Friday 30 January 2009

The past tense.

This week I did an interview for der Westen. Not only was it hugely flattering to answer their brilliantly canny questions about my blog, but it gave me the chance to (almost) live out a fantasy by pretending it was the Guardian Weekend's Q&A, only without having to cross out the real interviewee's answers and scribble my own beside them. Which I definitely don't do. No, definitely not. One of the questions, though, was this: are there any issues you don't/wouldn't blog about? To which I answered no. Well, not just 'no' – I'm not a one-word-answer kind of girl. It was a 'no, but...' answer. The 'but' being private times with P, family-only moments, my doctors' names, that kind of thing. But in terms of subjects being off-limits blog-wise, there sure aren't many, as this post (and definitely this post) will attest. But last night I realised that, actually, there's something I haven't been saying. And I'm not sure why. Perhaps because I thought it'd blow over, or fear it's a bit pathetic, or because it's something I've been secretly viewing as some kind of failure (as the Columbo of therapy sneakily extracted from me yesterday morning).

I may have told you a fib the other day. (I'm now anticipating those spots on my tongue that Mum always said were the cause of telling lies. In which case I fear I've fabricated my entire life story, if the volume of spots on my tongue during chemo were anything to go by.) I didn't mean to tell you a fib. It wasn't consciously done. (Pleeease let me go out to play?) What I told you was that I didn't think I'd ever had a panic attack. And, at the time, I didn't think I had. To me, a panic attack meant palpitations, tunnel vision, dizziness, sweating, difficult breathing and sending yourself to bed. And nothing less. Only if you could check off everything on that list could you say you'd had a panic attack. And whether or not you or I believe that to be true, what's certainly the case is that I've been having some pretty unpleasant panicky moments. Moments that overwhelm me, make me shiver and reduce me to tears in the rare times that I'm not keeping myself busy.

The busy thing is key. For an inherently lazy lass, I'm always busy; even when I'm not. Even if I'm on my arse (which, let's be honest, is most of the time), I'm always doing something. Blogging, writing, emailing, Facebooking, tweeting, making lists. (Current favourite: SS30th guest list. Seven months in advance of the do. Excited? Moi?) My mind exhausts me. It's continually active and burns up an unfeasible amount of energy – if it were a person it'd be as lean as Madonna. (I fear my body's more Maradona.) It's an occupied state I like to keep myself in, purely because – in light of all the panicky stuff – I can't afford not to be busy. Which is precisely how I've been since radiotherapy ended.

I used to love doing nothing. I've spent many a happy hour lying on my back, happy with my thoughts. I once lived on my own, too, and loved every second (until some Evertonian moved in and removed all the red clothes from my wardrobe – not that it stopped me marrying him, mind). I was always good on my own. Perfectly happy in my own company, doing sod all. But now I'm never doing sod all, nor am I ever on my own (at the risk of sounding like Liz Jones, I consider Sgt Pepper company). I'm never silent unless I'm asleep (another time when the panic gets to me). And even when I am silent, my mind's plugging away at something or other. There's always a song in my head (currently playing: Coldplay, Rule The World).

The trouble is, though, the more you sit on the shit stuff by staying distracted, the more it'll come back to bite you on the ass. The anxiety remains, bubbling under the surface, forcing its way out like angry steam from a boiling pan in 101 unhelpful 'what ifs'. What if the cancer comes back? What if the treatment hasn't worked? What if there's another tumour I didn't know about? What if there are cancer cells I'm not aware of? What if I've only got a short time left? Which is how I ended up in such a state this evening. 

Today has been a red X on my calendar for months now: the day on which the end of my active treatment would be neatly bookended with a visit to the consultant (Curly Professor's Glamorous Assistant, for those of you who've been here for a while). In my wildest dreams (and I'm just the kind of idiot who believes their wildest dreams), I was going to walk out of today's appointment having heard a joyous clasp of hands and a sentence that began, 'Well, your treatment was a resounding success' and perhaps even the word 'remission'. Idiot indeed. Instead, the information I've been left with – along with a sledgehammer of a reminder of how serious my diagnosis is (was?) – goes something like this:

- The gift of 'remission' is at least five years away. Five years. After the London Olympics. After the next General Election. Christ, Miley Cyrus will have done a stint in rehab, made a sex tape, squeezed out an illegitimate baby and written her memoirs by the time I'm in remission. My daily Tamoxifen is considered active treatment – thus I can't be moved from red to amber alert until such a time as I've stopped taking it.

- I begged for a CT scan. (Honestly, begged. I don't like being reduced to this, and it wasn't pretty.) I'd assumed that a clear CT scan would be the little bit of closure God knows I've earned after the last few months. Turns out it won't tell me a sodding thing. If there are random cancer cells floating about my veins or organs or wherever else the little fuckers get to, a CT scan won't pick them up.

