenly is that of my fertility.

I knew from the outset that it would happen. A few weeks into treatment, my daughter told me her friend's mother - who is a friend of mine - was expecting a baby. News that would have normally filled me with joy saw me collapsing instead into a sobbing, grief-stricken heap.

We weren't planning to have any more babies. (Although, truth be told, I think many if not most women's wombs harbour a sly yearning for 'another baby' throughout and perhaps even beyond the childbearing years. And if I'm really honest, dancing quietly in the shadows of my determination that our family was complete was a flicker of hope that one day we would have more money, a bigger house, a bigger car and space for 'just one more'.)

But it's not the loss of potential children that troubles me so. It is the loss of what makes me vital, womanly, alive. Women are said to be at their peak in their 30s. Before finding the lump, I certainly felt that I was entering that stage. And now, thanks to chemo, it is as though someone pressed the fast forward button, hurling me into the beginnings of old age. The hormone that made me so fertile - three of my babies were conceived at first try - that gave me thick, glossy hair, smooth skin, strong bones, mental agility and a positive outlook is now my enemy.

I don't want people (women) to say to me: "But you're lucky! Periods are such a pain!" Yeah, sometimes they are. Snow can be a pain. But would you banish winter from the calendar?

I like being a woman. I liked having a menstrual cycle. I miss the seasons of my femininity as I would miss the trees shedding their leaves in the autumn if I moved to the tropics.


The last few weeks have been hard. I have felt a shift in my mindset. I feel unsociable, sad and angry. What's prompted it? I'm not sure. It could be any of lots of things:
  • The extremely debilitating side effects I experienced during my first dose of Docetaxel.
  • The change in my appearance that has finally become apparent - especially the sad, worried look that now sits permanently on my face.
  • Fatigue.
  • The almost constant discomfort of one sort or another.
  • Maybe this is simply another side effect - reduction in oestrogen levels can cause depression.
  • I'm fed up with not being able to achieve anything or complete any task or be of use to anyone.
  • A growing realisation that this is actually happening to me. That this is my new forever.
  • The fact that when I consider spending money, I cost it out in terms of how many years I may have to enjoy whatever it is I'm buying. And I weigh up whether - if I live, say, for two years or four years - it represents value for money or if I should go without and leave that money for my family to use when I am gone.
  • Worry that the dose reductions I have had will increase my chances of recurrence. Worry that the seventh dose the oncologist threatened will become reality. Worry that if I refuse the seventh dose, and then suffer a recurrence, that I will be responsible for it. Worry that the time I bought with an intact, healthy arm by having chemo before surgery is running out. Worry that radiotherapy is carcinogenic. Worry that Tamoxifen is carcinogenic. And that it makes women gain weight, go off sex, become less intelligent, achy and stiff and sore and grumpy and sad.
Ugh. I can't even bring myself to finish this list. It's all too depressing and I've been working on this post for three hours now and I've had enough. It's not even very well-written.

I don't like feeling that the best is behind me.