Recently there was a final straw and I crash landed in the place known as Rock Bottom. I spent about a day and a half there. It started in the night. I was waking up several times an hour with hot flushes. Each time I woke up to the same thought on repeat. I don't like being alive, I don't want to be alive if this is what my life is. I'd briefly fall back to sleep, but soon wake again, boiling hot and with that poisonous mantra running through my mind.
I couldn't shut the thought out. It was there every time I woke up, ready and waiting for me. I didn't know what was happening to me, and it was frightening. Not because I was at risk of harming myself - I wasn't (this wasn't about wanting to die, it was about being exhausted and burned out from a life that has been dominated over the last four years by death, illness and other stress) but because I was in such a dark and oppressive place and I didn't know the way out. Have you read Touching the Void by Joe Simpson? (If not you must, it's excellent.) I felt like my rope had suddenly been cut and I had plummeted into a pitch black crevasse: alone, exhausted, empty, broken, hopeless.
While I was at Rock Bottom I had a hospital appointment for an ultrasound scan to check the size of my tumours after chemo. I'd requested it because I didn't believe the oncologist had really felt a "hole" where my tumour was when she examined me a few weeks before. I knew of a couple of people whose chemo had not been having the effect it should and I was worried. The appointment was almost two hours behind schedule and I spent that time sat in the corridor waiting area, gown on, cold, doing all I could to not start sobbing like I had been at home. Finally I was called through and I lay there on the same hospital bed in the same ultrasound room where I'd laid five months before for the "peace of mind" ultrasound scan that diagnosed me with cancer. The woman doing the ultrasound scan (sonographer?) scanned away. She kept going over to the big screens to check my original scans. Scan, check, scan, check. She had the nurse turn the lights on so she could see the scars and check exactly where my original biopsies had been taken. She scanned some more. Then she said "Sarah......." and paused. My heart stopped and my stomach turned. "You've done really, really well on chemo. I can't find anything at all." I burst in to tears. She showed me the images - the originals and the new ones. The tumours were gone.
Back in the corridor and more waiting for my next appointment which was with my surgeon. The tears stopped and I knew I should be relieved and excited about the scan but I felt numb. Despite that, the appointment with my surgeon went well. We discussed and agreed what surgery I was having, and I found out my surgery date. I stood topless in front of him and he got a marker pen and drew all over me and took photos. He reassured me about surgery, about time in hospital, and about recovery at home. We said goodbye - the next time I see him will be the day of surgery.
When I came away from the hospital, I soon realised I was still in the crevasse. The crevasse was my reality and the time in the hospital with the nurses and my surgeon were a temporary dreamlike escape. I felt guilty. My chemo had obliterated my cancer, and I didn't even like being alive or feel that I had anything to live for (beyond "possibilities" or "opportunities" or "hope"). My friend on the other hand had just found out a new tumour had grown while she was having chemo. She has a family, a husband, children. She was the one whose cancer should have been obliterated by the chemo, not mine, because I didn't even care any more. Things should be different. This wasn't right, or fair.
I went to the doctor feeling like I'd lost my mind. It wasn't my usual GP so I had to explain everything that had been going on. Turns out being diagnosed with cancer, spending months being injected with loads of chemo poisons and other drugs like steroids (some of which seriously mess with the hormones and chemicals in your body), stopping and starting medication because you're forgetful, along with being ill and stuck at home, hearing bad news and being in other difficult situations, would catapult anyone to Rock Bottom. The doctor didn't think I'd lost my mind, she thought I'd been through too much.
Chemo was finished and the drugs should be working their way out of my system, I was getting better from the cough/cold I'd had, and I'd already signed back up to counselling at Coping with Cancer (and thanks to a miracle, with the legend of a counsellor I had before) so the doctor told me to be nice to myself, and to see and talk to my friends asap, even if I didn't feel like it, and tell them how I was really feeling, and not worry about making them worry about me.
I did just that. I offloaded to a few of my close friends, and also on the YBCN (Younger Breast Cancer Network) forum - these are the women who really understand the crap I'm going through. I hoped for understanding about how hard things had been. I got bucket loads of that, but I also got a surprise. People started saying really nice things about me that I didn't expect. I had been feeling completely shit about myself and my self esteem had nosedived to zero. Suddenly and unexpectedly I was feeling loved, appreciated, worth something. I can't put in to words how much some of the things people said meant to me.
I kept busy over the following few days, including meeting up with some of my YBCN friends for lunch and drinks, and having the annual Christmas eatathon with some of my oldest and bestest friends. And then I was adopted by my amazing friend Emily and her family for Christmas. I spent a week as part of a big, warm, loving family and it was incredible. I had a good time, I met some people who inspired me, I learned things.
Rock bottom already seems like a long way away now. But if I end up there again, I know how to escape. Tell the people who care about me where I am. They will help me get away.