I bumped into a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. I say friend but he is more of an acquaintance, or rather one of those people you nod to in the lift on your way into the office.
‘So, how was it?’ he asked.
I knew what he meant but was taken aback. I had not confided my situation to him so assumed the rumour mill had done its work. What was disconcerting was the nonchalance of his query – like asking about the outcome of a meeting, or information about a weekend city break. I didn’t know how to answer.
I remember asking a similar question to a stem cell transplant online support group. The general response there was “tough but doable.” Was this the correct thing to say?
I wasn’t going to bore him with the savagery of what happened after transplant Day 0. He wouldn’t want in-depth knowledge of the months of vomiting, diarrhoea, deafness, infections, chemo-brain, transfusions, anaemia, CMV reactivations, or the gut and skin GVHD that tortures me still. He would dull the times I couldn’t stand for more than two minutes, couldn’t do the washing up or take out the rubbish, or when I was too exhausted to cook a microwave meal. It would be tiresome to know about the hour it took me to walk up a single flight of stairs, or the times I fell then sat there and sobbed because I was too weak to get myself up off the ground. He would grow weary if I detailed the weeks spent in hospital with sepsis wondering if I would make it through.
But I did make it through and after about nine months I felt like I was recovering.
They were right, it was tough. Tough beyond my reckoning. So tough I had to redefine the word. But I doubt if he would understand.
And doable? Perhaps.
While I started through the revolving door of sepsis admissions, my transplant twin, after only four months recovery, was phasing back into work. She mostly worked from home, but she was working, moving forward, moving on. As pleased as I was for her I was envious.
Another much younger and much fitter transplant twin didn’t make it. The toxic pre-transplant conditioning and chemotherapy was too much. The clinical team did what they could but her poor body just could not cope and her organs failed. On Day 27 post-transplant she died.
The three of us had the same underlying cancer, similar treatment journeys, and had our transplants at the same hospital under the same consultant and clinical team. However, our outcomes were dramatically different.
So, is it doable? For some and some do better than others. I’m one of the fortunate that has survived 349 days.
How do you put all of that into a response to So how was it?
I smiled and uttered inane words I no longer recall.