I was not at the front of the queue when the gift of patience was handed out. Before motherhood I thought I had it in plentiful supply, then I had a red haired daughter and now I wonder who I was kidding! Patience is certainly not my strong point so faced with the disconcerting wait for medical results on yet a third lump, this last week, has been a test of gigantic proportions. The waiting game, for anyone and for anything, sucks! Standing on the edge of the (increasingly bottomless) rabbit hole this time has been harder than any of the two previously. Another major pause button on a life I just got back after the second time. Now, I am less naïve. I know the drill. The grueling circus of ultra sounds, mammograms, and the hideousness of guided biopsies and every ‘smartie tube’ type scanner under the sun, examining every inch of you with a microscope, concluding in two thousand cups of earl grey, a box or two of Kleenex, and a dollop of déjà vu, has descended upon me again causing a somewhat schizophrenic mindset.
The confusion and shock are instantaneous. I sit and try to breathe, like one deep breath will take it all away. So I take another. I can do this. I can do this. Over and over until my father rushes through the door, after a tearful phone call requesting a member of family to get here as soon as possible, to hold my hand through the biopsy and drive me home. Unfortunately, in my bewildered state I seem to think it the right opportunity to make formal introductions and introduce Dad to my sonographer as my husband!
As I titter on the edge I try and use the craziness of my previous ‘experiences’ to take stock. The tidal waves of worry, fear and anxiety are frenetically interspersed with moments of positive clarity and absolute certainty that all is well. I’ve been here twice before (can’t believe I can say that!) and the biggest lesson is that you can not predict anything, nothing is as you expect. I am at the mercy of the unknown. It doesn’t get any easier, it just gets harder; more claustrophobic and more intense. The dog wags her tail at me, almost daring me to take her on yet another eight mile walk! Each time is different but still I unwillingly surrender to all that I can’t control. All you have are the minimal facts, the anticipation of joining the dots as you go from one appointment to the next. The fact that there is a lump. The fact that it is not a cyst. The fact that it is cancer. The fact I’ll have to have more scans. I spend the first night trying to calm the mental tornado of possibilities. To make things worse, I randomly eat fresh beetroot and nearly cause myself a severe heart attack when it comes out the other end! Note to self, there are certain things that shouldn’t be eaten when waiting for the results of a full body scan!
Today on twitter I was told my blog was valuable because it made someone laugh and cry. Little did they know I was currently enduring a period of waiting that did exactly the same. To laugh at the madness of the situation and cry from the over whelming frustration and fear. I don’t want to tell anyone. I need my friends. We don’t have all the information. I want a hug. I don’t want to worry or scare anyone. They can help distract me. It’s so tedious, so boring but, this is me. This is my life. My friends want to help and support me. I must let them be my friends and do just that. We need support, we need others to lean on but what I find so excruciatingly hard is that very few can really empathise and I feel a small ball of irritation erupt inside me, the question that constantly navigates my brain; why am I the one that keeps getting hit with this?!
Every thought that pops into my head speeds across my consciousness like an out of control Ferrari on the Nurburgring! One second I’m staring mortality in the eye and wondering if I’ll see my daughters fourth birthday and the next I’m planning a celebration tea party for the end of the next week in a bid to prove everything will be ok. Keeping ‘business as usual’ is the only way of dragging myself through this quick sand and maintaining normality for my little Lottie, who has no idea what is going on but seems to be reveling in the attention. Oh to be three.
It’s important to let the natural thought process carve this route. I am only human and it is clearly not a normal situation. Actually, it’s pretty exceptional and therefore it is unchartered territory. I’m making my own rules. Yet, as the constant drip drip of thoughts leak into my mind, I appreciate the organic and raw nature of this process. I am trying to be in the moment but I am terrified. I am feeling fear in its most naked form and trying to ride the wave, acknowledging every notion. I actively guide my thirst for positive thinking and I design new mantras, lining them up like the front row of an army, daring any negative ones to approach, to knock them down brutally and banish them. Thoughts are not facts. I’m clinging onto that with every ounce of strength I have and I am exhausted.
‘Just throw away all thoughts of imaginary things,
And stand firm in that which you are.’
Another one skips through. Another breath. I am feeling thankful. I am thankful for this one lump because I can now take physical steps to lower future risk. To blow this big black hovering cloud from over my head and move forward with my life with a little more peace of mind. I have voluntarily opted for a double mastectomy and I’m relieved. I’ve said the words out loud and offered myself. It’s the bravest, scariest thing I have ever (soberly!) done but my gut feeling has never felt so strong. There is a long road ahead of me; tail backs of recovery, pot holes of emotion, slow Sunday drivers of frustration and lunatic speed demons of sheer faith and risk but I’m in the driver seat and I am in control. I will win this race.
I always thought the post treatment angle was what kept my writing different and fresh, now here I am, writing from the thick of it. (Maybe this is something else to be thankful for?) I am no different from anyone touched by cancer, during or after, if you have had it once, it’s always there, simmering in the far reaches of your mind. A series of stepping stones across a very wide and sometimes turbulent river. I know I’ll make it across, just like last time and the time before. I just have to take my time and be patient. Oh how I hate that word!
I don’t feel ‘amazing’. That word has become hard to hear. There is no glamour in this. I am not a super hero. I am surviving and making necessary decisions and enduring this free fall down the rabbit hole because I don’t have a choice. For whatever reason, this is happening. It is what it is. Patience comes in waiting for things to unfold, mindfully recognising the chaos of change. Suddenly I realise that if I didn’t have any patience, I wouldn’t have got this far and if patience is indeed a virtue, I just hope it’s one which I can justify with grace and success. Another thought flashes past. Another breath. Perhaps I was nearer the front of the queue than I thought x
If I were asked to give what I consider the single most useful bit of advice for all humanity, it would be this: Expect trouble as an inevitable part of life, and when it comes, hold your head high. Look it squarely in the eye, and say, “I will be bigger than you. You cannot defeat me.”
– Ann Landers