Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Trouble in the message centre.

I've always kept a tidy inbox. Just as I've always been one-in-one-out with the items in my wardrobe, I've applied the same mantra to my email account. Get one, respond to one. Tidy inbox = tidy mind. I hate it when my messages don't fit onto one page. Scrolling down is simply not an option where my digital contact is concerned. Or at least it used to be that way. These days, I'm too afraid to scroll down for fear of the unanswered missives I'll be faced with, staring up at me and giving me the guilts like an empty box of Cadbury's Fingers at the top of the bin. Right now, I've got a total of 66 unanswered emails and, pitiful as that may sound to the more laissez-faire emailers among you, I just. can't. handle. it.

While contact is not necessarily one of them, lots of things appear to have begun tailing to an end recently, or dropping off altogether (and I'm not just talking about the nupple). Like the soreness of my New Tit, or the number of times per day that I think about The Bullshit. Both of which, let me tell you, are nothing short of glorious. For ten months, I've done nothing but think about The Bullshit. But now, I occasionally catch myself not thinking about it, realising that a whole, say, 20 minutes – or sometimes even an hour – has passed without me worrying about my health, or seeing the word 'cancer' flashing through my head (always in this font, oddly enough). Some smart cookie recently commented that one day I'd turn around to notice that things had become normal again, without even realising they had got that way. And while life is certainly not normal just yet, I do think I've turned around to notice that normality is deliciously close.

In many ways, my email account has become my barometer for normality. And as long as my inbox runneth over, I can't quite say that normal service has resumed. It's not just the emails, of course. It's the staggering level of contact I've had – and have been grateful to have, I might add – since Smiley Surgeon broke the news of my Killer Tit. Don't get me wrong, compared to the phone-ringing-off-the-hook early days of my diagnosis, right now I'm positively Old News. When I came out of hospital post-reconstruction, for example, I had nine cards. Post-mastectomy, I had 49. It's perfectly reasonable, of course, but also quite weird. Because, in many ways, the beginning of The Bullshit is more of an event than the end. There's more of a fanfare around the bad news than there is the good. There are phonecalls to make and news to break, there are flowers every day and a volume of greetings cards that makes the cleaner roll her eyes every time she steps into the living room. But then, as cancer hyperactivity turns into merely cancer activity, there's more to celebrate and yet far less fanfare. But, dwindling as it is, the fact that I received such shitty news in the first place still equates to a hell of a lot more contact than I've ever previously known.

Mid-treatment, I had an excuse. I could get away with turning off my phone and ignoring text messages and failing to log into my email account, because people knew how ill I was. And granted, I'm not exactly fighting fit just yet, but at the moment I'm positively Paula Radcliffe compared with the mid-chemo me, so I dare say the people on the other end of my as-yet-unanswered messages are more impatient than they might have been a couple of months ago. It's like writing thank-you letters as a kid. You're made up with your Christmas gifts, but suddenly it's March and you've still not put a stamp on your gratitude. Except now, my Mum isn't on hand to chain me to the kitchen table and watch over my shoulder as I begrudgingly scribble my way through a handful of half-arsed notecards on the promise of playing out on the pogo ball I'm thanking my auntie for in the first place. Besides, half-arsed replies just aren't going to cut it now. Because, frankly, all the pogo balls in the world can't make up for the thoughtful contact I've had from my friends and family. They deserve more than those awful, apologetic, thank-you-note opening lines. The 'sorry I've not written sooner; I've had lots of homework' of 20 years ago has now become 'apologies for the tardy reply – this cancer lark doesn't half keep you busy'.

The problem isn't just that I'm a lazy sod. It's that I'm as sick of answering questions about my health as I felt six hours after leaving the chemo room. (And yes, I appreciate the irony in choosing to constantly write about my health here. But this stuff is on my terms, and I like to think that the days of describing every puke and constipation pain are long since gone. You are now free to pick up your sandwich.) I long to begin a conversation with something other than the state of my immune system or my scars or my infection or my hot flushes or my boobs (apparently Jordan and I have something in common). I've lost count of the number of people who have opened telephone calls with 'how are you feeling?' instead of 'hello'.

It's overwhelmingly lovely that everyone has so much invested in me getting better, and that they're so interested in what stage I'm at with my recovery and how I'm feeling through it. But the repeated questions about my wellbeing also mean that something must be wrong. And when you're on the cusp of getting used to the novelty of not thinking about cancer for however brief a moment, being asked about your health  a-g-a-i-n  is a mother of a jolt back to reality. But then, of course, there's the additional worry that, by saying all this, people will stop calling or emailing or writing on my Facebook wall or texting altogether, and I'll feel like a bitch for mentioning it in the first place. (Get me, I'm a cancer diva.) And I don't want that to happen. Of course I don't want that to happen. 

