Monday 1 September 2008

It's a wonderful life.

There's something wrong with my tear ducts. I've been back through all my chemo leaflets and lists of side-effects, but it looks like this is one thing I can't blame on the drugs. The problem is me – I'm turning into a cry baby. Over the past week, I've felt happier than I have at any point throughout The Bullshit, and probably even happier than I've felt for a while before it. That's a seemingly crazy thing to say, but nonetheless true. Last night I almost felt guilty for being so chuffed with my lot – cancer isn't supposed to feel this good, surely? So why do I keep sobbing at the slightest thing?

On Friday I cried in two different taxis (London cabbies, you have been warned). The first was on my way into the West End to head back to the office for the first time since my diagnosis. And wow. I'd almost forgot I lived in London. Pretty much all I'm seeing of the city at the moment is the view from the car on my way to the hospital, but on Friday I looked up from the cab window and found myself on Westminster Bridge – Houses of Parliament on one side, London Eye on the other. It felt like I was seeing it all for the first time, and I beamed so much it brought tears to my eyes. The capital has never looked so beautiful.

Then I cried on the way back home, this time from a mix of emotions; most of them wonderful, some less so. But first, the wonderful. Being back in the office again was weirdly exhilarating (my colleagues will piss themselves laughing when they read this, and probably so will I after I've been back there for a couple of weeks). Everything had a new excitement to it: the dodgy lift, my swivel chair, the banter, the tea in a chipped mug, the compliment on my top from the woman on the front desk, my stationery holder (I'm very fond of my stationery holder), flicking through schedules, being able to talk about something other than cancer... it was fantastic. Knackering, but fantastic. But best of all was being around people again. Not that I've been locked in a cage for the last couple of months. What I mean is being around people in a normal, everyday setting. I hadn't realised how much I'd missed it.

And then there's the less wonderful stuff (I hate having to include it in a post with this title, but even the film wasn't without its sad bits). For every few people in the office who smiled and winked and said hello, there seemed to be another who completely ignored me. One even stared straight through me when I looked him in the eye and said 'hi'. (And it's not as though he didn't recognise me either – I might be wearing a wig, but actually it's not too far away from my pre-chemo hair. It's not like I'm doing a Michael Jackson and walking around in a baseball cap with a handkerchief across my face.) I appreciate it's difficult for some people to know what to say, knowing what they now know about me. And I'm definitely not expecting people I don't know to suddenly start being all friendly because they feel they ought to. But being ignored by someone you'd normally talk to every day is a pretty shitty thing, and makes you feel a bit like a leper. Granted, I don't look the same as I did the last time I was in the office but, hell, I've not sprouted a second head. People in the street don't stare and point. It's still me, in spite of the cancer and the wig and the bags around the eyes. And, despite all my crying (I keep my tears to myself), I've not turned into some timid, super-sensitive, can't-talk-about-it cancer patient that you have to tiptoe around. What I've lost in boobs, I've gained in confidence. And, if I hadn't been so taken aback by his reaction to me, I might have reeled off that little speech to the bloke in question rather than you. (You'd be right in guessing that I've relived the event several times in my head since, and not once have I let him get away with it.) Then, after my cab ride back from the office, a similar thing happened – I arrived home at the same moment as my normally-very-chatty upstairs neighbour who, on seeing me, couldn't get away fast enough, using a poorly improvised cold as her excuse (which didn't stop her going out for a jog later on).

Thankfully the people who matter still treat me exactly as they always did – actually, better than they always did, judging by this weekend's barrage of birthday love. Which, of course, had me in tears. Several times. Reading cards, opening presents (not least the scouse wig [AKA Wig 4] I received, but probably for different reasons), during a show at the theatre, when my family and friends left after a lovely afternoon cake-fest... you name it, I cried at it. (Oddly, the realisation that under my wig I look frighteningly like Steve McClaren didn't make my cry. Sorry, I mean Schteve McClaren.) All that talk of booze-free, tame celebrations might have been true, but it didn't make my 29th any less fantastic than any other birthday. In fact I dare say it was better than my last few birthdays put together. (My Super Sweet 30th is going to have to go some to beat it, but I don't half like a challenge. Plus I'm well on my way to gaining the MTV-necessary three stone after all the cake I ate yesterday.)

So, with having such a lovely time of late, why all the tears? Having spent most of today thinking about it (to the point where my brain hurts), I think the reasons are three-fold. (1.) I'm overwhelmed. Since The Bullshit came along, my life has had to be a bit slower paced. So perhaps the emotion-packed excitement of the last few days was almost a bit too much to handle. (2.) Tiredness. I'm like a baby at the moment – let me have the requisite sleep and food, and I'm a little angel. Allow me to get tired or hungry, and you'll wish I'd never been born. (3.) Fear. All these wonderful things and all these wonderful people... it's something else, I tells ya. My life is the stuff that dreams are made of. And while I wouldn't change any of it for the world, every now and then it reminds me how utterly, completely, wake-up-in-the-night terrified I am that The Bullshit has come along to put it all in jeopardy. How fucking dare it.

The philosophical part of me (don't worry, I keep it chained up most of the time) often wonders why I got breast cancer in the first place. Was it to make me realise how good I've got it? I don't think so – I like to think that I've always realised how good I've got it. Even back as a worry-laden 15-year-old (not real worries, of course, just boy ones) when my form teacher wrote the following in my school leavers' book: 'always remember how good it is to be you.' (Very good advice, and a sentence I've never forgotten.) If not that, then, did cancer come along to give me a kick up the arse? I doubt that, too. I've always been super-disciplined about my direction in life, to the point where I've probably hurried it a bit. Left home for uni at 18, magazine editor by 25, married by 27 – hell, I even got breast cancer earlier than most. So no, it can't be that. Maybe The Bullshit came along when it did to make me realise that there's more to life than babies? Pre-cancer, I suspect P and I were becoming dangerously close to obsessed with the business of getting pregnant – a lot of fun in many ways but, with two miscarriages and many inquisitive friends, the pressure was on to get knocked up again. Of course all that's changed now, and it's forced us to put things in better perspective: all we really want is each other. So actually, if getting breast cancer has done anything for me – for us – it's that. But I still don't think it's reason enough to explain getting it in the first place.

So why me? After a lot of thought (and, believe me, I'm not ordinarily one to search for answers like this – I'm normally a very black-and-white kind of girl, and not just in football terms), I'm sticking with my original answer. In those dark days after my diagnosis, P used to question why all of this shitty stuff had to happen to us, and I'd tell him this: 'because we can handle it.'

1 comment:

just-thinking said...

Found you via BĂȘte de Jour, and I had to stop reading long enough to leave a comment and say that I love the last bit you said: "Because we can handle it."

I have always believed that life never gives more than a person can handle. It's nice to find someone else who thinks the same.