In the midst of teenage, pre-results exam anxiety, I used to have a recurring dream about going to collect my grades. I’d get up at quarter to sparrow-fart on results day, pass up on breakfast thanks to being too nervous, fail to wait for the mate who was calling for me on the way to school and instead hurriedly head there myself, early and apprehensive, where I’d lean against the huge, locked wooden double doors in order to be the first one through when the headmaster opened them. But whenever I did get inside, one of three things would happen. I’d either wait at the front of the queue as the headmaster rifled through envelopes only to reveal that my results were missing; he’d open the doors and announce to the crowd of tetchy teens (and the cool, do-I-look-bovvered kids smoking at the back) that the exam board were late in sending our grades through; or I’d be handed my envelope, take myself off to a quiet corner to open it and discover that it was empty. I never dreamt about getting bad grades – only ever about having to wait longer for them.
It doesn’t take a straight-A rocket scientist, then, to deduce that, in my world, waiting for your fate is far worse than getting it – however crappy it may be. ‘Well, no news is good news,’ people will say. ‘No it sodding isn’t,’ I’ll think. Those people are crazy. No news is a damn chuffing sight worse than bad news. Because at least with bad news you can react to it, be practical, just do something – whether it’s making plans or smashing windows – in response. But in the meantime, what the bleeding hell are you supposed to do but fret and flap and clog up London’s sewerage system with your worries?
‘Oh, just be calm,’ said the technician as I zipped up my dress after last week’s mammogram. ‘Try to relax.’ I turned green, bursting out of the seams of my frock. ‘Relax?’ I roared. ‘RELAX?!’ (I fear I became Brian Blessed for a moment.) ‘How can I possibly relax? The last time I had one of these things,’ I said, disdainfully gesturing to the machine that had just squashed my right breast like a stress ball, ‘…it wasn’t supposed to be a big deal, and I ended up with BREAST CANCER. I’m assuming it says that on your clipboard there?’ I think she actually found my reaction funny, and sneaked out a little half-grin, demonstrably not believing that I was every bit as serious as the illness I’d been diagnosed with.
My last mammogram was done at Smiley Surgeon’s clinic, mere minutes before my diagnosis. I hadn’t even realised I’d be having one that day – as far as I was concerned, I was just going to the hospital to get the results of a ‘routine biopsy’ on my ‘cyst’. And, given that I’d paid for that consultation in order to have it eight weeks sooner than I would have done on the NHS, it could all be done – the test, the results, the lot – in one day. By the time I’d re-dressed after my mammogram, the x-ray scans were already being printed out. And so, with this as my only melon-squeezing experience, I was optimistic that I’d know again this time – despite being in a different hospital – whether anything was awry on the day of my mammogram.
‘I’ll level with you,’ I said to the technician as I unhooked my bra before she set the machine working. ‘I’m really bloody frightened about this.’ She half-grinned, in what was clearly her default reaction to everything. ‘And so I really want you to tell me if you see anything untoward,’ I pleaded. ‘I can’t do that,’ she said. ‘I can’t say anything; I’m not allowed. You have to wait to hear from the doctors.’ Tears fell from my eyes onto the edge of the machine before me. ‘And how long is that going to be?’ I whimpered. ‘I’d say two to three weeks. They’ll write to you. Or call. Sometimes they call.’ I’m assuming ‘sometimes’ translates to ‘if there’s a problem’.
I continued to cry as the machine did its thing, both from the pain of my flattened bust, and the pain of a protracted wait for my results. ‘Okay, good,’ said the technician as the whirring eventually ground to a halt. My head spun round in her direction. Was that ‘good’ as in there’s nothing showing up, or good as in we’re done? I daren’t ask, for fear of the same I’m-not-telling-you reaction, and fear that my increasingly wounded-child-spliced-with-the-Incredible-Hulk demeanour would have seen me grab hold of her head and ram it between the same metal plates that had just turned my right tit to mincemeat.
And so now, we wait.
I’m holding it together as best I can, keeping as busy as my tiredness allows, and pretending I can ignore every sound from my phone or rattle of the letterbox. I’m trying to change any subject that relates to The Bullshit, push all negative thought to the back of my mind and work through all the anxiety-calming Q&A tactics Mr Marbles taught me to use whenever my worries find a way of surfacing. (Is this a rational thought? Do I have any reason to believe it’s true? Can I back it up?) The trouble with that, though, is that my mind sometimes likes to play smartarse and think it’s too clever for that kind of therapy malarkey. ‘Well, yes actually,’ it’ll say, sarcastically. ‘That worry is rational and, yes, you do have reason to believe it and, yes, you can even back it up – hell, the last time you assumed your boobs were cancer-free, it came back to bite you on the ass good and proper, so screw Marbles and his calming tactics and keep tucking into those biscuits.’
But rational thought, of course, isn’t necessarily about making yourself feel better. Because, ultimately, you’ve got to deal in fact. And so people can say ‘you’ll be okay’ and ‘there won’t be a problem’ and ‘I just know it’ll be fine’ as much as they want, but do they really know that everything’s going to be okay? Can they really feel it in their water? Of course not. No more than I can or the doctors can or The Piss-Taking God Of Cancer Fuck-Ups can. And so much of my focus at the moment is going into nodding politely whenever somebody does say something like that, and biting my lip to stop myself launching into a monologue about how I have to be open to receiving bad news, how I’m trying to prepare myself for the worst and how I’d hate to say I told you so if I got the kind of diagnosis that would satisfy nothing but my fondness for symmetry.
The shit truth here is that there’s not a single sodding thing I can do about those unknown results either way. If there’s cancer in my right boob (having had everything scooped out of the left, there was no reason to scan that side), then I’m just going to have to scream a few expletives, accept it, hitch up my skirt and wade through the swamp of whatever treatment they can give me for a second time. And if there isn’t any sign of further Bullshit – and if I can somehow pester the arse off the mammography department into letting me know my results within the next 10 days – then it’s going to be one hell of a Glastonbury. But whatever those results do say, there’s one grade I can count on in the meantime, and that’s an A+ in worrying. And as for my grades in being calm/relaxed? I’d say F/U was pretty appropriate, wouldn’t you?