As Sarah and I were about to exit the M4 at Newport this morning, Art Garfunkel sounded through the car radio speakers singing I Only Have Eyes for You. I’ve always liked this version of the song with Garfunkel’s dream-like voice taking me into some other dimension. However, in recent years, this song has taken on a new meaning for me. As I drove down the exit slip road, my eyes began to fill with tears. This didn’t help, as I was just about to enter what is known as The Coldra Roundabout at junction 24. It’s one of those busy intersections with six roundabout exits, three lanes and numerous sets of traffic lights. Those who are vaguely familiar with the area in South Wales would know it as the junction at the Celtic Manor Resort, a world-renowned hotel and golf complex which has hosted the 2010 Ryder Cup and the world leaders at the 2014 NATO summit. I could tell you many things about this place, as I spent my childhood living in Ringland, the council estate situated barely more than a golf swing away from it on the opposite side of the motorway, when it was Lydia Beynon Maternity Hospital. But that’s my mind going off at a tangent – it does that a lot.
My task was now to keep my eyes clear as I negotiated the busy roundabout to take the fourth exit. It is only just over three years since Sarah’s first of six chemotherapy doses, administered at Nevill Hall Hospital at Abergavenny, 20 miles away. As we entered the ward where the deed was to be done, we saw about a dozen people dotted around, sitting in armchairs, seemingly motionless and in some kind of trance as they were all hooked up to intravenous drips. To add to the surreal atmosphere, the background music was the very same Art Garfunkel song that we were listening to on the car radio as we were driving along these roads. If you know the song, just pause for a moment and try to envisage the scene I described in the hospital and add the music to the picture.
I felt as if I were taking Sarah to some kind of awful fate, a little like the Stepford Wives from the film where the men from the town turned their wives into almost robotic, submissive servants. I certainly knew that we were, in reality, on the precipice of some very radical changes, and about to be thrust into the unknown for about six months. Around this time, Sarah had been put in touch with a private Facebook group of women called The Stars. There were 38 of them in total, all having been diagnosed with breast cancer at roughly the same time. They all gave each other invaluable support and formed a unique bond of girl-power that helped them through the tough times. Until yesterday, 33 of them had survived their cancer ordeal (pretty good odds, I suppose, when you look at the big picture), but yesterday, one of Sarah’s closest Stars, Barbara, ultimately lost her battle. All the feelings of fear, uncertainty and helplessness that Art Garfunkel evoked in my mind were accentuated by the reminder of what could have been with Barbara’s sad passing.
We have been lucky, of course, as Sarah has made a more or less complete recovery and we now live full and active lives. During the course of her chemotherapy, I posted a regular blog on Facebook. Our friends joined in with support and banter as we fumbled, staggered and even laughed our way through the experience. I compiled the posts and made them into a page on my website, which has been shared around the world, giving cancer sufferers a little light relief (or so I’m told). It’s one of our missions to try to encourage people to check for lumps and get things checked out at the earliest possible opportunity if they have any fears. It is this that has enabled Sarah to be with us right now. For us, everything has been a worthwhile journey in the end, but if we can prevent others from going through the same then that will have made it even MORE worthwhile.
Here is the link to our Chemo Diary:
Here’s a small sample of the blog just to give you an idea of what it’s about:
After a short walk around the village, the wife sits on the sofa then claims she’s so tired she can’t remove her shoes herself. What should you do?
- Tell her she’s making a fuss and that she should get off her arse and do it herself
- Pull them off aggressively because you’re fed up with being taken advantage of
- Tell her if she doesn’t take them off herself she’ll have to make her own dinner
- Tell her that nothing is a problem and remove them carefully, reassuring her that it’s all going to be worth it in the end
I need some advice on this.”
The web page can be a little slow to open on mobile devices such as tablets or phones, so be patient and give it some time. It should open immediately on a PC or laptop.