A few days after the surgery, I’m in bed at home. My discharge from hospital is all a bit hazy, but I’m definitely home. Michelle has a night out pencilled into her diary and, for obvious reasons, she doesn’t want to go out. I tell her I’m alright. I feel fucking awful, but she deserves time to unwind a bit. She agrees to meet her friends, reluctantly. But she wants me to call her if I feel unwell. Michelle leaves and I have pain shooting through the middle of my head. I can taste chemicals and blood. I should check on the kids, who are asleep in the rooms next to ours, but can’t get up. My head’s pounding, the room is spinning and I feel sick. And I’ve already taken the maximum pain relief and other meds allowed.
“Boo hoo… you’ve got cancer,” I say aloud and force myself upright.
I stagger down the hall to check on the kids. They’re both fast asleep and tucked up in bed. I ease back into my bed, completely exhausted. I think about the moment. I’m hard on myself, but it’s for good reason. Self-pity will only weaken me and I need to be strong to make it through. I have to suck it up, be positive and believe I can do this.
I have a few appointments to see Mr Hogan over the next week and he tells me the surgery went well. The tumour is out and he has taken a biopsy. He cheerfully says he’s “Skewered” my stomach in order to put a PEG in, which makes me smile. The PEG is a plastic feeding tube going into my stomach, with a triangular blue plastic cap on the outside. It isn’t overly comfortable, but it’s going to be necessary if the cancer treatment makes me so ill that I can’t eat orally. If I reach that stage, the hospital is going to feed me with liquids via the PEG, which all sounds very cancer-like. The results of the biopsy are good, but I don’t understand the medical terminology Mr Hogan uses. He says putting me into the cancer system will be essential to eradicate the disease.
I soon have complications with the PEG, which pulls on my clothes and gets infected. A mixture of blood and fluid seep into the front of my shirt. There’s a searing pain like I’ve been stabbed in the abdomen which, of course, I have. I make a Friday afternoon appointment with Mr Hogan, who prescribes antibiotics and stronger painkillers. He also arranges to have the wound dressed by a nurse. The wound is cleaned and patched up with silver-based dressings.
It’s early evening when Michelle’s Dad drives me to a supermarket pharmacy to get medication and I double up in pain. I’m rocking backwards and forwards on a chair, holding my stomach with both arms. The front of my shirt is stained with a large patch of red goo. Out of the corner of my eye, I see people staring. I’m a bit distracted, but manage to glare back. After what seems an age, but is probably only a matter of minutes, the antibiotics and strong pain relief turn up and I take the pills immediately. No time for a cup of water, so I just gulp them down. I must look like a drug addict, but I’m in too much pain to care.
Unbelievably, it takes more than a day before the pain ebbs to a continual throb. The next week is taken up with nurses regularly dressing the wound until I’m given the necessary kit to do it myself. I dress the wound every day for months and am in a state of discomfort with that PEG, which sticks out and often gets painfully caught on my shirt.