January 30 2009
This day ten years ago, in an attempt to have a second child, I got pregnant with cancer. I didn’t know that you could create your own cancer, but you can. Learn something new every day.
We started trying for a second child as soon as the town planning permit had been approved for our renovations. We were cutting it fine but if all went to plan in ten months or so we were to have a big baby, a little baby (18 months apart) and a big brick box on the back of our house. Q. How do you make God laugh? A. Tell him your plans.
We got pregnant in one go. I was excruciatingly tired and spectacularly nauseous, but egged on by the fact that I knew it shouldn’t last more than three months and couldn’t last more than nine. Leo if he was boy, Nina if she was a girl. At 14 weeks pregnant I began to bleed and then came strong, dull, relentless pain. An ultrasound discovered that there was no baby in the first place.
That’s right, no baby. Yes I was pregnant, but there was baby.
I’d been incubating what is called a hydatiform mole. There are various ways this can occur but chances are two sperm fertilized an egg with the same time. One egg, one sperm equals 46 chromozones and you get a baby and a placenta. One egg, two sperm equals masses and masses of carcinogenic placenta that multiplies at a rate of knows. Placenta produces the hormones that make pregnant women tired and nauseous which explains why every morning I’d been feeling like I had spent the night in a tumble drier. I had the t morning sickness equivlant for triplets.
I was given a curette the following day.
I wrote at the time “This is no tragedy. All you have to do is watch the nightly news to realize that if this is our biggest problem we are pretty bloody lucky.” I was 30, had successfully made one baby and chances were we’d make another, we had just been forced to slow down our hammer and tongs life. We couldn’t try for another baby until the mole (which is a form of cancer appropriately named because it is able to burrow through the walls of the uterus and create tumors elsewhere) had not reared it’s ugly head for nine months.
But it kept coming back. After another curette and see sawing hormone results it was determined that I undergo what would become a three month course of chemo therapy. “Do you want to have a cry?” asked my partner.
“No. To tell you the truth, I feel very relieved.” At least I finally knew what was going on-bliss for a control freak like me.
“And after you get back down to normal we will give you one more fortnight of treatment.” Normal. I had forgotten that it was possible to be normal I had not been normal since the pregnancy had started five months before. And I had been breast feeding for 11 months before that and pregnant for almost 10 before that. I was pissed off that I was looking down the barrel of more fatigue and more nausea and all for what? Stuff all. Some random chromosonal stuff up. Not fair, I’d signed up for a baby five months before, not chemo. Not in my wildest dreams.
This is the best bit. Our renovations started a week after the chemo started and finished a week after the chemo had finished. We had the back ripped off our house in the middle of winter and were existing in three rooms crammed full of all our possessions. No kitchen, no bathroom and portaloo out the front. Both of us were working from home with a toddler, a 30kg dog, no backyard and me having chemo. The winter of our discontent.
I didn’t go into hospital, I had injections every day of every other week. People phoned “Hello tragic cancer friend how’s it all going?”
“Not bad, not bad, keep knitting me that beanie mate.” For the first few weeks I was inundated with calls from loving and (understandably) curious mates “What’s it like?”
“What chemo? Not that bad, you get free biscuits.”
At first I was scratching around for side effects, a little tired, dry eyes and my taste buds seem to have gone on holiday. But as the weeks progressed the accumulated affects really started to make their presence felt; thrush of the esophagus, diarrhea, a severe strep G throat infection, a wicked gastric bug that made me feel like I was passing chili sauce, pleurisy, drastic weight loss and boring old nausea. No, I didn’t lose my hair and I kept working writing and performing jokes for a living, what a laugh.
There were also the renovation side effects; mud trampled all over the floor by us and the ever present builders, plaster dust, incessant jack hammers, drills, bobcats, constant queries from architects, window reps and building inspectors. We had no heating, a frustrated dog, bored kid, nurses turning up in the middle of everything needing a place to wash their hands, neighbors threatening legal proceedings, microwave food, stress from clutter and no space.We had no running water so we had to wash humans and dishes in a bucket.
Renovating! What were we thinking? We just pretended that we were camping.
People constantly offered help. My mum cooked, babysat and did our washing, people turned up with food and invited us over for dinner, our neighbor walked the dog, our mates around the corner even went to the lengths of letting us to go over to their place during the day while everyone was at work and school.
I never got better at receiving but the whole journey taught me to be aggressive about helping. Many people said “Call us if you need anything” and you know what? We never called. It was the people who forced themselves on us who got to help. My mum’s house burned down a few years ago, some people tried to help in ways that she didn’t find helpful but it was the people who did nothing that she was angry and disappointed with.
The house got finished and I six months later I received a letter telling me I could try and have more children. So I had two. I shudder as I look over my shoulder at the three months of building and treatment, it was just one of those things. Life is full of ‘one of those things’. If someone close to you is doing it hard just hop in and help, be an angel and don’t stay long. It doesn’t have to be death, birth, cancer or renovations either, just garden variety flu, melancholy or time deficiency is enough reason to help. When you don’t know what to do, do anything. ‘The best thing to do is the right thing. The worse thing to do is nothing.’ Theodore Roosevelt.