This time last week, I felt pretty good. I was on day 12 of chemo 5, which meant just two more days of tablets, then a week of rebuild. So I figured, if I felt pretty good at that point, I was only going to feel better (stronger) in the coming days, right? So in the true spirit of buy a bigger bucket, I grabbed the laptop, logged onto DFDS Seaways, and booked a ticket home for the weekend.
Last time I was home, I hid.
…My friend Lou came over with a Christmas card. I saw her pull up outside, I told myself I looked like shit, I sure as hell felt like it, I shut myself in the conservatory and told my parents I didn’t want to see anyone. I felt awful; she’s one of my Yorkies, she was the first person I told when I thought I had cancer, and she’s seen me go through thick and thin over the years. But my head was a mess, the conservatory was my cave, and I wasn’t letting anyone in.
…My friend Lu came over with her daughter. Her daughter is two, I’ve never met her, and Lu and I were long over due a catch up. But five minutes before she arrived, I had a meltdown and slipped off to my bedroom. When dad opened the door to Lu, he came upstairs and found me in tears. After giving me a dad-hug and letting me cry for a good fifteen minutes, he told me she was here and it flicked me back into reality. I dried my eyes and came downstairs, but by then Lu had gone. When we texted each other later, she said she’d heard me crying and it broke her, as there was nothing she could do to help me.
…My godson and his sisters also wanted to see me – they’re kids, it was Christmas and they were excited. But I wanted to be able to pick them up and throw them around. I wanted to laugh and have fun with them. But I didn’t have the mental or physical energy to do that. I was just an immobile, unhappy mess and I didn’t want them to see me like that.
On the phone tonight, my cousin summed it up pretty well by saying that, last time I was home because I needed to be looked after. But this time I was home because I felt strong enough to come. I wanted to come. I chose to come. I was able to come. I was calling the shots and deciding my own agenda.
So now being more than able to get out and about in Amsterdam, I pack a rucksack, toddle off to Centraal Station, hop on the bus to Ijmuiden and board my ferry. Rather than needing assistance to get on board with my walking stick, a steward to carry my bag to a disabled cabin, using lifts to get about, and hiding away in fear of not being strong enough to avoid catching something; this time I strut up the gangplank with my bag on my back and head straight up the stairs to my cabin.
On arrival in Newcastle, I walk proudly down the gangplank, overtaking a wheelchair user, and smiling as the lady behind me chuntered to her companion that I “won’t get there any quicker…” For once, speed is irrelevant to me, it’s the fact that I can – I‘ve progressed from wheelchair, to sticks, to not just walking but carrying my own luggage too. I get on the bus into town, walk to the station and board a train to York. I wander around town for a bit, take my usual photos of the same old haunts, then met Lou, Laura and Casper for lunch.
Mum picks me up and we head home via the Audi garage. While she has them look at something on her car, I find myself magnetically drawn towards things with a red ‘R’ on the grill…
AN: In the back of my mind, I’d been quietly thinking about what I might get when the lovely Dutch CBR give me back my license. Rather than something sensible, I’d been thinking about something a bit more fun, but worried whether I’d find it hard to get in/out of a lower car, now my legs aren’t as strong.
Luckily, Mr Audi just happens to have the keys to a new TT, so I open the door and hop in… that was ok but, oh shit, now I’m in, can I get out?! Of course I can – just like riding my bike, it’;s a little more wobbly that last time I did it, maybe I just need to try it again? Yep, I can do this, no worries! Yay!
At tea time, dad and I head off to the next village for his ritualistic Friday Fish & Chips, where I catch up with Greg (who apparently asks dad every week how I’m doing, so he’s very surprised when I walked through the door).
When I woke up, I text Esther saying “Oi, get up you lazy article! Fancy a cuppa this morning?” An hour later, we’re in a café in Thirsk catching up over breakfast and laughing like only Esther can. A wander back to hers in the sunshine and a spot of shopping in quirky random shops, before she drops me back home.
An hour later, the doorbell goes and Lu asks “You coming out to play, dude?” We head off to the pub, reminiscing, catching-up on lost time, and contemplating how bad it’d be to leave the car and call mum to get a lift home… We decide perhaps not, so she drops me home.
An hour later, dad and I sneak off to the local for an early doors. We order our drinks, take one mouthful and the phone rings – it’s mum, saying “your godson’s just walked through the door!” Dad and I down the drinks and wander home. Sarah is there with my boy and his sisters, who I haven’t seen since before I had brain surgery in August. After high fives, hugs and hellos, I bend down and pick up Mimi. She’s seven. A month ago, I couldn’t pick up a 3-month old baby.
A trip home isn’t complete without a Sunday roast, so we head up to the Ox. Mike and Sasha (the owners) were over in Amsterdam a few weeks back, so I’ve seen them quite recently, but they said today that the difference in me, even in the few weeks since then, is noticeable.
So I’m now back on the ferry, heading for home. I’ve done so much in the past few days; I’ve seen (and apologised to) people I’ve hidden from. I’ve picked up and hugged people I’ve missed for months. I’ve walked further than I have in weeks. I’ve caught up with people I haven’t seen in far too long. And I’ve slept better than I have in ages.
Having seen and hugged so many people in the past few days, I’ll be lucky if I’ve avoided picking up a cold or snotty nose! But if my immune system feels as strong as my mentality right now, we’ll be good!
So I arrive back in Amsterdam tomorrow (Monday) morning, I’m at hospital for blood tests on Tuesday and, hopefully, I’ll start chemo again on Wednesday FOR THE LAST TIME! And if my kick is anything like Laura Muir’s was in Glasgow this weekend, it’s the last lap, the bell will ring and we’ll finish strong!