Fifty-one calendar days and thirty-three radiotherapy sessions later, I've handed back my robe, distributed my chocolates (Lindt balls, naturally) to the other lockers, and been given my marching orders by the technicians and the nurses at reception. The message was clear: don't come back.
Paul set off early on his long-delayed trip to East Timor this morning, and my parents drove up from Grovedale to take me in to the hospital, bringing thoughtfully prepared pies and meals Joel and I can either heat and eat, or freeze for later. Example: a chicken and leek pie in a throw-away tinfoil case (no cooking; no washing up). They also brought me a fabulous present: a soft blue and white mohair throw-rug of dreamy lightness for my afternoon nap. It will be like sleeping in a cloud. OK, better for days when they aren't invoking the 'extreme heat' rule at the Australian Open tennis down the road, but still.
Joel, who has come to at least half the sessions with me, also brought the radiologists a present, a drawing he did over the weekend, from memory, of the second machine, viz:
Robyn and Peter will cook risotto for us tonight. And yesterday, when the temperature soared above 40, Paul's mother came and stood for hours in our sunny living room ironing right down to the bottom of the laundry baskets. At one point, it was so hot she moved the ironing board into the bathroom where it was slightly cooler. And it's not as if Jean doesn't have her own health problems. This was an act of love indeed: if ironing can save me, I'll live to be a hundred.
So I've finished the radiotherapy; Suzanne doesn't want to see me for nine months; and I think I heard Mitchell utter a cautious sentence yesterday with the word 'cure' in it. I'd give anything to wind back the clock again and listen properly. There are five more years of daily Tamoxifen tablets and monthly Triptorelin injections before he's finished with me, but in any case, I knew after my surgery that my prognosis would be good. Everything's gone smoothly; I've been treated beautifully; and my chances — and they are nothing but chances now — are good. The future looks bright.
I feel dreadful.
I'm a mess of sentiment and emotion. Margot came to the door yesterday afternoon and I fell into her arms sobbing. I started to cry all over the mohair rug today, and even more when Joel put his arm around me and laughed with me. I know I am not alone, too. This afternoon as I was joking with Janine and Barbara at my last session, my mother told me there was an old man in the waiting room, looking frail and holding his head in his hand as he cried quietly. And I saw a young woman in her twenties looking grey and drawn with her healthy, anxious partner looking at me in disbelief as I walked out smiling and joking and saying goodbye. (I still don't really look sick.)
The word I use to myself most often these days is 'overwhelmed'. It takes many forms, but today I keep thinking of the wonder of the body and what it can do. I've had a cluster of abnormal cells develop into a tumour that moved beyond the milk duct but no further into the lymph system. This milk duct also fed the child who was born of another extraordinary division of cells, who is now able to draw a picture of the machine that has helped cleanse me of any stray aberrant ones.
I'm pretty sure that if my case had been more serious, I would have been less willing and able to write about it. In almost every sentence I've written, I've been conscious that my case has been relatively mild. But it's been miraculous, all the same.
Perhaps strangest of all, on such a momentous day, after a sleepless night, I've had a good idea about how to structure the chapters in the Garter book. I've been just chipping away at this project over the last week or so for a few hours in the morning, and think I have found a way to establish different writing registers within the book.
Now ... OK, tomorrow ... it's time to turn attention back to the Piers Plowman essay, and to the re-submission of our big ARC grant. This is going to be pretty terrible, as we had polished and tuned every last detail this year, and now we want to make some changes to the scope of the project, which will affect every paragraph, every budget line, every hyphen-break. Oh well. At least I have my health.