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Alison Napier

I am waiting for my chemotherapy to start. There are five more sleeps until Friday.

Then I will go to the big Chemo Club room at the hospital and join the ten or so other people sitting in chairs with needles and wires and tubes attached to hands and arms.

I am appalled; fearful and tearful. Today in my Sunday Herald I began reading about the lack of an expensive drug in Scotland that can work for incurable conditions. Apparently it has been approved for use by NICE in England but there is a different system here. I read on, gingerly, and yes, it is a cancer drug.

A campaign is being fought by a woman who had, yes, breast cancer.

She had had 'conventional chemotherapy' following breast surgery but then the cancer spread to her brain and was incurable. I hope she got better or got the drug because I could not read any further. I felt the surge of rage and helplessness rush through me that makes me want to smash a room and throw chairs out windows while screaming and roaring, unhinged, uncontrollable, inconsolable. Perhaps my one rogue lymph node has fired off malignant cells to my brain already.

Perhaps that is why I am forgetful and shaky and short tempered. Or perhaps, and almost certainly, I am simply displaying classic symptoms of wholly understandable anxiety. I will try and finish the article later today.

I washed my hair as this is something that makes me feel better. I swapped my delapidated slippers for shoes and felt more grounded. I went to the kitchen and carefully and slowly sliced onions while olive oil heated in a large pan. Then peppers, garlic, courgettes, an aubergine and eight tomatoes. I am making batches of healthy soft meals for the freezer. Today it is ratatouille, yesterday it was nine portions of lentil soup, and two of roasted vegetables.

The oncologist, a different doctor, was lovely and we saw her last week. She described the treatment (FEC for the first three sessions then something else stronger ('more aggressive') that will be used for the final three sessions) and gave me the start date. I will engage with the final three drugs when the first three have been navigated. FEC stands for the unpronounceable combo of Fluorouracil, Epirubicin and Cyclophosphamide and has a range of side-effects including (but not limited to) nausea, extreme fatigue, total or partial hair loss (almost always on day 14 apparently, although the specific hour was not mentioned), stomach problems, increased risk of infections, anaemia, bleeding, oral thrush and ulcers, bladder irritation and diarrhoea.

There are others too but that seems enough. She said she was sorry it was called FEC and that it was delivered on Fridays. 'Fecking Fridays, we call them,' she said. We laughed and I still liked her despite the news she imparted, and she showed us round the chemo suite.

I have looked at the websites for wigs and hats for bald women and they all seem to be for beautiful tanned young people who model for Vogue. And nothing screams chemo more than a floral turban with a scarf-effect hanging down the back. I wanted to wear an original Fair Isle beanie hat but I fear the wool would be itchy on a newly bald scalp. My lovely friend Sarah has offered to buy me one directly from a knitter on Fair Isle. This feels too much (too expensive) but perhaps I will let her as a leaflet also said that it is important to accept offers of help even if it is uncomfortable and unfamiliar to do so.

I don't know how hair falls out. Will I wake one morning, sit up, look round and find the pillow covered with short grey tufts of hair, like the aftermath of a cat that has caught a pigeon? Or will it all fall out in the shower and clog the drains? Or will it just blow off in a gale, to be tossed into trees and used for next year's nests? Will it hurt? I think I will miss my eyebrows and eyelashes even more than the hair. Someone said to draw the eyebrows on with an eyebrow pencil. I do not know what this is as I have reached the age of 58 without ever – ever – applying any sort of make-up. Why would I. This is not the time to start drawing on my face.

Or is it?

Last week my octogenarian father sent us some money to spend on a holiday when this is all over. Twenty-five years ago he watched his wife (my mother) deal with breast cancer surgery and radiotherapy, get the five-year 'all clear' and then die two years later from leukaemia at precisely the age I am now, and I know he is alarmed. Tomorrow I will travel north to visit and reassure him that all is well. Suz and I debated holiday destinations over large rums but as it will be at least February when all this is over, the warm places (Cuba, Madeira, Morocco) are too far away and the near places (my beloved France and northern Spain) will be chilly and damp.

And airports and flights do not feel restful.

Then, last night as I lay awake at 0400 I decided that it would be lovely to find a cosy hotel in maybe the Borders or Yorkshire that looked out over the winter sea and had a log fire in the bar and delicious food in the restaurant, with room service if I was flagging. So this is the next project. North Berwick is looking possible, with Whitby a close second. We will go by train and I will wear a Fair Isle beanie hat.

Google is now bombarding me with tripadvisor adverts for hotels in Cuba and wigs'R'us hair-loss solutions whenever I log on. This is the new normal.

I've never been to North Berwick or to Whitby and I'm looking forward to it and to gazing out at the sea again.

To be continued....

EDITOR:

Episode 1 can be found here.

Episode 2 can be found here

Episode 3 can be found here.

Episode 4 can be found here.

Episode 5 can be found here.

Episode 7 can be found here.

Episode 8 can be found here.

Episode 9 can be found here.

Episode 10 can be found here.

Episode 11 can be found here.

Episode 12 can be found here.

Episode 13 can be found here.

Episode 14 can be found here.

Episode 15 can be found here.

Episode 16 can be found here.

Meet The Author...
Alison Napier
Who Am I?

Alison Napier is 58 and was diagnosed with a Grade 3 breast cancer in June 2016. She is a social worker to trade and is also a writer. Her short stories are published in many collections and anthologies in both Scotland and England and her non-fiction has appeared in a variety of national newspapers and journals.

She lives in Perthshire with her partner Susan, enjoys her allotment on an island in the River Tay (regrettably prone to regular flooding…!), cooks once a week for a lunch club for older people and plays the recorder with a fine bunch of friends in her spare time.

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