Taxing trials and after-quakes

This week has been a head-spinner. It’s been a week where I’ve had to remind myself the golden lesson that cancer has the instant ability to teach: just lay off the stress, girl.  Relax, sister. Of course it took me a while to remember this valuable lesson, since I was head-deep in my ‘what the frack’ mode .  . . but practise makes perfect, and eventually I gave up my load. You know what that’s like? Sometimes stepping away from a problem feels like an impossible option . . .  so then how do you make the impossible possible?

Chantal and me at the LGFB shoot.

In the meanwhile, great things have been happening. Over the past couple weeks I’ve had a photo shooting adventure, finished my eighth out of nine stories for my lovely creative project, blogged for this great start-up company (and wrote the posts well, if I can say so myself), and largely became used to being alone. In fact, I started relishing my walks to the cafe. Alone Catherine is a productive Catherine. (Though I still miss my man!)


Then I tried to do my taxes, again, and my head spun off into the atmosphere. You see, last year I earned a modest amount of freelancing income. Yay! But at the same time . . . how the heck do I prepare my taxes as a ‘small business –other’?  Apart from the wonderful discovery that expenses equal deductions (cue me combing my past visa bill and sourcing receipts online. Oh my goodness, did I really spend that much on my writing . . .yes, apparently I did), this tax season has my brain sizzling with anxiety.

Zsolt and I were in disagreement over getting an accountant. He wanted to save the money, I wanted to save the headache – but when push came to shove, and my meltdown alarms were ringing with the complications of my situation, we found ourselves a compromise (with the guidance of my parents, and considering the money saved from all those expenses I dug up). I guess we all move beyond times when we cannot find solutions, it’s just that limbo between problem and answer that gets me all stressed and stupid.


But you know what? Even after agreeing on a compromise, the stress was still resonating through me! Like after-effects of an earthquake – my mental health was having after quakes: nerves and emotions totally unstable.

Which is when I remembered the blog post I’d written not so long ago, and thought, “yes, what a good idea,” and decided to do something to counteract that stress. Basically, I returned not to my writing (though this is lovely) and not to my conversations, but opened my Bonusprint program and began picking through pictures of our Greece vacation, making a photo book for the company to print.

Ah, the loveliness of creativity coupled with happy memories. And as I indulged in something that made me feel good – a creative project that had nothing to do with taxes, work, or obligation (and yet wasn’t television, cause while that’s entertaining it doesn’t change my mood) I began to feel more and more like myself.

I have a two-for-one deal with the Bonusprint people, so today I’m going to make a second photo book: the summer of 2011. It was a pretty freaking glorious summer, even if the winter involved a lot of catching up . . . and so why not? Right?

Sometimes when you’ve dipped your head in the pool of stress, and even after you’ve  pulled back out and found a solution  to the problem . . . sometimes you still need to recover yourself. Heck, we all know about that! Anyone facing any kind of challenge has had to nurse the after-effects.

So there you go, photo-booking and it feels soooo good.

P.S. The above beautiful photo was shared by Jason Kang on Totem Brand Stories‘ facebook wall, and was snapped by the talented Donna Griffith at last week’s Lives Affected by Cancer shoot. This was before the return of winter, where Chantal and I look optomistic in our spring dresses!

What is brave, anyhow?

I like watching movies; people are allowed to be brave, and we can be brave with them. Last night – against Zsolt’s wishes – we watched the Fellowship of the Ring (Lord of the Rings book one, film one). He says it’s a film for teenagers, but he thinks that of everything fantasy/science fiction. There is no point arguing, though obviously I disagree and am correct in my opinion . . .

Anyhow: Bravery.

Frodo  didn’t want to carry the ring. He wished he’d never found it, never been chosen, never this, never that. Never.

I wish the same all the time. As each day passes and chemotherapy approaches I wish I didn’t have to go, didn’t need the injections, didn’t get so sick. Didn’t this, didn’t that. Didn’t.

When BBC news reports a famous designer has died from breast cancer, I wish I’d never gotten it. Never started growing, never reached my lymph nodes, never this and never that.  Because I’ll never be 100% sure it’s not still inside. Reoccurrence scares the shit out of me.

So how am I meant to be brave? Why can’t it be like the films, where there is a moment of heightened music, tears in the eyes . . .  and then a short nod, steps forward. Challenged mounted. Why can’t I be brave without also being chicken-shit scared?

Last week I went to the hospital for a picc line flush and zolodex shot. It overwhelmed me; I threw up in the corridor, in the chemo chair, after my shot. The smell of the ward nauseated me, the sight of the patients made me cry, the click of the chemo drip made me gag. Bravery? No, I’ve tied a leash round my neck and dragged myself in. That’s not brave, that’s compulsory.

And I know, I really know, “it’s not just the body, Catherine”. It’s the mind. It’s the reaction, the conditioning. This is my work in progress. Throwing up is a release of anxiety, but there must be better ways. Well, I’m trying to scream. Who knows what the neighbours think, I scream each day and imagine all the fear and the nausea shooting out with the sound.

Will it work? I don’t know – we’ll see next Thursday when my blood is tested. I’ll scream in the middle of the ward, thus triggering mass panic amongst the patients and probably get committed. Or asked to leave the country.

No, I won’t really scream. Of course not.

Today is Monday.  In four more days I’ll be back in that green easy chair with a drip hooked up. This time it’ll be a different course of chemotherapy. They say it’s easier, “a little easier.” And since it’ll be every week, it sure as heck better be easier.

I can’t take much more of this bullshit self-induced sickness. Even if it is resetting my immune system and clearing out those nasty fucking cancer cells that may/may not be in my body. Rude unwelcomed FUCKERS.

Bright side: well I’m glad to talk about being scared.  That helps. We’ve changed the sheets (finally) to my pink rose on blue pattern. I haven’t thrown up in three days. The students are back at the university. And . . . Zsolt is washing the dishes!

Thank goodness for small miracles.

Support from NHS

How is your experience with the NHS? That’s a question people often ask me.

Mostly it’s good – they acted quickly, were very supportive, and while things felt in crisis they were a reliable crutch. And mostly it’s still good. But this past week has been rather frustrating. I had wanted a picc line put in before my next chemo and tried calling to and arrange an appointment with a doctor. Maybe one week was too short notice and couldn’t be done – I don’t know. How could I know? I only spoke with an answering machine. And it wasn’t very chatty.

Tomorrow I go in for my blood, and will finally speak with a doctor. I realize it’s a very busy unit – but this week I felt hit-my-head-against-the-wall unsupported. It’s too bad they don’t have  a ‘chemo nurse’ like the breast care nurses. The breast care nurses are a touchstone for women (and men) who are trying to cope with the trauma of breast cancer. Losing a breast, realizing your life is at risk – it’s difficult to manage sometimes. But so is chemotherapy. It would be nice to have contacts who aren’t receptionists, aren’t giving treatment, aren’t juggling so many obligations that you feel bad for interrupting. It would be nice to have that support.

It’s been a head-shaking week. I’ve felt somewhat cog-like . . . fit into my slot; if I try to jump out of place the entire system breaks down. Did you know that England only has 12 chemotherapy facilities? Twelve for all the people who may get cancer. I wonder how many Canada has?

There are a lotta people (the waiting rooms are stuffed full of patients and their significant others) and a lot of demand. But I still want my picc line. Friday is coming – my veins will have to suffer the ache of another round of AC treatment. It could be worse. I do realize it could always be worse. And I’m happy in knowing that eventually it will be better.

Another round. This past week has been a bittersweet vacation, with its ups and downs, much like all the other weeks this summer has offered.

Next up – blood test and consultation. Here we go again.