A great and aching heart;
Wrung hands; and silence; and a long despair.
Life – what is life?
Upon a moorland bare
To see love coming and see love depart.
Love, What Is Love?
Robert Louis Stevenson
You know people often say nice things to me – complimenting and praising the way I have been dealing with the Yukky Lump and everything else that comes with it. They tell me that I am “brave” ... and “courageous” ... and “inspirational” ... and although the comments are well meant ... I must admit I treat them like water off a duck’s back.
Now ... don’t get me wrong ... if someone says they are reading the blog and enjoying it then I am absolutely delighted. If it means that I am succeeding in promoting breast cancer awareness, and sharing what it is like to go through the trials and tribulations of treatment, hopefully in an informative (and perhaps in a sometimes humorous and witty) way, then I feel I am making a difference ... and that is an achievement. But to be honest most of the time I don’t make a conscious decision on how to get through this crap ... I was dealt this dire card ... and my attitude is that I will grit my teeth and get on with it. Then, once it is over and done with, I will draw a line under it and get on with the rest of my life. Or will I ...?
Thankfully I don’t have too many days where I feel really depressed ... my sad bad moments tend to last only minutes or very occasionally hours. My last grey day was ironically just after I was told the Yukky Lump had been successfully removed, that no more surgery would be necessary and I could move on to radiotherapy. Isn’t that ironic? The very day that I had longed for ... for over seven arduous months ... the day I should have been celebrating ... whooping for joy ... but I wasn’t. I was depressed, sad, angry ... and resentful. Though I wasn’t surprised by this. You see I have read that these are common feelings for people who have been diagnosed with cancer and have been successfully treated. Their friends, family and colleagues, expect them to be happy and buoyant ... but in reality they are often left shocked and traumatised ... and embittered.
I am not sure why I woke on that particular day and felt so bad ... maybe it was the aftermath from the general anaesthetic ... or the side effects frm the huge amount of painkillers ...but whilst I sat back and thought “yeah, it looks like I have cracked it ... for now anyway” I then went on to consider that I hadn’t made it to this point without battle wounds. The lump may have gone but what had I endured to get that far? I had been robbed of nearly a year of my life ... no job ... no social life ... no holidays! Surgery that has left me permanently scarred. The physical mutilation after the seven sessions of chemo ... the chemo that made me really feel sick ... and left me fat and bald ... like a little Buddha. And, more than three months after the final poisonous cocktail, the chemical burns are still visible on my hands and wrists ... and a number of my fingernails are about to dramatically drop off. Yeah ... I had got to where I wanted to be ... but boy I paid a bloody price for it.
For those of you who are reading this and are fortunate not to have cancer then you are probably unaware of a secret cyber world that exists in this malignant parallel universe. Until last August I had absolutely no idea of its being ... but it is there. People, who like me that have been told that they have a Yukky Lump nestling somewhere in their body, silently communicating electronically and supporting each other through blogs like this, or chat forums on sites such as MacMillan or Breast Cancer Care, which are a bit like Facebook for cancer sufferers.
A couple of days ago I “popped” over to say hi to my friend Debby. Debby lives in the States and went through what I am experiencing now about a year ago ... and, like me, she tends to wear her heart on her sleeve and tells it like it is. In her blog this week Debbie described her latest trip to the Cancer Centre. She detailed how, whilst waiting to be seen, she met a younger woman with two children – aged 8 and 10. Yep, a lady that is a similar age to me ... and whose kids are exactly the same age as mine. But what Debby found out from chatting to this lady was that she doesn’t have breast cancer ... she has metastatic breast cancer ... cancer in her liver ... and her lungs. She had breast cancer five years ago, and was thinking that she was in the clear... but then out of the blue these secondaries appeared. She told Debby "I didn't know. I thought that because my mammograms were good, I was okay. I did not know that if it came back, it would probably be someplace else."
You see ... breast cancer rarely kills. We often hear that women (and sometimes men) die of breast cancer ... but that isn’t strictly true. The breast is not a vital organ and so if you can remove the cancer from the breast there is a much improved chance of living. But sadly cancer likes to roam ... and with breast cancer it tends to break out and venture into the brain, spine, liver and lungs. This is serious big-boy-cancer ... demise of those crucial parts of your body can be fatal.
In her blog Debby points out that health professionals talk about getting rid of the breast cancer ... however patients are rarely told that the chances of the cancer returning to the same area is not the concern ... but that it might reappear in a more threatening location. Debby also explains how witnessing the stark reality of the cancer coming back to haunt this younger woman, a mother of two primary school aged children, has really shocked her. And, as I read her admission of fear, I could empathise with her angst ...
A few days after surgery, I sat in bed and checked out a number of my favourite blogs. I wondered if my cyber friend Pash was around, as she hadn’t updated for a while. Pash – real name Sarah but known as Pash due to her passion for life – was diagnosed with breast cancer a couple of months prior to me. She had the same chemo regime as me, then a mastectomy just before Christmas and everything seemed to be going fine ... until January ... when she started complaining of vision problems and went back to the hospital for a scan, “just in case”. Sadly, Pash was told that the cancer had metastasised and that she had 8 lesions on the brain. Her prognosis was possibly up to five years ... but she was told in reality it was more likely to be 18 months to 3 years. However ... what should have been devastating news didn’t knock Pash ... nope, renowned for her postive mental attitude she kept striding on with life. She moved into the beautiful country cottage that she had always longed for ... with her new sweetheart Neil ... and was absolutely adamant that Mr Frodo was not going to stop her from doing anything ... she was going to get as much as she could out of every single day.
As her blog appeared on my screen I could see it had been updated. But unfortunately not by Pash. The latest entry explained how she had not really recovered from a recent fall ... had contracted pneumonia ... and although her mind was a positive fighter ... her poor body couldn’t cope. And, on the day of my own surgery, Pash’s friends and family had joined her at her hospital bedside and celebrated her wedding to Neil ... and were there an hour or so later ... when she sadly passed away ... only nine months after her initial diagnosis ...
As I read the devastating news the sorrowful words blurred as my eyes filled and I cried. There were tears for Pash ... and Neil ... and her family and friends. But ... if I am honest ... there were also tears for me ... for my own fragility ... vulnerability ... and mortality...
And then the tears stopped ... something made me dry my wet face ... rise from my bed ... venture out ... and enjoy the beautiful sunny spring day.
What I want to tell those folk who say I am “brave” ... and “courageous” ... and “inspirational” ... is that there isn’t always a smile on my face ... there are definitely grey down days. But what I think of ... and what I reflect on ... when I have those horrid grotty spells ... or tearful times ... is the likes of Pash ... and the lady in Debby’s waiting room. Yeah, I was handed a dire card ... but there are people out there that are even less fortunate and have been dealt two, or three, or four crap cards. I don’t know what is around the corner ... none of us do ... but I feel I owe it to those guys, as well as myself, to try and make the most of what I got now.
As the feisty little angel whispered into my ear the other day ...
“Don’t just live the moment, love the moment. Get up. Go out. Kick ass.”