Tuesday 16 September 2008

A new perspective.

Always-Right Cancer Nurse warned me very early on in The Bullshit to keep off the internet as much as possible (I've not told her about the blog) to save confusing myself with pages and pages of information that might not be relevant to me. All that mattered, she said, was dealing with my own experience, and that she or anyone else at the hospital would be able to answer any questions I had. And, true to form, she was spot on. (Apparently another thing I'm not supposed to be doing is picking my nose, to decrease my chances of getting an infection. But sod that lark. A happy bit of nose-picking is my only vice at the moment and, as vices go, I think you'll agree that it's pretty pathetic anyway.)

It's less the medical information online that's left me confused, and more some people's opinions about their experience of having cancer. I like to think I'm pretty difficult to rile, and I don't tend to get angry about things I can't change, but this has completely incensed me. I keep reading the following sentence: 'getting cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me.' Now I'm the first to trot out the 'each to their own' line but, to my mind, saying this kind of thing is completely fucking irresponsible.

I can see the reasons behind people saying it. If their experience of The Bullshit has been anything like mine so far, they too will have had the wonderful, Amelie-like moments where you're on the receiving end of so much love that the world seems a rosier place. It reminds you how incredible your family are, how you're lucky to have such amazing friends, and that you married the most brilliant, brilliant man. There are flowers and gifts and cards. Home-baked cakes and biscuits. Lovely, cheer-you-up visits and thoughtful phonecalls. I've had incredible, heartfelt and much-appreciated comments and emails from people I've never even met. And while all of this helps (and it really, REALLY helps), it doesn't for a second mean that getting breast cancer was the best thing to ever happen to me. Because for every rose-tinted moment comes a lifetime's share of dark times that leave you lonely and frightened and confused, and being cradled by your husband in a dark bedroom as you both weep at the thought that what you've got is, in fact, life threatening.

P and I had one such moment last night, following an afternoon at the hospital talking to various people about my radiotherapy. Turns out it's going to be done over a much larger area than we'd originally thought, thanks to the number of lymph nodes that my cancer had spread to. So, rather than just directing the radiotherapy at my chest wall, it'll also hit my left arm and shoulder, and the left side of my neck (this season I will mostly be wearing polo necks). This means that, as well as the three standard tattooed dots (one in the cleavage, one on the boob, one underneath the arm), I'll also be having a fourth dot inked onto my collar bone. Which has, of course, pissed me right off (I happen to like my collar bone and, just like my hair and my boobs, it's another of my favourite bits that's getting ruined). It's also hardened my resolve to get a nicer tattoo done out of choice rather than necessity (this I'll report back on later, but I do have an idea).

The four dots (hey, that's a good name for a band) stuff is a ballache. But it's the real reason behind having them that utterly terrifies me. 'The reason we're doing this radiotherapy,' said Chelsea Consultant (very west-London posh in her Tod's and diamond engagement ring that could take your eye out), 'is that we want to localise the zapping of the cancer cells to the specific area where the tumour was, unlike chemotherapy which works on the cells all over your body.' All fair enough, I thought. And then came the bombshell. 'But the main reason we're doing this – and doing it over such a large area – is to increase your chance of survival.' And there it is. Another reminder of the grim, makes-you-want-to-scream seriousness of breast cancer. It suddenly makes the illness and the hair loss and all the rest of the crap seem like welcome distractions when you're reminded that, actually, this thing has the potential to kill you. I don't ever allow myself to think about that. I can't begin to describe how much of my flagging energy I use not thinking about that, always finding other things to occupy my mind (why do you think I'm writing this blog?). So it comes as a horrible, jolting shock when I do hear it.

Please don't think that getting cancer has been the best thing to ever happen to me, or that it could be the best thing to happen to anyone else, for that matter. Yes, it changes your life. Yes, it changes your outlook. And yes, it changes you. But that doesn't make it a great thing. Cancer changes your life because it threatens it. Cancer changes your outlook because it muddies it. And cancer changes you in far more ways than just losing a boob or going bald or getting dots tattooed on your chest. Cancer IS NOT the best thing that could ever happen to you. Cancer is shit. (Maybe that should be my tattoo?)


Anonymous said...

your right. It's complete tosh. It's because they don't know how to articulate their feelings, so they just spout mad nonsense. Whereas you, clever lady, write EXACTLY what you mean in a way that is always stunningly sharp, clear and shockingly real. It's because you are lovely, clever, brilliant-writerly you. Thank god for that. Imagine if you were poorly AND had to speak in silly cliches...

Anonymous said...

If cancer was the best thing that could ever happen to you, psychiatrists would be handing out Marlboro Reds.

It's horseshit. And cancer is horseshit. And it's shit to see you go through it.

And we're right beside you while you kick its shitty ass.

Anonymous said...

I just want to comment as i've been following your blog for a few weeks now.

I think you're an incredibly strong woman, and incredibly witty too. I'm sure you don't always feel this way, but i admire your strength. Keep this up and have faith (i'm sure you've heard this all before...)

When these circumstances happen in life it makes you wonder "why me" but when it does, you wonder why you ever moaned about petty things in life...it makes you realise your life is worth more. and i think you have the determination to get through this and fight back the bullshit.

Wishing you the best

Anonymous said...

I'm not normally one to leave comments on anything, but reading your blog over the last few months just made me want to say something......

Keep up the fight and you'll beat The Bullshit.

Sending good vibes from afar.

Fletcher of the Day said...

I know what you mean about the 'Cancer Is the best thing..blah blah blah' and I have to agree with you. I think there is a reason for it and it does change you, but then so does a good haircut. Not to trivialize it, but life is what you make of it. Some people do change with cancer, or some people, like my husband and yourself, I believe, were remarkable before Cancer and will continue to be remarkable after. I'd like to think that the best thing that happened to my husband wasn't cancer, but his wife. But then, that's just me...:)

Keep up the fight Lisa!


RJMJ:Jennifer said...

Look how many hits you've had.
Phil & Fern & Lisa on the sofa!

The Bullshit is exactly that but I'm sending as many positive vibes as is possible in a day both to you and your prince ;)


Anonymous said...

You're right. Cancer is shit. The whole death thing is shit.

I am currently watching my boyfriend die and I am desperately angry. There are some wonderful moments between us but really, thanks, Fate; I'll gladly go back to a lifetime of mundane.

I am thinking of you in your struggle. Writing helps, doesn't it? Well, it helps me.