the down side

Well, that last post got me a little more attention than I had planned on. Apparently mentioning in passing that, yeah, sometimes you cry, or just think the worst things when you are wide awake in the wee small hours, makes people worry.

I don’t want people to worry. Really! For the most part, I’m good and fine and cheerful and — apart from the ugly cold I’ve managed to catch, and a wee touch of cancer (haha, tumour humour there), feeling healthy and strong.

But I do want to be honest, even when that honesty might be painful or unsettling. I have to ask myself what is the purpose of recording any of this journey? Is it to document how I really feel and think as I travel through uncharted (for me, at least) territory? Is it to let people who care about me or have a mild interest in my life know what’s going on? I guess it’s both — and I ultimately want to be able to look back at what I have written, one day, with that odd feeling of distanced recognition: “I know I went through that, but I no longer remember feeling that way”.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my friend Chris. I think of him quite often anyway — I’ll hear a song, or read a book, and wonder what he’d have thought of it, and want to flick him an email and ask him.

I can’t though, or at least, if I did, he wouldn’t answer— Chris died of bowel cancer in 2012, just shy of his 33rd birthday. Of all the things to end up having in common with him, and it’s getting bum cancer unusually young. I wish I could talk to him about it.

Because having cancer, in my experience, is lonely. That’s not to suggest that I don’t have an abundance of amazing, supportive people around me, propping me up and cheering me on; I do. But while all of them are coping with their own stresses related to supporting their friend or family member who has cancer…I am the only one who actually has the disease. Only I know how it feels to be part of this particular club, and to experience the emotional rollercoaster that comes with it. Add a healthy dose of not wanting to burden people with my mixed up emotions and definitely not wanting people to pity me; guilt over how my diagnosis throws a spanner into the works not just of my own life but for all those who love me…it’s turbulent, all right.

The first thing that you have to give up is a sense of control. Over anything. Within 24 hours of my diagnosis, I was being instructed where to be, and when: dozens of hospital appointments and consultations, each one involving strangers poking and prodding me, looking intensely at my body, injecting me with dyes and radioactive substance, drawing blood, and asking question, upon question upon question. My time is no longer my own; though I now have nothing but time on my hands while I wait for the surgeries that will remove the two tumours inside me, I can’t plan trips or events far into the future, because I don’t know if I’ll be in hospital, or mid-chemo, or healing from surgery, or how any of those things will affect me. Life, at the moment, is literally day by day. I’d rather have things to look forward to, and right now, I’m looking forward to when I have some sense of certainty and control back. I don’t know when that will be.

The second thing — and this is bound to be upsetting — is that sometimes, usually when I’m not at my most emotionally robust — I think about the end. My boyfriend — ever patient and loving, even though this cancer thing isn’t what either of us signed up for — told me that he senses a tension in me recently that wasn’t there before I was diagnosed. I’d regard it as more of a weight; an awareness of my own mortality, that my days (nobody’s days!) are infinite. Let me be clear: the surgeon thinks he can cut all the cancer out. It’s only spread to one other, accessible and operable point. The prognosis is good. But there’s that tension, the undercurrent of what if? One day I’ll just cease to be, and no matter how far away that day is, I always thought there’d be more time.