Today marked a huge milestone for DorkyDad.
It was treatment day number 18 of 35. He is more than halfway through.
The radiation therapy he is currently undergoing is cumulative, and the side effects will continue for several weeks after the treatment stops. So this is not the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning, and it is definitely something worth celebrating.
The nitty-gritty details of this process are not mine to share. This is DorkyDad’s story, which I hope one day he will tell in his own way. Poems. Maybe a guest post on this blog. Certainly with friends, over a pint, when his sense of taste has returned.
My role is simply to support him.
But since the initial post sharing our news, we have both been stunned by the kindness of friends, family and internet strangers. Somehow you have all found the perfect balance of letting us know you are there, without ever intruding in any way. We feel comfortable accepting help, without feeling obliged to. Thank you.
Thank you for the gift vouchers, the cards, the emails. For the flowers, the home-baked biscuits, the garden-laid chook eggs. Thank you for the soft food recipes, the supportive text messages, the offers of playdates and lifts and babysitting. Thank you for the fudge, the teabags, the champagne that we are saving to celebrate on the other side. We are blown away by your generosity, and so very, very grateful.
For all of you – our incredible, loving community – this halfway mark feels like a reasonable place to share an update.
Is it getting easier or harder as we go along?
Emotionally it is much easier. We haven’t cried in weeks. We have been exhausted and frustrated and still a little scared at times.
But dealing with day-to-day realities, no matter how challenging they are, is far easier than dealing with the dark corners of our own imaginations.
We have clear instructions to follow. We have a specific time to show up every day. We know that DorkyDad is being cared for by reassuring, practical, enormously skilled medical professionals who have seen all this before. The uncertainties have almost all been removed, and that has made everything so much easier.
Practically, of course, it is much harder. One of the nurses sat DorkyDad down on his first day of treatment and said, “I’m going to be honest with you. Radiation therapy for throat cancer is the most brutal treatment we do.”
She wasn’t joking. This is an enormous physical challenge.
It seems such a deeply unfair diagnosis for someone whose profession and creativity rely on that beautiful voice.
(Someone once told DorkyDad after a poetry event a few years back that he sounded like Morgan Freeman. If you’ve never heard him perform, that’s a pretty accurate description.)
So we are throwing absolutely everything we have at getting him through this in the best shape possible. There is no swerving this treatment. No way to avoid it or lessen it or soften it. The only way is straight through and out the other side.
The house looks like a pharmacy. The appointments have become a full time job. Daily radiation, yes. But also nurses and doctors and dieticians and speech pathologists and yoga instructors and acupuncturists and every possible thing that might make the inevitable difficult days just a tiny bit easier.
We chatted in the car this morning about the suddenly-strange concept of days.
Time was already messed up this year. It’s well documented that the COVID lockdowns have distorted the markers of time as we usually understand them.
But now, for us, time has ceased to have any meaning at all.
Weeks are no longer measured by Mondays through Fridays, but by treatment numbers – 16, 17, 18 – each one crossed off on the colour coded chart that is propped in our kitchen.
(Gosh it looks good today, with more than half of them done.)
Days are not measured by the hour, but by doses. The next pain meds, bicarbonate rinse, protein shake, smoothie. I have scribbled lists on every notepad in the house, making sure I don’t lose track – don’t forget one thing or duplicate another. Writing things down is my optimistic attempt to tame this wild thing our life has become.
We have tried, and failed, to come up with a decent analogy for all of this.
I have likened it to getting on a plane, where you can’t think too much about what’s keeping you in the air. You just have to pop your seatbelt on, wait for the wine to arrive, and trust the pilot.
But even the longest and most uncomfortable of international flights is usually the precursor to a nice holiday.
I have likened it to the foggy days of early motherhood, and that comes closer. The all consuming nature of the experience. The shockingly steep learning curve. The exhaustion that can’t be shifted even with a ten hour sleep.
But even in the hardest days of postnatal depression, I was glad to have a baby. There was never a moment when I wished I hadn’t. There was always love.
We have searched and searched for the silver lining of cancer. We have truly wracked our brains to find one. So far, we have come to the conclusion there are none.
Next week, it is our 13th wedding anniversary.
We were due to be spending this weekend – the first days of the school holidays – in an absolute charmer of a cottage on Bruny Island.
But that is another of this year’s cancelled plans. (Cancer or no cancer, I know that’s something every single one of you can relate to…)
Instead we will be tucked in at home. Boiling the kettle for the next Manuka honey mouthwash. Making another bloody batch of soup. Taking a family beach walk if the energy levels are there.
Perhaps, more than champagne breakfasts or nights away, this is the stuff that really makes a marriage.
When we stood in the Signet Library thirteen years ago, promising to love each other in sickness and in health, this is what we meant.
We only tinkered with the wedding vows very slightly that day, switching out ‘until death do us part’ in favour of ‘as long as we both shall live’.
I am grateful we did.
There is a lot of living still to come.