This weekend, I travelled to and attended 20Books London, a conference for indie authors in all stages of their careers, with the emphasis on sharing information and helping each other to succeed. To quote the wonderful folk behind the movement: ‘A rising tide floats all boats‘.
It was very much a weekend of firsts…
The first time in two years I’d driven more than a few miles for hospital appointments or for the school run. The first time I’d stayed away from home, aside from when I’ve been admitted to hospital. The first time I’d mixed with a large group of people since I’d been forced to give up the school visit side of my career. And, the first time I’d met new people who didn’t know me pre-cancer.
I was well and truly outside my current compact comfort zone.
Kirsty insisted on coming with me, as I hadn’t attempted any real driving on my own since all this cancer nonsense began. That meant Sam came along, too (Arran stayed at home to finish a couple of projects for college). The plan was that Kirsty and Sam would head out to enjoy touristy stuff each day, while I went over to the hotel where the conference was being held to have the real fun.
However, that plan didn’t quite work out…
The day before we were due to set off – last Thursday – Sam fell ill, which meant he suffered with a chesty cough, nasty head cold, headaches and the shivers all weekend. As a result, he and Kirsty spent both days stuck in the hotel room. But, they made the best of it and took the opportunity to simply chill out and enjoy having nothing to do.
I, on the other hand, had lots to do…
The drive down to Sunbury, where we were staying, on Friday evening was tough. As I mentioned earlier, it was the furthest I’d driven since first being diagnosed back in March 2016. By the time we got to our hotel, I ached all over. I hoped a good night’s sleep in bed would help me to recover, and it did – once I’d managed to get into the bugger, that is.
This was another first for me: not sleeping in a low hospital bed either at home, or on a ward. While the bed in the hotel room was comfortable, it was also quite high. And, I didn’t feel confident enough to ask reception for a step-ladder to enable me to get into the thing.
Kirsty offered to help me get in and out of the bed but, as I knew I would be getting up a couple of times in the night to visit the bathroom (a little-mentioned result of my sudden weight loss is that I’m now the proud owner of a bladder the approximate size of an underdeveloped grape), I didn’t want to have to wake her every time I needed to pee.
So, I took to using a combination of running (well, staggering comically at a pace marginally greater than walking) and jumping in order to get into bed, and what I can only describe as ‘roll off the edge and pray I was able to land on my feet’ as a way of getting back out.
This mostly worked, although it did result in me slamming my face into my pillow a few times, and I fought to recover from buckling knees in the dark when executing my ‘drop and flop’ method of getting up again.
Bedroom gymnastics (and not the giggly, squishy, ketchup-smeared variety) aside, the rest of the weekend went relatively smoothly. I made it to the conference venue safely on both days, where I met my stand-in carer for the event – none other than my ol’ mucker, Barry Hutchison! It was the first time Barry had seen me since I’d fallen ill, and he did a great job of masking his horror at the way I now look.
There aren’t many mates who would wait until they were alone before bending double, sobbing and vomiting.
He’s a keeper.
I struggled to sit upright for the entire day, and was forced to leave early on Saturday as I was in quite a bit of pain. I forced myself to stay until the end of the day on Sunday, but paid for it later.
And I wasn’t really able to enjoy the wonderful spread the venue laid out for lunch each day. I can’t do sandwiches, and I didn’t want to have to find a quiet corner where I could pour milkshakes through my stomach peg. Not because I’m embarrassed about doing that or, anything…
No, that’s a lie. I am embarrassed about it. Really embarrassed.
I know I have no reason to be. I know it’s a normal after-effect for someone who has been through throat cancer and the resulting treatment – but I just don’t want to feed myself liquid nutrients via a stomach tube in a public setting.
So, I loaded up on the bits of food I could digest – crisps, cheese and chocolate chip cookies.
Which also earned me plenty of weird looks.
Then I had Weetabix when I got back to the hotel.
The conference itself was fantastic. I learned a lot, was wonderfully entertained and, best of all, I met some incredible people – some of whom I ‘knew’ from our interactions online, while others were fellow writers there for the same reason as me. They wanted to progress in their career as an indie author.
I just wish they’d got to meet the real me.
That may sound strange, but it’s an issue that’s been on my mind a lot recently. When I meet someone new, they see me frail, stooped, struggling to speak, and using a walking stick to get about. That’s so different to the person I was just two years ago.
And not just physically.
In addition to looking a lot older, I now feel older. No, not just ‘older’…
I feel old.
I feel washed out. Like all the fun of life has gone away. Where once my mind would be a pinball machine of ideas and opportunities, it’s now a straight-laced list of medication, appointments, pain, discomfort, and working out how much writing I’ll be able to do before I can no longer sit at my computer.
And I hate it.
I cope with it – with the help of Kirsty, Sam, Arran and the rest of my family and friends. I deal with it as positively as I can. I work at it, finding techniques that will ease the aches, pains and worries.
But, deep down, I hate it.
I won’t be the same again.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, and what some of you will say in the comments below this post. That I need to stay positive and work at getting the old me back, and that it’s only a matter of time until I’m well again and back to normal.
But, that’s not true.
Even if I completely recover from all of this, and start bouncing around again, I still won’t be the old me.
This cancer bollocks has changed me for good.
Yes, there will be a time when my days are not ruled by regular painkillers, daily medication to keep my weak and weary body going, and when eating and speaking will no longer be a struggle.
I’ll put on weight, build up my muscles and gain strength, I may be able to correct my stoop and, eventually, walk without the aid of a stick.
But I still won’t be the old me.
During a discussion about this at the weekend, Barry put it best. He posited that I’d been through a decade or more’s worth of illness and bad luck in the period of – at this point – just two years. He said I’m bound to look older, and bound to feel older. Because cancer has changed me.
I am a very different person now.
Even though I don’t want to be.
Please don’t think I’m not keeping a positive outlook. I am. I face every day as the challenge it is, and set out to slam-dunk it (or, in the case of hotel beds, dive-plummet it). I’m nowhere near as depressed about all of this as I was a year ago, even on the bad days.
However, I have to face the facts as they are.
The old me has gone. Forever.
And I miss him.