It had been dreadful. Two days ago I had been in the chemotherapy unit at the hospital. It was December 23rd, and the Anniversary of my grandmother’s death – the only person who had ever shown me any real love in my life. I came from a violent family, and many were the times that I had been shipped off to my grandparents’ farm in the dead of the night. My parents would have been fighting, and often there was breaking glass and clashing knives. I had spent my life, as a child and teenager, expecting one of my parents to be dead on the floor. I lived in fear. One time, my father put his hand through a plate glass window, and there was blood everywhere. One time he came at us brandishing a knife, and I thought that was it. We would all die. I huddled in a corner, waiting to die.
On arrival at my grandmother’s, I would be taken into her big feather bed, and for a time I would feel safe.
On December 23rd. 2013, I did NOT feel safe. I had been going through chemotherapy for six months, and it was always a horrible experience. I had always thought that cancer patients were given love and care in the hospital. This was not my experience. The staff were rushed off their feet, with too much to do, and not enough equipment. On one occasion they had even run out of the pump that pumped one of the drugs into me in a certain way, at a certain pace, which had to be very exact. The nurse had to do it manually, watching the pace at which the drug went in, all the time. One slip, and it would have spelled danger for me. Often, they did not even have pillows on which to rest my arm whilst the drugs were going into me – a process which took four hours. I had dreaded this day, knowing that all the nurses would be in Christmas spirit mode, and that I would be at even greater risk.
Christmas produced such bad memories for me anyway. Memories that I could not even bear to write down. Always, at the approach of Christmas, I would start to shake, my body would start to collapse, and I would feel as if I was going to be sick. Christmas Carols engendered a feeling of dread, and often I would feel as if I was going to pass out during them. I don’t know how I always, in the end, managed to hold onto myself. The feeling of suffocation produced an intense fear reaction in me, and I would want to run away. And here I was, in the chemo ward, trapped. There could be no running now. I could not even get out of bed. The music played while the nurses did their work, with all the jollity of the season. I was shown photos of grandchildren dressed in Christmas hats, on the mobile phones of the nurses. Babies, too. My mother had beaten my babies out of me. She had a deep hatred of babies, and had attempted to abort me – something that she constantly reminded me of, describing in great detail the blood running down the stairs of the flat that she and my father lived in. I survived, much to her displeasure. And now I had cancer – a very advanced cancer – and her opportunity to exterminate me had come again. Telling me that the family could not cope with me, she told me in no uncertain terms that I should relieve them of the burden by going to Switzerland to be exterminated – kindly. This, she never let up on. I should die. Out of consideration for the family. And now it was Christmas, and every horrendous memory of my childhood came back to me as I looked at the photos of all the nurses’ grandchildren in their Christmas hats. I should have died, and my own babies were dead. And I should most certainly die now.
The music played on in the chemotherapy ward, and the nurses were wiggling their bottoms in time to the music as they pumped drugs into people.
I had to wait. The pharmacy had not got everyone’s drugs ready on time. I was informed that it would be at least a two hour wait before they could start administering the drugs to me. Inside, I groaned. I began to feel fear. I began to panic. I was trapped. Trapped in Christmas! There was no running now.
I was in a tiny cubby hole at the end of the ward, as I had to be in a bed because I was so sick. Everyone else was in a chair, having their drugs administered. I was alone. Alone and trapped. But I could still hear the Christmas music, and see the wiggling bottoms. I needed to go to the toilet. I shouted for the nurses to bring me a commode. I was not heard, and I began to panic. I shouted louder and louder. Eventually I was heard, but was told to wait. They were too busy. I waited. The need to have a commode grew and grew until I thought I would burst. The Ward Sister came to me, and explained-kindly – that they were all busy, and to do it in the bed.
“It’s not a problem to me,” she said brightly.
“I don’t have to wash the sheets.”
I was aghast. And I most certainly was NOT going to do it in the bed!
In desperation, I got out my mobile phone, and rang my husband.
“I WANT TO GO TO THE TOILET,” I yelled.
“THEY WON’T BRING ME A COMMODE. GET ME A SOLICITOR HERE.”
