So, my sister got diagnosed with cancer in April. It was all a bit sudden. She went into hospital for a routine procedure and they said, “Do you know what; we found a tumour.”
It was stage 1 and that is the best stage; the prognosis was really good but, oh the shock and the fear. Work were very good and let me take unpaid leave to go down to Cork and sit in while she was doing some of the chemotherapy. The world of cancer was pretty much a closed book to me in advance. I knew that the chemo drugs made you lose your hair but I hadn’t realised that this meant the hairs in your inner ear that help balance, the hairs up your nose that stop stuff getting up your nose and your eyebrows and eyelashes which mean that you have to wear sunglasses a lot to keep everything out of your eyes and you look otherworldly. I knew fatigue was a side effect but not that your limbs would go numb and your sense of taste would go. Your immune system is compromised so she got shingles as well. So, all in all, chemotherapy is pretty brutal. When you see someone fully clad in plastic carefully insert a needle into your sister’s hand to give her intravenously drugs that burn, if splashed on the skin, it is quite unnerving. She was cheerful all things considered. For the first session, she wore a thing called a cold cap that is supposed to keep the chemicals away from your head and preserve your hair. It sometimes works. It didn’t work for her. All she got was icicles in her hair and then it fell out and she bought a wig. Seriously, the cost of wigs! Who knew? Happily her insurance covered it. In fact she has made a profit on her medical insurance this year. Not as satisfying as you might have thought.
So the pattern was week 1 chemo (the longest protocol, a whole day in hospital getting drugs intravenously) and steroids to get her through it. Week 2 she felt really terrible and week 3, she began to recover and then she started the cycle all over again. Being a person of extraordinary energy and fortitude, she spent much of her recovery time sorting out administration and medical visits and all sorts of other things for my elderly parents and aunt. If you do not have elderly infirm relatives, you have absolutely no idea how much time this takes. And she’s done all sorts of big logistical things too like reorganising my father’s office and filing cabinet (not for the faint-hearted) and arranging for many of his payments to come by EFT rather than cheques which have to be cashed. She is very kind-hearted and obliging and she did all of the weird and random tasks (I need india ink for my pen, I need to renew parking permits etc) efficiently and speedily. My father, in particular, was delighted. So was I, but I was guilt ridden as well (after her first session of chemo, she came to Dublin and took the boys to Taytopark, no really). She was amazing
Anyhow, she had her last chemotherapy session three weeks ago. She is still, of course, hairless and sick as a dog and she fell and sprained her ankle last weekend which didn’t add to her happiness. I am just delighted though. She has to go back for a check up in three months but the doctors have declared the treatment a success and her treatment is over. The relief. Although she is seven years younger than me, which is a big difference when you are children, we have become very close as grown-ups. I speak to her almost every day. There is no one else who understands me in quite the same way. I am so glad that soon she will be well again. I feel we were so lucky because, if she hadn’t had that routine procedure, that tumour would have quietly gone about its work and killed her. It feels like a miracle.