My Dad’s always had the kind of job in which he’s been required to travel which, when I was little, tended to mean extra presents whenever he returned from somewhere far more exotic and interesting than Derby. My favourite of all the gifts from far-away lands, however, was my worry dolls. I can’t tell you exactly where they came from (what can I say, geography’s never been my strong point) but I didn’t just adore and cherish them to the point that they’re still kept in my bedroom drawer; I used them too. And, lately, with far more worries on my plate than I adequately know how to deal with, I’ve been thinking a lot about them.
The idea of the worry dolls was thus: each night, before I went to bed, I’d take out one tiny, inch-long doll per worry, hold it between my thumb and forefinger and whisper to it my fear which, while I slept, it would work on while lying on my bedside table, making my worry better by the time I woke up. God knows what I told them – perhaps that I was worried about my schoolwork, that the boy I had a crush on was looking like he’d taken a shine to someone else, or that Mum would find out that I’d secretly started shaving my legs – but that’s not the point. The point is, the worry dolls worked. Not in a way that magically dealt with my concerns, making me suddenly ace my exams and become the buck-toothed object of affection in Year 7, but rather in a way that gave me a strategy with which to deal with worry; finding a place for it that was separate from everything else while still acknowledging its importance.
Fast-forward to today and that strategy has changed: my worry dolls have become a therapist. Several therapists, if the truth be known, each of which is there to deal with a different aspect of my current shituation, giving me the space, time and opportunity to offload my altogether more grown-up concerns in an appropriate manner. Last Monday’s session – in which my tendency to worry to quite unnatural levels was the main topic of conversation – was one of the most revealing yet. My initial worry about the brain MRI for which I’d been referred had, it seemed, mutated into a much bigger worry about what might come next.
‘Talk me through it, exactly as it happens in your mind,’ said Mrs Marbles.
‘You’re going to cart me off when you hear this,’ I said.
‘Far from it,’ she assured.
‘Well, you asked for it,’ I said, before walking her through my frustration at having to wait so long for an MRI, my fear of finding out my results so close to Jamie and Leanne’s due date, how afraid I was of hearing about an incurable spread to my brain on the same day that their baby was born, how I feared having to break the news to my family amidst what should have been unspoiled joy, how I was worried that a brain tumour would cut my likelihood of living years to a likelihood of months, how P would cope after I’d gone, how I was so anxious about the admin that would follow my death that I’d begun scribbling down all of my email address and password combinations in case P needed them, and how even that seemed such scant help that I’d talked myself into a suffocating panic attack by imagining a scenario in which our wireless router needed resetting and I hadn’t left P with instructions of how to do it, and…
‘Okay, I think that’s enough,’ she said, stopping me.
‘I told you,’ I said. ‘It’s incessant.’
‘And it’s in your nature,’ she observed, ‘to plan ahead with your worry. But you have to realise that none of this is anything you have any control over… except perhaps your scan.’
Which – following a conversation in which she talked P and I through a technique of stopping worry in its tracks and instead containing it for a scheduled time in which we could problem-solve the things over which we had control – is how I came to make the phonecall that brought my scan forward. Because at least then, I reasoned, in the unlikely event that there was bad news to hear, it wouldn’t come at the same time as my nephew’s birth, given that his due date wasn’t for another two weeks.
But, of course, it did.
It’s going to be some time (perhaps even never?) before I decide how to best to put into context what happened next. My first reaction was that only the world’s most evil, most cruel twist of fate would see to it that I was told that I no longer had years, but more likely months to live mere hours after I became an auntie. But then – upon speeding from one hospital to another to meet Corey James, my nephew and new best friend – I gave eternal thanks to the universe for gifting my family with the most precious, most beautiful reason for all of us to keep going.
Discovering that I have a rare, extensive and incurable tumour in the meninges of my brain was the most terrifying, most harsh, most upsetting, and most horrendously sickening moment of my life. But discovering that I have a nephew – a perfectly gorgeous little boy who I love so much and who, at mere days old, loves me right back – was the most beautiful. Without him, I dare not even try to imagine what kind of unbearable hell any of us would have found ourselves in over the last three days. Even with his angelic presence, this weekend has been impossible to get through. I’m not sure how we’ve done it. I’m not even sure if we’ve done it.
Ordinarily, I’d have a cohesive, smart-arsed, tie-it-all-up-nicely way to finish this post. But today, I haven’t got either the ideas or the inclination… I can’t write; I can’t think; I can’t talk; I can’t even be. Ordinarily, I’d have sent a funny, reassuring, long-thought-through email to break this news. But today, I can’t find the jokes or the consolations. I can’t even find the effort. Ordinarily, I’d have shown everyone the way we’re going to do this; offered comfort to those who needed it; reacted in a way that’d have given us all a clue how this is going to go. But today, I can’t do any of those things.
Today, I’m not letting you know how I am; I’m just letting you know. I’m letting you know that my cancer has spread to my brain; I’m letting you know that that it’s had a far from desirable effect on my prognosis; I’m letting you know that I’m due to be starting a new treatment this week that will hopefully shrink the tumour enough to postpone its effects for as long as possible; and I’m letting you know that I am – as are my family – devastated to the point of not knowing how to carry on. But I am going to carry on. We are going to carry on. For you, Corey James. Because, regardless of the unspeakable shit that’s been thrown in her direction, the most important thing for your Auntie Lisa to worry about right now is staying around long enough to make you feel as loved as she does.