Phone calls

So this week I got the phone call to attend my very first hospital visit as a trainee Breast Cancer Support volunteer!

At this stage I have to shadow another volunteer until I am properly trained and confident enough to visit patients on my own.

THEY call it the buddy system: someone for me to observe and learn from. I’m calling it having a “handler”: someone to prevent me from immediately launching into the full, uncut run down of my own experiences, and frightening the patients!

My handler is a breast cancer survivor of 21 years – you cannot imagine how reassuring that is for a patient to hear.

Although it was only her second day post mastectomy, our patient had already been told that she would need to undergo chemo and radiation once she was sufficiently healed. Understandably she was still coming to terms with that….

My handler mentioned to her that I had recently completed both these treatments and that if she had any questions for me, she was free to ask.

**As I sat there nodding and smiling***

Hang on, WHAT?

I was expected to give input, like as in right now?

They were prepared to unleash the untrained beast?

What if I said the wrong thing and put this poor woman into a downward spiral; after all I may not be the best person to ask – I was initially so conflicted about all the treatments, especially chemo!

What if she asked me how I felt about having the treatment?

Or heaven forbid: How I had come to terms with it?

EISH! How could I not have thought about this earlier? What could or should I say?

I wasn’t sure that giving her the full story was appropriate: the tantrums, the tears, the constant lists of mental pros and cons?

I know I started sweating! Not sure if it was due to the fear of saying the wrong thing, stage fright with both of them looking directly at me, or just a hot flush…

I was practically in 100% meltdown mode when she asked me how I had felt about losing my hair.

Strangely enough, THAT I felt pretty comfortable talking about…

You will be pleased to know that the rest of the visit went well and my handler did not have to physically restrain me at any stage 🙂

But it really got me thinking about how and when my attitude towards the chemotherapy actually HAD changed. The memories of my Mom undergoing chemo were less than comforting, and I remembered writing those posts a year ago, so filled with trepidation, hopelessness and real dread…

So today I went back and re-read the post I wrote on my very first day of chemo – it seemed as though it was written by another, calmer, accepting version of me – so what had exactly changed in those few days?

Well, there were the phone calls…

The phone calls from Pete’s uncle who himself was undergoing chemo at the time and who had recently lost his wife to cancer.

He called to give me some pointers and to let me know what to expect when I arrived at my local Chemo Suite. He was open and honest but reassuring as he talked me through the process.

He gave me practical advice on what foods to avoid before and after chemo, what I should drink and what to pack for my chemo days.

We chatted about the people he met at the Cancer centre, the staff and the care. It was like having someone on the inside, someone who actually understood the foreign land I was about to enter. His voice was measured and calm and in turn the chaos and turmoil in my mind seemed to slowly quieten down.

So when I stepped into that room on that first day of chemo, instead of feeling totally overwhelmed, I was resigned, composed and prepared….

Over the next few months he would call to see how I was coping and would willingly answer all sorts of questions I had about ports etc. In talking to him I could get 2 perspectives on things: what it was like to be the person battling with cancer and what it was like having to watch someone they loved battle the disease. He always maintained that was definitely harder to be on the other side and that I also needed to be mindful of what Pete may be feeling. It was great advice…

Last week when Pete and I flew back from Cape Town we stopped off to say Hi, and although he was not in a great place with his own health, he was far more interested in telling us how thrilled he was that I was now Cancer free; AND hearing all about OUR holiday! I will never forget what he said about how great it was that we were taking time out to travel and how important it was to always do the things we wanted to do NOW and not to put them off for a later day that may never come…

So this morning we got another kind of phone call………

RIP Ken, and Thank You, you will never be forgotten.


“Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone” Pablo Picasso

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” J.RR Tolkien

“Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, “It might have been.” Kurt Vonnegut

“To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” J.K Rowling


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