Friday, 14 September 2012

Walking the walk

I’ve started making the old-man groaning noise when I get out of chairs, except with more swearing. I’ve got to say – this cancer thing’s full of surprises. My legs have seized up.

Not entirely, I should say. But it’s not comfortable.

Every hour or so I try to remember to get up from my desk and take a stiff-legged stroll around the office; to the kitchen, the toilet, the vending machines - any destination which has some point to it and which takes me out of view for a bit, so I don't look like I'm doing some kind of circular Boris Karloff impersonation among the islands of workstations.

My wife Clare was first to call it my Frankenstein walk. Frankenstein was, of course, not the monster but the scientist, who as far as I remember had no mobility problems, but Clare's far too sensible to let that get in the way of a perfectly clear description which everyone will understand instantly. I, on the other hand, am far too much of a pedant not to, so I privately call it the Bangles Bimble: I'm thinking of the mummy from Scooby Doo - I Walk Like an Egyptian.

The stiffness is the result of coming off steroids about six weeks ago. I've mentioned it here before, but it's currently the after-effect of my treatment which is bugging me most, so now it's going to bug you again.

Apparently the ligaments in my legs and back have loosened up, but it doesn't feel like looseness: quite the opposite. I stomp around straight-legged until things slacken off, I haul myself out of chairs with my arms if I have sat for too long and am having difficulty with the knee-unbending and thigh-stretching, and going up stairs is difficult. Which is a particular bugger when you live up four flights. My adventures on Google suggest this could last for three or maybe up to six months.

But it will pass.

I'm also now off the chemo. Its abiding after-effect is fatigue, which is much worse than the locked-up legs. But at least it comes and goes, while the stiffness is always with me.

As usual, day one of the final chemo was fine, but then... who'd have thought there could be so many flavours of tiredness? Degrees, yes - but types?

Over the remaining four days of the course and for a day or two after I experienced a weird series of ups and downs ranging from mildly sleepy to bone-sick exhausted.

At my worst, while I was still popping the poison, I noted that each type of tiredness had a different feel or texture, and wondered if I should become a connoisseur of fatigue and catalogue them here like whiskies. Then I wondered if I might not just be rambling: I was quite tired - at that point a dull little number with a sort of numbing sensation in my shoulders and arms, if you're interested.

That was about three weeks ago. Since then I have had days when I have been alternately energetic and shattered, days like yesterday when I have woken up tired, and days like today where I feel more-or-less normal.

I’m told the after-effects of the chemo could also last perhaps six months. It might not be so long, given my relative youth and strength, but I'm prepared for the days of unpredictable tiredness to continue for a while.

And eventually this, too, will pass.

In the meantime, the trick is to make the most of things even when the symptoms are making their presence felt. Just marking time, looking forward to the end of the stiffness, the end of the fatigue, and ignoring the present would not be healthy. It would be like treating the working week as days to be endured until the weekend comes, the month as time to be tolerated until payday; people do that, but it's wishing your life away, and those of us on the cancer-go-round are a bit sensitive about that.

So I get on with things. I go to work. I make plans to do stuff as I always have and, mostly, I keep to them. I went to see Patti Smith in concert last week and loved it, even though my legs were in agony after the two-hour stand.

Maybe if I were a sporty type all this would be harder, but I play with gadgets and with words, and I don't have to move much for either.

Anyway, most days aren't tired days, these days. It's getting better.

But when they are, I read and write and watch and listen and generally learn new things. Oh, and play obscenely violent computer games - that's a good one. Obviously, all that is as far as concentration allows; the fatigue regularly dictates that I put down the newspaper, Kindle, laptop or handset and just kip. I do resent that a little as wasted time, but it can also be pleasant, so I feel I should just enjoy it.

Here in the Tumourland Fun Park, it's important to enjoy all the rides.