In some paediatric cancer units, the children are allowed to choose a bead for every medical intervention - each blood draw, chemotherapy dose, x-ray, etc. is recorded onto a long string of beads: their entire cancer journey mapped out in bright colours.
I often think about doing something similar - creating some outward recognition of the medical procedures that I've survived, but it's hard to know where to start. Lots of the things that have happened over the last few years are things that I barely want to remember, let alone celebrate. I don't have an illness with a finite treatment course, so I can't celebrate the end of treatment, clear scans or definitive surgery. The nature of my condition seems to be gradual decline, with various medical interventions along the way, as they become necessary. That's hardly something to be commemorated!
I have a Pandora bracelet with a single bead on it, named 'The Eye of the Storm'. It was given to me by a friend after I spent several days on a ventilator following a respiratory arrest. Of course it's a reminder of a scary time, but far more than that, it reminds me that I can seek refuge in my friends, even in the middle of huge medical 'storms', and that I don't have to find strength in myself alone.
This year, things have changed dramatically in my body. Losing the ability to eat normally has been devastating, and I suddenly have tubes and lines as a constant reminder of the support that my body now needs. I have a jejunostomy tube (a feeding tube into my small intestine) and a 2-3 inch surgical incision next to it. I have a Hickman line (an IV line that comes out of my chest and ends up next to my heart) for fluids, nutrition and medications. Sometime in the next few months, I expect to have a gastric neurostimulator (like a pacemaker for my stomach) fitted, which will be under the skin on my abdomen, meaning another surgical scar.
I think now is the time to add the next bead to my bracelet.
These new medical interventions have become my lifelines. Not tying me down (though I do have to be very careful when rolling over in bed while hooked up to three different pumps!), but freeing me - they give me the medications, the nutrition and the hydration that I need to function, and I feel so much better for it, despite resenting the intrusiveness of the tubes. I am grateful to have some colour in my cheeks (that I didn't have to paint on!), and am glad that my skin is starting to look smooth and bouncy, rather than reptilian and tissue-paper thin.
For the first time in a very long time, almost all my symptoms are controlled for at least part of the time - I am well-hydrated, am beginning to be well-nourished, and am absorbing the medications that I need. I'm not 'fixed' but I feel optimistic about good days ahead - days when I can go out, visit friends, entertain at home. There are so many exhibitions that I want to see (not least, Christian Louboutin at the Design Museum) and places that I want to visit. Even the thought of being well enough to get up and dressed and go out to read a book in the park fills me with glee!
This is what my second Pandora bead will represent - the freedom and opportunity that I gain from my new lifelines.
My lifelines - my hope for the future.