So what, then, do I want? In short: normality. And with a more normal existence so tantalisingly close, I'm becoming really bloody impatient about finally getting there. (Sheesh, for a lass with no periods, this is suspiciously close to PMS-like behaviour.) Normality is discussing Coronation Street before cancer. Normality is being sick because I drank too much, and not because my immune system can't handle even the smallest bit of excitement. Normality is 'how's things?' instead of 'how are you feeling today?'. 

I once read an interview with Kylie in which she said that she was sick of talking about cancer. And while I'm not sick of talking about cancer per se, I am sick of being a sick person. Of being seen as a sick person; spoken to like a sick person; worried about like a sick person. And, right now, the far-from-normal, panic-inducing, where-do-I-begin situation of 66 unanswered emails just serves as a reminder that all is not – or, at least, has not been – well. Sometimes at university, I had so many exams to revise for and assignments due in that I didn't know what to do first, so I just headed to the student union with my mates and got pissed on a fiver instead. (Which, I guess, makes this post the equivalent of my first pint.) Not that a hangover has ever been a good getting-stuff-done tactic, mind. Just like Mum used to say about the post-Christmas letters, 'they won't write themselves, you know'. Sooner or later, I suppose, you've just got to get stuck in. So, if you'll excuse me, I've got 66 half-arsed emails to write. Either that or one corker of a group mailer. 'Dear friends and family. Thank you for the pogo ball...'

11 comments:

Leafybear said...

Hello, so what you having for dinner tonight. What do you think of Ken Barlow??
(re emails group them all together and state service will be resumed...
Then file them all and start afresh)

TH said...

On the button as usual. Time for everything to get back to being normal again. You can be Mac that used to be poorly any time you like (it’s bound to be useful now and again... ) but it’s your call. The rest of the time you are lovely, brilliant moving-on-and-moving-up Mac. God that feels sweet! x

Kate_is_busy said...

I thought they were called "lomo ball" or something? The things that looked like a squashed football with a footplate round it?

lilianavonk said...

The same thing happened when I got sick, too; gee, nothing like having a brief spate of blissful forgetfulness brought to a screeching halt by someone's well-intended expression of concern, huh?

But IMO, the only thing that you owe the people who love you is the resumption of so-called normality, nada más. If anyone gets cheesed off at you not having responded to his or her email, then clearly this is not someone worthy of your time and esteem in the first place.

IOW...fuggem if they can't take a joke. Or the realities of what being a Cancer Bitch entails. :)

Megan said...

As it's easter, can't you send everyone a crispy cake? Probably quicker than a major load of emails.

I made 66 crispy cakes the other day (Is there something about that number recently?!) and I'd offer you them, only we've kind of eaten 55. And I don't think they'd get past my postman... Xx

S-FM said...

Do you want to know something really interesting, that only occured to me as I read this post?

In spite of the fact that the only reason I know about you (and follow you on Twitter/religiously read your blog posts/comment on them etc) is as a result of your having been sick, I just inherently do not think of you as a Sick Person. To the point where, when I read the above, my knee-jerk thought was, Really? People might think of her like that?

I just think of you as an awesome person. I have no doubt at all that all your beloveds do too, but I thought you might be interested to know that, as someone who is just an avid fan, the way I define you in my head is as a person who writes this brilliant blog that is one of my top five favourite things on the internet ever, and that the cancer is something as incidental as, say, the fact that you own a cat, are married or have a brother.

S-F M

Antonia said...

Luckily we will always have American Idol at the forefront of our conversations. That and ooh planning trips to Hollywood/ your birthday/ re-visiting old satc episodes. Some conversations will never come to an end. The good, fun ones. Btw apparently Big cheats on Carrie in the new film. Cue long and involved chat.

Antipo Déesse said...

So please find attached yet another pogo ball.

Mine has glitter on and is suuuper bouncy!

Kirses said...

Big cheats on Carrie?? FFS how much more can they drag out the bad Big theme, just when we thought he was starting to fly straight..

TH said...

hey sfm, 'avid fan' is nice. very nice.

Freudus said...

Roll on the normal. Is a brief but debauched break in Cornwall normal? Who knows. Can't wait though.

Oh, and what the hell is a pogo ball? I feel old and out of touch.

mx