My war with these welts had been going on a long time, but I never paid attention to them at the beginning. It was just a few mosquito bites that Dr Spittle seemed concerned about. She looked at them every week, and then finally said it was time for a biopsy. What a waste of time I thought. What are a few bumps on a body full of unseen cancer?
When the biopsies showed cancer Dr Spittle wasn’t at all surprised. But it was the beginning of a long invasive war. These little bumps multiplied; they went all over my chest and around my back. Perhaps they wanted their revenge because they were angry at being the victims of 50 radiation treatments.
All resources have to be mustered just to fight these stupid welts: bandages have to be changed regularly, hands sterilized, water sterilized. I’ve asked each nurse if they’ve seen anything like them before, when the answer is no I really worry. Only one nurse has said yes and I always think she lied. Each nurse puts the bandage in a different place (there’s a lot of places to pick) and in a different way, and on my last visit several nurses were called in to look at these strange marks. Once in a while a swab is taken, and invariably they show staph infection. I go home after these visits with antibiotics; so far they haven’t worked, but maybe some day…
I keep it a secret from the medics, but I’ve given up my personal fight against these welts, it’s too much: I’m supposed to put one kind of cream on the closed sores and another on the open sores; I should have sterilized hands when I do that; I can’t even reach the ones on the back; so no chance. I’m also not supposed to take hot baths (my favorite indulgence – which shouldn’t be an indulgence, it’s just a bath, for God’s sake), but I do and invariably get the bandages wet. I’m very naughty with my home care, and the infections get worse instead of better.
That is not to say the nurses don’t put bandages on, 2 or 3 times a week, they’re doing their best, but the bumps win. Whoever thought that with all the cancer around it would be the bumps that were most enduring. If it were up to me I would just let them fester. In the light of everything else, I find it hard to take them seriously.
The second major symptom is more common, though I’ve avoided it for 16 years of cancer. My right arm feels as if it doesn’t belong to me. I lost weight during my recent stay in hospital, but at the same time my right arm has doubled in size. The amazing thing is, one is not supposed to consider lymphoedema as caused by cancer and yet what the hell did cause it, if not cancer? I blame radiation. I look at my hand and say ‘Move’, ‘Write’, ‘Stretch’, ‘Hold a fork’, ‘Do anything’, ‘Show some spirit’… but nothing happens. I am now supposed to welcome a big bandage which stretches all the length of my arm, and holds it tight, holds me together. I just ordered one in black, which should be sexy enough to wear at night. (Keep dreaming… tomorrow I’ll be 25 again, and look amazing.) Right now, this stocking has no redeeming features.
Someone said that a massage from a lymphoedema lady would help. I found the so-called expert, who just offered palliative treatment. It was an extraordinarily soporific experience – for both of us. She chased my lymph around, with gentle patting motions, and I dozed off. I was surprised that she said I would be tired afterwards, spaced out – and that was exactly what I was trying to avoid, the morphine is bad enough. I walked home in a fog and was asleep by four o’clock in the afternoon.
The deal with cancer that I thought I’d made was that the cancer was confined to my breast. Whoever thought that breast cancer would end up as a bunch of bumps all over my chest, and an arm that doesn’t function? This is not what I expected. The breast that was involved is long since gone, and now I’m left with something I don’t understand at all, and frankly don’t believe in.