Our Daily Bread
Preparation: take one young specimen displaying evidence of a high grade carcinoma and treat as follows:
- Ingredients: to be gathered and measured in advance.
Administer 60mg doxorubicin and 600mg of cyclophosamide: these are cyctotoxic and should be given intravenously every three weeks. Daily doses of dexamethasone, methylprednisolone, domperidone, lorazepam, morphine and lithium are required to combat side effects of nausea and pain. Monthly injections of Zoladex will stabilise hormone secretion. If Neutropenia occurs, causing bone marrow failure, stem cell injections are to be administered to the base of the spine.
The line slowly drips the poisonous, red formula towards my vein. ‘Happy sixtieth Dad,’ I joke through my fear, my guilt, my shame. He holds my hand, his eyes are watery. He mumbles something about getting a newspaper.
I don’t want to be here, in this room full of sickness, listening to the local radio and its banal pop tunes, trying to avoid exchanging ‘the look’ with the other patients. I am angry. I am too young. This is not fair on my parents. I don’t want to be a burden, I want them to be proud of what I’ll achieve with my life, not scared of what I won’t.
I look at my arm, slowly being pumped with toxins, then around the room again. Will these horrid plastic chairs still be here long after I’ve joined the ranks of ‘We’re so sorry but we can only offer palliative care now?’ Am I to be outlasted by some poorly designed furniture?
- Mixing: ingredients are combined into a smooth uniform dough and fermentation is initiated.
Watch the patient for signs of myelosuppression, thrombocytopenia, immunosuppression, mucositis or alopecia and treat as necessary.
She holds what little hair I have remaining from dangling into my vomit stream. My dignity is already stripped, having soiled myself twice tonight. I am a child trapped in a thirty-year-old body, helpless.
I rest my head against my arm on the toilet pan. ‘Thank you, thank you for moving in. I’m sorry, I’m such a baby, such a burden.’ I fight my tears, disgusted by my weakness. I am pathetic.
She holds me close and rocks me like she did when I was small. We sit on the bathroom floor, a hapless jumble. She rubs my back, ‘That’s what I’m here for, what I’ll always be here for’.
‘You should be enjoying your retirement not carrying me.’
‘Where do you think I’d rather be?’
- Bulk or Primary Fermentation: the dough is allowed to sit and ferment.
Watch for signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, nervous exhaustion and anxiety.
For a long time I dream my body is sinking like a submarine, slowly and silently, to the bottom of the sea bed. I descend deeper into the depths. Trapped, I try to call out for help, but I have no voice.
He has finally left. It is a relief not a sadness. This was the catalyst I needed to admit I was just pretending. I wanted to feel what my friends had found so we bought the sofa, merged our record collections, hung the curtains and waited. But love never came. He couldn’t face my scars and I couldn’t face an eternity with him. He told me I would never be naturally beautiful again. I am glad he said this. It made it easier to ask him to leave. After he has gone, I break through to the surface, breathe and begin to tread water.
- Folding: dough temperature is stabilised.
Introduce the patient to support groups as well as complementary – and counselling – services.
I meet Sylvia. I don’t want to talk to her. I don’t know her. I’m doing fine. She asks me questions. I begin to cry.
I didn’t know I was so fucked up. Painful things which happened long ago, things I have buried deep, are dug up, brushed off and revisited. They reflect pieces of my personality back at me – dark crystals from my soul. Together, we put them back. Not to fit precisely like a jigsaw, but simply to align them in a way that makes my brain understand and cope with them better now.
Friends create an online calendar so not a day or evening passes when I don’t receive a visit, a card, a phone call, a text. I finally realise that I am loved, that I am worthy of being loved. Useless, pointless and broken my body may be, but I am also loved. I deserve to live.
- Dividing or punching: the dough is punched and separated into individual portions.
Help the patient cope with undesirable outcomes. Introduce to other survivors.
Trish is dead. She is dead. Really, really dead. When I met her ten months ago they had told her she was clear. They told her to go out and live her life. Now she is cold and lifeless in a box.
I no longer wish to discuss my prognosis. I will not build my hopes on their sand. I will grow my own dream, my own future. I will set my own boundaries, my own limitations. I will not dance to the tune of this illness and I refuse to run a marathon. I am not Kylie Minogue or Lance Armstrong.
- Pre-shaping ready for Baking: the dough is shaped into consistent pieces and forms a resilient skin.
Help the patient consider the future. Create a back to work plan and help them to maintain an everyday pattern to ensure their long term survival.
I am thirty-three and have almost died. I have fought for 395 days. Next week I am going to Amsterdam with ten friends and I will go clubbing, drink excessively and get stoned. Then I will settle and find love – true passionate lasting love. I will be silly, frivolous and irreverent. I will not grow up. I will enjoy my life. I will not do anything amazing, I will not become famous. I will just be.
Jan Jessep is currently on ‘an inspiring writing course’ at Whitireia. She loves all food but was recently diagnosed as allergic to gluten and dairy. Now she can be spotted around town staring longingly into cake shops or pizza restaurants, or simply reminiscing in the confectionery aisles of supermarkets.