Usha, Canada

All stories

The fourth of July

Its the 4th of July and almost 11 PM, my husband K tells me something that makes me smile and wonder. He says “Remember 4th of July, last year?”

4th of July 2012.

It had been two months since I had been diagnosed with cancer. Two months of endless doctors visits, tests, scans, biopsies, more doctors, and a surgery. And 4th of July 2012, was the day I would begin the dreaded chemo.

The day begins bright and sunny as most days in Singapore, but the inside of my head is cloudy. I can’t form a coherent thought. My staunch atheism having been shaken , I consider praying for something, except I am not sure what. That the chemo be easy on me? But what if that made it easy on the cancer too. No, I want the chemo to hit me (and the cancer) with everything it had. It messes with your head, this idea of having to take medications that make you violently ill, to eventually get better. Would I be able to hold up? So, I close my eyes and say to whoever may be listening ‘Please ,make it okay in the end.’

Its 8:45 AM and K is still washing up after breakfast. We are late for the 9:00 AM appointment.

“If you are going to be late, lets not go!" I say. I am only half-joking.

As I wait for K to get ready, I look at the sheet the doc gave me with a list of side effects I could expect. It’s a long list, I had read it several times before, but still reading it on paper is one thing, the idea of actually facing them makes my stomach knot and palms sweat. Courage has never been my thing.

So we go to the GMC. After a brief meeting, with the doc , they take me to the ‘Infusion Lounge’ which sounds like a high end club, and doesn’t look too shabby either. Comfy chairs, blankets, cushions, and the rhythmic beeping of the regulators.

The nurses get the bright red coloured Adriamycin and the colourless Cytoxan hooking it up with saline to dilute it, sticking the needle into my arm and the drip starts. I watch the fluid as it comes slowly down through the maze of tubes and finally disappears into my arm.

I glance over K, sitting next to me. He looks terrified, like he might pass out any minute. He has been watching the drip come down too. He sees me looking at him and manages a brave smile. He reaches out and holds my left hand.

15 mins later, we are halfway through the infusion. I dont feel any different yet. But I need to pee. So I get up and make my way to loo, dragging the IV with me. I see my bright red pee, the first sign that the chemo has made its way all through my body.

I come back to the lounge. K is looking at me expectantly. I just nod and say ‘red’.  

In the next 5 mins, I begin to feel the effects. My energy seems to physically seep out of my body. I start feeling tired and drowsy, and fast losing the ability to think straight. When JK Rowling wrote about Dementors giving you the Kiss of Death, she did not know how accurately she describes the effects of chemo coming on.  

Soon we are done, and I am unhooked from all the drip paraphernalia. The nurses tell me to take care cheerfully, but I dont really register. I get up and walk slowly, K holding my hand.

Back home, I curl up on the sofa. K props me up with cushions, a quilt, and some books and my laptop in case I want to read. But reading, thinking, browsing, everything seems like too much work. I just want to sleep.

“I will remember this day, the Fourth of July, year after year, every year, for the rest of my life,” I promise as I drift off, weakly, but sincerely.

Its today, 4th July 2013.

My prospects that seemed so bleak, sad, unbearable even, have so dramatically changed just a year on. A recent scan found no cancer in me, I feel fit and strong and healthy, my lovely and wonderful and awesome boyfriend K and I are married, K has an awesome job that he loves and despite the many challenges our love and laughter has only increased, we are looking forward to an epic bucket list trip in August. Until 11 PM today I didn’t even think about the Fourth of July, last year. My fervent promise to myself didn’t last even one year, K had to remind me.

I smile now. I wish I could have known this then, could have known how much happiness, excitement, and love was coming my way. It might have made the day a little easier on me.