It's less the medical information online that's left me confused, and more some people's opinions about their experience of having cancer. I like to think I'm pretty difficult to rile, and I don't tend to get angry about things I can't change, but this has completely incensed me. I keep reading the following sentence: 'getting cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me.' Now I'm the first to trot out the 'each to their own' line but, to my mind, saying this kind of thing is completely fucking irresponsible.
I can see the reasons behind people saying it. If their experience of The Bullshit has been anything like mine so far, they too will have had the wonderful, Amelie-like moments where you're on the receiving end of so much love that the world seems a rosier place. It reminds you how incredible your family are, how you're lucky to have such amazing friends, and that you married the most brilliant, brilliant man. There are flowers and gifts and cards. Home-baked cakes and biscuits. Lovely, cheer-you-up visits and thoughtful phonecalls. I've had incredible, heartfelt and much-appreciated comments and emails from people I've never even met. And while all of this helps (and it really, REALLY helps), it doesn't for a second mean that getting breast cancer was the best thing to ever happen to me. Because for every rose-tinted moment comes a lifetime's share of dark times that leave you lonely and frightened and confused, and being cradled by your husband in a dark bedroom as you both weep at the thought that what you've got is, in fact, life threatening.
P and I had one such moment last night, following an afternoon at the hospital talking to various people about my radiotherapy. Turns out it's going to be done over a much larger area than we'd originally thought, thanks to the number of lymph nodes that my cancer had spread to. So, rather than just directing the radiotherapy at my chest wall, it'll also hit my left arm and shoulder, and the left side of my neck (this season I will mostly be wearing polo necks). This means that, as well as the three standard tattooed dots (one in the cleavage, one on the boob, one underneath the arm), I'll also be having a fourth dot inked onto my collar bone. Which has, of course, pissed me right off (I happen to like my collar bone and, just like my hair and my boobs, it's another of my favourite bits that's getting ruined). It's also hardened my resolve to get a nicer tattoo done out of choice rather than necessity (this I'll report back on later, but I do have an idea).
The four dots (hey, that's a good name for a band) stuff is a ballache. But it's the real reason behind having them that utterly terrifies me. 'The reason we're doing this radiotherapy,' said Chelsea Consultant (very west-London posh in her Tod's and diamond engagement ring that could take your eye out), 'is that we want to localise the zapping of the cancer cells to the specific area where the tumour was, unlike chemotherapy which works on the cells all over your body.' All fair enough, I thought. And then came the bombshell. 'But the main reason we're doing this – and doing it over such a large area – is to increase your chance of survival.' And there it is. Another reminder of the grim, makes-you-want-to-scream seriousness of breast cancer. It suddenly makes the illness and the hair loss and all the rest of the crap seem like welcome distractions when you're reminded that, actually, this thing has the potential to kill you. I don't ever allow myself to think about that. I can't begin to describe how much of my flagging energy I use not thinking about that, always finding other things to occupy my mind (why do you think I'm writing this blog?). So it comes as a horrible, jolting shock when I do hear it.
Please don't think that getting cancer has been the best thing to ever happen to me, or that it could be the best thing to happen to anyone else, for that matter. Yes, it changes your life. Yes, it changes your outlook. And yes, it changes you. But that doesn't make it a great thing. Cancer changes your life because it threatens it. Cancer changes your outlook because it muddies it. And cancer changes you in far more ways than just losing a boob or going bald or getting dots tattooed on your chest. Cancer IS NOT the best thing that could ever happen to you. Cancer is shit. (Maybe that should be my tattoo?)