Thursday 14 August 2008

To see you, nice.

I keep forgetting how dangerous this disease is. It's something I've been doing all along, even straight after hearing the words 'I'm afraid it's breast cancer'. My immediate reaction wasn't 'shit, that's life threatening,' but 'oh heck, my hair.' Even in chemo last week, when a number of doctors warned me to keep my arm still for fear of the drugs seeping into my skin and causing massive problems, I still couldn't help but gesture wildly and continually reach inside my bag to show the nurses my iPhone/magazines/photos/lip gloss.

I often surprise myself with this frankly ridiculous oh-it'll-be-okay attitude. If this were a Tom & Jerry cartoon, the 'angel me' (sitting on my right shoulder, wearing my wedding dress) would be chastising me for not taking things more seriously and failing to appreciate the magnitude of the situation, while the 'devil me' (in killer heels, Wonderbra and a low-cut top) is instead advocating the life's-too-short-to-worry stuff and handing me another glass of cava. And, just like in any good cartoon, agreeing with the devilish version makes for a far better storyline, so I'm inclined to go with her (but in the angel's outfit – any excuse to show off that terrific dress again).

Joking aside, I actually think that conveniently ignoring the scary stuff is a bloody good tactic. It ensures you never frighten yourself by thinking too far ahead, and forces you to deal with the more pressing business of just putting one foot in front of the other. That wartime 'keep calm and carry on' slogan is a design for life, if ever I heard one. (But try reminding me of that after chemo tomorrow when I'm puking and panicking, and I'll bite your ear off.)

While staying with my folks over the last couple of days (P's been away with work on a 'team building' thing – two words that make me shudder more than 'breast cancer'), I've caught up with lots of different people who I've not seen since my diagnosis. And, while lovely, their reactions to me have been another reminder that other people seem to be more terrified by The Bullshit than I am. Not that they've been overly sympathetic, weepy or pitying – quite the opposite, thankfully. There are a lot of things I want (free iTunes downloads and an hour in a locked room with Dave Grohl for starters) but pity is categorically not one of them. So instead of commiseratory head-tilting, everyone has instead offered giant, beaming smiles that scream out how pleased they are to see me. 

It's a brilliant reaction to be on the receiving end of (and also makes you feel like a celeb). I've had hugs and kisses, been picked up and squeezed, had heartfelt arm-rubs and meaningful back-slaps. When I saw my 86-year-old uncle, his eyes (and mine) filled with delighted tears as he gave me the loveliest cuddle and said, 'I've been trying so hard to think what you'd look like, but it's you! It's still you!' (And he, by the way, has got more than enough to occupy his mind right now, let alone what I look like. His wife, and my amazing auntie, is also in the middle of cancer treatment, and yet is still as magnificent and matriarchal as ever. As she made me a brew and showed off her wig, my uncle leaned over and said, 'You know what? I still fancy her more than ever.')

While these kind of relieved reactions to seeing little ole me are genuinely, make-life-worth-living fantastic (and please please don't let them stop), it did make me wonder whether the relief on people's faces was more 'thank god she's well' or 'thank god she's still here'. Because, however much I might want to avoid the fact, cancer IS life threatening. And that's something I was forced to remember yesterday, after getting some truly awful news from a friend. I shan't expand on it here but, despite the head-spinning shitness of my friend's revelation, I know for a fact that she'd tell me to keep calm (and carry on), whack on some loud records and stick two fingers up to The Bullshit. And so that's precisely what I'm going to do (with a little help from Led Zep).

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