Showing posts with label pain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pain. Show all posts

Friday, February 05, 2010

It ain't over till it's over

So you have the surgery; and the radiotherapy (and if you're lucky, like me, you avoid the chemotherapy). And then you start the five years' hormone therapy. Apart from the obvious trauma and shock to the system of instant onset of menopause (that lace fan I bought in Venice in September is getting a good work-out this summer), and an abiding suspicion that you don't think or concentrate as well as you used to, you're going ok. But then, after a visit to doctor and gynaecologist, you remember that long list of possible side-effects of tamoxifen.

I'm sitting up in bed at home, recovering from a general anaesthetic, yesterday, for a hysteroscopy to remove uterine polyps that grow under the influence of tamoxifen. So far, everything looks benign: just one more pathology report to go. At once stage Deborah, my lovely gynaecologist, was talking about endometrial cancer and a hysterectomy and chemotherapy and the whole works, but it seems I have got off lightly. Though with two more years of tamoxifen to go; and the way it seems to stay in the system, chances seem high I may have to go through this process again over the next few years.

It seems a little harder to blog about this than having breast cancer, and I wasn't sure I would. But I'm too groggy to do any work today, and am not really feeling strong enough to get out of bed. It involves rather more intimate body parts, too, I suppose: my "lady bits", as I think Ampersand Duck or Pavlov's Cat refer to them. I can remember being a bit appalled when still at school by a girlfriend who referred coyly to her mother's hospitalisation for "women's troubles." Though that's exactly what it is.

And also, my goodness, are heads of programs supposed to be blogging about their intimate bodies? Will having this administrative responsibility change the way I blog?

Yet again, I found myself fascinated by my surgeon and the entirely female team who attended me yesterday, with the exception of the orderly who wheeled me into surgery. Where Suzanne, the breast surgeon, is goddess-like in her attentiveness and authority, Deborah is equally direct and focussed, but a bit closer to the other side of the austerity—warmth spectrum. I was very sorry when she came round to visit me when I was back in the ward, to tell me that everything was looking fine, because I couldn't hold an intelligent conversation with her. For two or so hours, I would start to weep and feel I was about to black out, every time I opened my eyes. I can remember, similarly, waking up from breast surgery and sobbing. It's an acute form of the depressive affect of the general anaesthetic, but it's an object lesson in forms of chemical or hormonal depression that last longer: you know precisely what's causing it; and yet you can't stop feeling terrible.

I'm feeling much better today, though my lungs seem very heavy, and my legs and arms feel weak, so I still haven't got out of bed. I'll get up later, for the joyous resumption of our Friday night ritual with our mirror family (two academic parents; one girlchild Joel's age), back home after their sabbatical in Oxford.

I'm supposed to start Italian class again tomorrow morning: I'm going to load up one of the CDs and do some revision while I doze...

Friday, August 15, 2008


About this time yesterday, I was at my desk at work, just packing up my stuff. I was about to ride home in the drizzling rain, meet Paul at home and go to our friend Kristin's opening, and then out to dinner at our favourite place (Joel was away for a week at ski camp and we were determined to go out together). I'd had some good classes this week and chapter six is coming along nicely. But I became conscious of a nasty pain in my stomach, and only started to feel a bit better when we sat down over our meal (Paul had the duck soup with dumplings and I started with six divine oysters, lined up in a row, each prepared differently), when I realised why my insides were knotted up in a fist-sized ball. It was stress.

What had brought this about? The situation at work is tricky at the moment. We are entering yet another round of curriculum reform and I have to devise a new subject in medieval literature that will attract goodly numbers of students (an enrolment under 40 is frowned upon and 100 is ideal!); but worse, the arts faculty is still in debt, and jobs will have to go. The first round of voluntary departures saw only a few (excellent) staff leaving; and the pressure on others is starting to be felt, with inevitable tensions. Well, have you published ten articles (or let's be really brutal and say "points") over the last five years? No? No sabbatical for you. And would you like to think about leaving, too?

Yesterday, then, I was copied into a bunch of emails, and had several conversations with colleagues who are doing their best to look after our staff, especially the less well established folk who are the ones mostly caught up in this, and to make sure these policies are implemented at least equitably, and not punitively. I'm not directly involved in any of this, and yet my stomach was knotted up in a way that kept me awake much of the night.

How much more ghastly, then, for those in the faculty whose jobs are threatened, who feel the weight of performance anxiety hanging over them every day?

I've not blogged about this much, but since this blog is about the intersections of the professional and the personal, even the bodily, I'm recording the way my body is registering the stress that runs through a faculty under pressure.

I think in my own case it affects me because, nearly two years ago now, when I first realised I might have breast cancer, I was in the thick of curriculum reforms and re-structuring debates I was finding difficult. So it seems like re-visiting that moment of mortal fear, too.

I don't want this post to sound too grim. I also want to go on record as saying I love my honours class this semester; the first-years I lectured to on Woolf and modernism this week were attentive and interested; my honours and graduate students are doing brilliant work at the moment, and I am bursting with ideas for the work and the writing I am doing and want to do. But when a much beloved institution gives you a pain in the pinny, the day can seem dark indeed.