Content warning: Gross stuff ahead.

I’ve been tossing up whether to post this one. It’s possibly too much, even for me. But I’ve consulted some trusted advisors and they agree that if I’m going to tell my story, I should probably try and keep it as real as possible. And this is as real as it gets.

My arsehole.

My arsehole has had a visitor over the last one and a half weeks. Hector the Haemorrhoid. I didn’t even need to spell check that. I’ve googled that word at least forty times over the last seven days and the only thing that comes close in spelling is ‘haemorrhage’.

As an explanation for new readers, there are already a couple of characters in my story. In brief, Alan, the bowel tumour who set up an annexe in my liver, and Karen, the sneaky breast tumour who seems to be keeping a low enough profile for now.

Hector arrived post chemo and, to be fair, I wasn’t that surprised by his unwelcome entrance into the narrative. Chemotherapy treatment for colorectal cancer involves unavoidably riding a predictably uncertain wave of constipation and diarrhoea (yep, I can spell that one too). No amount of fibre is going to combat the concrete binding effects of anti-nausea and steroidal medication taken on the day of infusion. And no amount of gastro-stop is going to avoid the ring-stinging insistent hourly purging of one’s digestive tract. I’m sure I almost lost an internal organ down the bowl one day.

If one was to write the perfect recipe for conjuring a haemorrhoid it would involve either weighing down the internal organs with a three and a half kilo foetus or completely stripping the digestive tract of its ability to function by applying cell killing chemicals directly into the bloodstream. Insert the need to strain somewhat to shift said concrete in the bowel, and finally, add a dash of acidic diarrhoea to inflame the membranes. As a consequence, one must tread the potentially catastrophic pathway between laxative and loperamide in an attempt to manage all of the above.

Needless to say, I have failed. My bowels have failed. My patience has failed. And for the past 8 days I have had a large, seedless red grape, clinging and screaming loudly, on my arsehole. The pain is at once immediate, intensely unbearable, and for obvious reasons, unspeakable. Has the shame of its appearance stopped me from telling everyone about it? Clearly not.

“Hi Dad. How was your trip?…Yeah, I’m ok…yeah…I have a haemorrhoid…yeah, yeah, it hurts a lot…”

The worst decision I made was to attend yoga. Apparently, coming up to stand from a seated prayer position is equivalent to taking one’s newly acquired anal passenger and strangling it into a firm, aggressive headlock. I may as well have ridden a fucking horse.

So how is Hector travelling now? Well you’ll be pleased to learn that treatment for haemorrhoids hasn’t really changed in fifty fucking years and there’s no convincing a GP to stun-gun the thing into submission. Ointment. Fibre (fuck off with this please, on behalf of all the cancer folk, your fibre shit is useless in our world). Ice. Side-lying. Painkillers. The end. I am finally seeing some progress. I seem to have begun to whip Hector into submission.

And I have to go to chemo tomorrow. To start it all again. So I’ve decided I’m going to ask to forego the anti-nausea super tablet this time. I’d actually rather vomit for two days than go through the past week again. (Prediction: I will take this back after two hours of vomiting. I am a terrible spewer. Overly loud. Complainy.)

I’m sorry for those of you I have disgusted with this post. For those of you who have been through this, I see you and your haemorrhoids and I feel nothing but admiration at your ability to not publicly complain about this most humiliating of afflictions.

So this post is just more support for the “Cancer sucks” stance. Luckily, on the upside, it’s super glamorous and sexy.

PS. Hi Magro. I love you and your perfectly functioning arsehole. And I know you love me despite my haemorrhoids. Let’s get married in two weeks while this is still a thing.

PPS. At one stage I wrapped a Calippo ice-block in a paper towel and shoved it between my butt cheeks. The foil lid exploded on my numb ass and I sat oblivious in melting raspberry ice-block for twenty minutes before realising.

PPS. Ok, look. Fibre is important. Even if, and possibly especially if, you have cancer. It just sometimes isn’t enough.

Through social media I discovered a couple of women about my age who share my diagnosis (The Stage 4 Literal Shitshow). Both of these two women were diagnosed earlier and are a little further down the ‘living with cancer’ pathway. Naturally my curiosity and need to find someone else in the same position drew me to deep-dive their instagram accounts.

Initially I was so relieved to see these two women living their best cancer lives, several years post-diagnosis. They seemed to be flourishing despite their illnesses and beyond that, had managed to find space and energy to become the poster women for bowel cancer.

Between them they: host a regular podcast about the experience of hospital patients, are in the process of writing their first book, make regular appearances on television to promote bowel cancer awareness, hold down paid employment, represent patients on various hospital committees as well applying to become a board member of the Cancer Council.

At first I just felt so impressed with these powerhouse women who do all of the things. Their commitment to patient advocacy is just incredible.