As if by magic, a nurse appeared, telling me she was going to get the commode. Job done, I attempted to relax back. But this incident made the panic set in even more. A nurse passed by the end of my bed. I had had enough. I should be dead anyway, and in that moment I made the decision not to fight any more. I called to the nurse, and asked her for the papers to sign to discharge myself. I knew that this decision would end my life. I would receive no more chemotherapy and I would die. It mattered not, to me. I would be out of my suffering, and out of the abuse that had plagued my life. I would never have to see Christmas again. And my mother would be happy. It was the best way for all. My husband was exhausted, and he would no longer have to spend many hours of the night applying ice packs to my body, to try to quell the horrific itch that went from head to toe. At last, he would be able to sleep.
The nurse came to me, and, smiling, she said she would get me the papers.
Time passed, and no papers arrived, and all the nurses were ignoring me. Eventually, the Staff nurse arrived. I repeated the request for the papers. She smiled and went away.
The Christmas music played on. I was offered chocolates – the nurses had a big box of chocolates that they were sharing round. I could not even eat a pot of yoghurt, never mind chocolates! I wondered where my Discharge Papers had gone. Why were they not coming? This was MY decision, not anybody else’s, and I had the right to make that decision. They could not hold me prisoner like this. The panic within me rose even more.
Ultimately, my chemo drugs arrived. They had, as always, had a job to get the cannula in, and it had taken seven attempts. It hurt as the drugs went in. The last drug to go in was dacarbazine – one known to cause intense pain as it went in. I always dreaded the moment when it would start to go in. I was told that even grown men cried as this drug was administered. I never cried once – I determined to tell the nurses jokes as it was going in. Occasionally I would start talking really fast, as the pain increased. It took half an hour for this drug to go in, but on occasions the pump complained, and worked only in fits and starts – it would take a hour for the drug to go in. Despite my fear, it was Christmas, and I had to do the jokes. Inside I felt as if I was in hell.
It was late that evening that I finally got home, emotionally and mentally drained, and physically exhausted, despite the fact that all I had done was lie on the bed. But I had not been able to escape Christmas and all the horrific associations and memories. And the worst was yet to come – Christmas Day itself. I knew that my husband and I were going to be completely alone – with our memories of families who had cast us off, and lost babies. For myself, the memories were worse than I could ever dare to describe. We knew that most people were going to be with family or friends, and we had no one. My husband would continue to struggle to look after me – many times during the last months, he had fallen, trying to get any food at all to me. He too was disabled and in a wheelchair, but in the house he had to walk on crutches. It was a fearful time, for if he broke anything when ge fell, as he had done so many times in the past, we would be sunk. On Christmas Day we knew there would be no one to call on for help. Everyone would be ensconced in families, and my family had refused to come on that day. It had been suggested so many times that I should die, and as I contemplated the future for my husband and myself, I felt helpless and hopeless. He, too, was losing it somehow. Neither of us had any strength left. We talked, and we had a pact that on that day, we would both take some tablets, and without any more ado, we would both be gone. Hey presto – the end to our problems and everyone else’s as well. The worst thing of all was that we had no children – our babies had been killed. We had no one.
Somehow or other we found the strength to get through that day. I survived it, and I survived the cancer. But we are still alone – and we still have our memories. It is almost Christmas again, and we will have to endure Christmas Carols, and talk of families around dining tables. We will struggle to survive on that day, as we do every day. For us, each basic thing that we have to do, that may take two minutes for everyone else, will take half an hour. We will be exhausted.
And yet – I am glad I survived. I am glad I fought in the end. The only thing I wish is that we were not so alone. That someone would comfort us in our pain. But no one knows it. They could not – not unless they could walk a mile in our shoes.
We simply remember that Jesus, the Light of the World, was born in a stable, and that He too was in danger, and had to flee for His life. He, too, was abused, and ultimately killed on a cruel Cross. He knows my pain and sorrow, and as we sing “Hark the herald angels sing” the angels in heaven are singing because we have survived and go on surviving. By God’s grace we carry on – and that is all that any of us can do.