Tuesday 18 November 2008

Fade out.

I've been thinking more about when it is that I'll finally have my Nicole Kidman moment. You know, the punching-the-air-in-relieved-celebration thing. Not that I'm comparing having breast cancer to being married to Tom Cruise, of course. The Bullshit must be a cake-walk compared to that. But at least she had the chance to celebrate a divorce.

Whether or not it's really the conclusion, the goal I'm aiming for is getting the last bit of surgery out of the way in April – it's the time at which I'll finally begin to feel like my healthy old self again plus, the way I see it, surgery is how all of this started, so that's how it ought to finish. My breast cancer road began with the removal of my left boob, and my finish-line medal is the chance to get it back for good. Of course the reality, however, is that reconstructive surgery isn't actually the end. In fact there is no 'end' to speak of. And it's really frustrating to realise that there's never going to be a clearly defined finale to punctuate this period of my life. Especially as you know how much I like to punctuate. 

If you count out the surgery, it all starts and ends so differently (and by 'ends' I mean 'fizzles out'). Life-changing and heartbreaking and terrifying and shocking and dark and disastrous as the moment is, there's a ceremony around being told that you have breast cancer. There's a sombre appointment in a specialist's office with all manner of people on hand to answer your questions, hand you a tissue and bring you a cup of tea. You make the hardest phonecalls of your life, and break the hearts of your parents. You quickly get hold of your closest friends and hurriedly sort things out with your employers. You send a hundred emails breaking the same devastating news or, in my case, kill two birds with one group email instead (I've kept the email I sent, and can't help but shake my head and laugh patronisingly at it. The ill-prepared, misinformed, cancer's-messing-with-the-wrong-girl tone makes me cringe at how stupidly ignorant I was). You get sent cards, flowers, chocolates, books, toiletries, DVDs, magazines, poems, soft toys (if cancer has an upside, surely this is it). You have a seemingly endless stream of visitors. You become the topic of conversation in the offices and pubs and kitchens and inboxes and Facebook walls that you're suddenly absent from. And it's the weirdest thing. Nothing is more disconcerting. But there's no doubting that it all marks a definite, no-question, breast-cancer-begins-here starting point.

So, by that token, isn't it only fair to have a breast-cancer-ends-here moment? A moment when you can make happier calls and send I'm-free emails and get more flowers and receive celebratory 'you beat The Bullshit' cards? Well yes, that would be fair. But we've already established that nothing about cancer is fair. Cancer is an attention-seeking, party-pooping bitch of a ruiner. It takes over. It takes your hair, your confidence, your social life, your immune system, your figure (the least it could do is make you thin, for fuck's sake), your energy, your tastebuds, your sense of smell, your sex life. And just when you think it's pissed on your chips as much as it possibly can, it takes away your chance to celebrate the end of it all. 

The problem is this: once you've had cancer, no medical professional will ever say the words 'cancer free' to you. You're too much of a risk, and they'd be opening themselves up to a world of trouble if it turned out that the cancer was sneakily plotting a return, as it often does. Thus, the 'all clear' is a bit of a myth. That's why the word 'remission' comes in so handy. And so, pitifully few cancer journeys end neatly with a concern-free CT scan or a clear set of test results or a finish-it-off bit of surgery, as I'm pretending mine will. There's a lifetime of tablets, appointments, tests, scans, mammograms. And while it's hugely comforting that the NHS doesn't just spit you back out as soon as you've had the necessary treatment, it does seem like a case of once a cancer patient, always a cancer patient.

I like a clear finish, not a fade-out (it's the reason I've always preferred Please Please Me to Love Me Do). I appreciate a wrap-up; a good, old-fashioned full stop. Loose ends don't sit well with me. (About eight years ago, I failed to tie up a situation and, to this day, my subconscious is still beating me round the head about it by insisting that it often features in my dreams.) But this fade-out is, I concede, another thing that I've got no control over. I can't create a false conclusion to all this just to satisfy my need for closure. I suppose some things just aren't meant to reach a proper conclusion (hell, there's never a final episode of Coronation Street and that's never bothered me). So maybe celebrating the 'end' of The Bullshit as I've known it will be something I get to do every day, with each opportunity I have to do something simple yet emancipatory that the past miserable months haven't allowed me. I'm still determined to punctuate the passing of these strange few months, mind. But I guess the chapter will have to finish with ... instead of .


Megan said...

Imagine being married to Tom Cruise. Everyday an argument over who gets to wear those 6 inch Louboutins. xxx

Anonymous said...

I still thnk cancer's-messing-with-the-wrong-girl. And I would like there to be a last episode or Corination Street. So that there's not any more. Love you. x

Anonymous said...

Without being all therapisty about it I'd turn the whole thing around and consider where the clear finish would've been without cancer? There's never a nice neat end to anything to do with children, careers seem to evolve rather than finish, relationships grow and transition and one soap opera is just replaced by another. Don't think of this as ending, its just another twist in the road. As you feel better you'll get published, do an endless worldwide book tour and the road will twist again. Take very good care, xxxx

Anonymous said...

This particular post of yours struck a chord in me. You found the lack of control hard when it came to dealing with the Bullshit and you also feel that you need a line in the sand, a clear cut finish to it all.

I can totally relate and its reassuring that my own feelings are perhaps not as isolated and wrong as they sometimes seem to me. Thanks for that.

Anonymous said...

this is such fantastic writing. and you sum up so well exactly how I feel about cancer. my mum died of cancer and I've also had it but the happy news is that I am still alive 10 years on - however you never stop living with the fear. as you say so articulately there is no "finish line". it can always come back. so you just put it to the darkest place you can and live life with all the happy mundanities. fear pops its head up at inopportune times (checkups, unexplained pains etc etc) these wretched cancer-free people who smugly sit back and go oh "cancer free" and "all clear" don't understand. Their train hasn't left the station yet.

Marc B said...

I can see why you'd rather 'Please Please Me' to 'Love Me Do', but on the other hand either is probablly preferable to 'Hey Jude'!

Sorry, this has no value as a blog comment except to pointlessly stretch a metaphore to breaking point.

Anonymous said...

dearest, surely you can punctuate the end of a paragraph, then the end of a chapter?
the end of something as horrible as chemo deserves a punch in the air - more fireworks, if you like, lots of presents, balloons. you did it. you survived chemo. isn't that worth something? radiation is another chapter, surgery another. and we'll punctiate all of that with you, beginning and end, when you get there.
but right now, you deserve some reward for how brave you've been and in my books that calls for a huge celebration. i bet everyone's right there with you, waiting to celebrate too.

in fact, i'm going to start celebrating things too. every time i get behind the wheel and manage to arrive home safely (and sa's a dangerous place, not least for a driver), i'm gonna go yeah! made it. thus far. good enough for now.

love you, you're such an inspiration. i mean it x