But then I started to wonder…what the hell am I doing with my time?? Why don’t I have the energy or the inclination to do any of this stuff?? Should I be making more of an effort? How do I do better at having cancer?!!

Chill, dickhead. Once again, you’ve silently entered yourself into a non-existent competition – The Cancer Olympics. And you’ve established that the non-existent rules mean that being solely responsible for bowel cancer publicity and improving patient care outcomes is the object of the event.

How many imaginary competitions do we subscribe to in our daily lives? Not just since having a chronic illness. Why are we so hard on ourselves? It’s not like I need to add pressure to this situation.

I’m good at other shit. I make people laugh. I write this hugely famous blog* that has almost hit double figure subscriptions. I can tell a good story. I can get stuff down off high shelves for old people at the supermarket. I learnt to become a better leader in my workplace. I am decisive when ordering at restaurants. At yoga, I have learnt to direct my breathing to different parts of my body. I can look in a fridge and pull together a decent meal from its contents. I can do that impressive card shuffling thing where you split the deck and then concertina the cards into each other. I write thoughtful messages on greeting cards. I notice other people’s qualities and try to remember to compliment them in a really specific way. I’m punctual. I’m honest and I’m real (to the point of others’ discomfort).

I admire these women. They are doing important work for which I am incredibly grateful.

I’m just a different brand of athlete in the Cancer Olympics. And I’m doing all right.

* a blog that even Bowel Cancer Australia won’t share due to its offensive name and sweary content – trust me, I’ve tagged them multiple times.

Work is not an option for me right now. Some days in the fortnight I reckon I could probably phone in an hour or two of sub-par productivity but, in the interests of extending my lifespan, I am focusing on recovery as a full-time occupation. Whilst this might sound idyllic and a bit of a lark, as someone who doesn’t cope well with boredom, it isn’t as simple as just chilling out all day. It needs structure. I need something to do. Every. Day.

Since the Christmas holidays ended I have been building a repertoire of daily activities that make me feel like I am contributing something to the world and something akin to kicking Alan in the dick.

So…we have a personal trainer, Leah, coming to the house twice a week for resistance training. I try and walk Murray most days with the help of a family member (I can’t pick up the poops because of toxoplasmosis). I am reading again and have roped some friends into a book club. We are calling it TOOFAACC “Too old for an actual club, club.” I plan and prepare an evening meal every night except steroid nights when they won’t let me near the knives. I get in the water and swim as much as possible – I want this to become more like lap swimming but at the moment it’s just being in water. I write the blog. I rest when the fatigue hits – usually at about 2pm. I know. It all sounds like really basic stuff, stuff that many of you fit in regularly around full-time jobs and parenting.

Maybe that’s the point. Maybe basic stuff is the stuff some of us crave when our worlds are in a state of flux.

It has not once occurred to me to go seeking alternate therapies, prayer circles, spiritual enlightenment, personal development workshops, holistic pulsing, or any other remedies that people facing cancer often embrace. It’s not me. And it shits me to tears when people who know me well try and sell that stuff to me. People who know me better don’t even go there. My open-mindedness has limits. It’s not what I want.

What I crave more than anything, I think, is human connection that is as normalised and familiar, and reassuring as possible. When we do normal stuff together and you are normal around me, I feel normal and well, and like I’m not constantly reminded about Alan.

This is why I chose the yoga class run by the local council in a church hall. I knew before I arrived I would be the youngest person there by thirty years. I knew that nobody would be wearing anything by PE Nation or fucking Lulululululemon or whatever that brand is called. I guessed that it would be Hatha yoga. I guessed we might not start with a salute to the sun. I knew people would introduce themselves to me immediately on arrival and then proceed to praise the seventy-five-year-old instructor in the loud whisper that comes with old age, “She’s VERY good.” I knew there would be a high proportion of Margarets and Glenys’s and I was right. I was right about it all.

Not once did we stand. It was all floor-based and focused on an extended Shavasana. People smiled at me and looked towards me to make sure I was coping. They asked about where I was having treatment and loud whispered in response, “They’re VERY good there.” My body felt strong during the lesson and calm at its close. I felt supported by a group of strangers too old to be awkward in a social setting. It felt beautiful. I never once felt self-conscious. I never once had the thought that I wasn’t good enough.

So I’m adding Yoga to my weekly schedule. It’ll be good for my body but it will also be good for Alan to know I’ve added about ten senior citizens to my army. And many of them have had dealings with Alans before either directly or indirectly.

PS. Hair update – my friend Sharyn (at my insistence) shaved my head for me (number two all over) and we then decided to bleach it blonde and dye it lilac. I absolutely love it and I should have done it sooner. A lesson in trusting my gut and being decisive.