Wednesday 27 January 2021

Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with a friend about how strange it is that we, as humans, rarely talk honestly about the big stuff, notably about the viscera, the pain, the life events that force growth. Childbirth was a revelation for me, not because of the wonder, but because of the lack of information I had about those precious weeks after having a baby, of the lengthy blood loss and the physical discomfort of a healing and changed body. When did women stop talking to each other about these most intimate and important facts?

And so on the eleventh anniversary of my cancer diagnosis I am writing about the day of my diagnosis. For anyone who has been given such news the shock is real and I remember well, two fingers over my mouth, staring at the floor, unwilling to look at the consultant, grasping mentally for hooks of comprehension. All I could summon was a lifetime of bad TV soap storylines and a sense of the whole experience from above. In the shock and the life-pause I could not understand. 

Of course the reality was a slow unfolding of the facts, culminating many weeks later in the revelation that I was going to die. Not yet, no, but at some point. I was sitting under an old and very large tree when I suddenly understood that that tree would be here when I would not. The revealing continued when I reached home. The utter incomprehension that the banister of my hundred year old home could outlive me, had outlived many. The disbelief that the tangible things that shaped my reality, the safety of my home, the inanimate objects that I had chosen to surround myself with, would, could exist beyond my lifetime. The reality of this insight about mortality was shocking and the world spewed into glorious blinding technicolour. I woke up from a deep slumber and started really living, grabbing life, knowing what there was (and still is) to lose. As Paulo Coelho says, "death is our constant companion, and it is death that gives each person's life its true meaning". 

Since the fear of death, or rather the fear of causing pain to my family, was my most pressing anxiety I addressed that first. I wrote to my parents, my husband and my children. Love letters, apology letters. Letters sent and unsent. I dealt with my fear of dying young before I got on with the business of healing. 

Eleven years later cancer waxes and wanes as my companion. There are periods where she exists in the shadows, allowing me to relinquish my status of other and to feel more 'normal'. At other times she comes and sits on my lap, encouraging me with her gentle fear to change my protocol, get a test, eat better or meditate. She reminds me to live, she will not desert me. It has taken a long time to accept this fact with grace. To allow it and keep living, to trust it and keep healing. 

I believe that processing the shock of a diagnosis and subsequent prognosis is incredibly important if we are to heal. Only two years ago did I really go there, back to that room, to examine the powerful effects that those words had had on my psyche. I 'went' with a homeopath who worked gently with me, tissues at the ready. We used EFT and it was a transformative experience. I was able to hold and comfort that younger, scared version of myself and to tell her that it is OK, it would be ok and it will yet be OK. Better than OK. That younger me had no idea of the world that was about to open up to her - the possibilities, the beauty, the new life awaiting. I remember early on hearing that 'cancer is a gift wrapped in a shitty package'. How true.