- Even if a future CT scan picked up on a recurrence of my breast cancer, it wouldn't affect the outcome. Because if there ever is a relapse of The Bullshit, there's not a damn thing they can do to cure it. They could manage it, and hopefully slow its progress, but never cure it.

So here I am in my dressing gown on a Friday night, having cried all I've got to cry and watched or listened as my husband and parents do the same. Here we are again, back in the dark beginning. If only this were just a disease that you discover, get upset about, treat, then get over. Someone once told me that, upon her diagnosis, her consultant said, 'I don't want to frighten you, but you need to understand that your life will never be the same again.' And here we all were, gunning for the finish-line of the end of treatment, eager to get back to the lovely life we all once knew. But of course we can't. Life has changed. And of course there's no finish line. Cancer doesn't end neatly. I realise now that when I got my diagnosis, I had no idea what it meant. Of course cancer doesn't finish just like that. We've only just reached the second half. (And yes, I know that with five years of Tamoxifen, the second half is considerably longer than the first, but I was never any good at maths and, stuff it, it's my analogy.)

Stage three breast cancer doesn't leave you with a short haircut, several scars, a missing nipple and a false boob. Stage three breast cancer leaves you with a lifetime of uncertainty, a loss of naivety that never alters. And while it's really fucking upsetting right now, we've got to find a way to work with it. Normal life must resume. A new kind of normal, granted, but normal nonetheless. So, after several miserable hours at the hospital and several subsequent miserable phonecalls, P and I came home and folded the washing. And you can't get much more normal than that.


Anonymous said...

I love you. So Much. Whenever it seems insurmountable, please know that I think of you as a real live wonderwoman on this planet. And I thought this before the Bullshit, even though you may choose not to believe that. Whenever it has seemed like things might be average and blah, there you've been with your whipsmart comments and humorous, sardonic, brilliant take on the world, all mixed up with kindness and dynamism and the ability to understand the offside rule. This has always been the case and this will not change. Just sayin. xxxxxxx

Anonymous said...

p.s. LOVING your satc-style quick bookmarks.

Anonymous said...

Wonderwoman would be an understatement for are BOSTIN!

gemmak said...

Anything I say will sound banal, so all I will say is that 'she I know well who has been where you are' promises me you do get used to the uncertainty to a greater degree and as time goes by your confidence grows and the shit begins to take it's place further to the back of your mind, until one day you realise, almost by mistake, that those scary moments of 'what if's' are mostly just that...'moments'.

Anonymous said...

God. That was a tough one. I am so sorry you had to have a day like that. But you’re right, normal life will resume. You’re well on the way to normality and everything is going to be great again, in bits and pieces to start with, but before long, all the time. And until then, keeping busy is underrated. So is cava.

You have an army of people behind you. Because you’re ace.

Love you x

Anonymous said...

Tillie stole my thoughts. She's good that one.

You're still a legend Sis. You are ace.

Q: How many other people would I let call me arseface.
A: None.

Love you. Bro!

Anonymous said...

It's awfully hard to say something that doesn't sound idiotic or trite, I've just rewritten my first sentence four times. I just wanted to say I'm sorry about today and this and how you're feeling, and that I think you're totally amazing.

Also, in response to your previous post: when I was little I so badly wanted to be a boy that I went through a phase of religiously buying the 'Roy Of The Rovers' comic, even though I didn't really understand any of it because I knew (and cared) nothing about football. When my brother asked me about it, I shrugged my shoulders and looked nonchalant as if it wasn't a big deal.

Gemmak's comment above is infintely more authoritative than anything I have, so I hope it helps


Tessa said...

God. The long walk to freedom. Hamba kahlem, inkosikazi.

Nonamoose said...

I kind of feel reluctant to comment in amongst your precious family and friends but I wanted to say that normal life will resume as it must, but it doesn't stop bullshit sometimes being at the back of it. The grieving process for what was and is no longer must be gone through too and that's always utterly painful. Sometimes it's a case of metaphorically putting one foot in front of the other and plodding on as best you can. It sounds easy but it isn't...

I'm holding you in my thoughts tonight if that's ok and sending you a big cyber hug (if that's ok too - don't worry if it's not, when words are inadequate - there's always hugs)

Just be gentle with yourself and know that your family, friends and all of your followers on here, facebook and twitter and rooting so strongly for you.

Anonymous said...

Hello, I'm a new follower to your blog and I think you're amazing. I just wanted to say I'm so sorry you've had a shit time.

I hope your life becomes "normal" soon, even if it is a different kind of normal to what you were expecting.

Even though I've never met you (cor, isn't the internet funny!), I'm sending you lots of love and best wishes.

Dae said...

So, Ms. L, I have a proposal for you regarding a donation for your SS30th. I'm not sure if you would be interested or not, but I'm going to throw it out there.

Bear with me for this. This is me, and this is my hair.

I'm sorry to post so many MySpacey shots, but I'm trying to convey the sheer magnitude of my hair. It is big and red and curly, and it is very very thick. There is a LOT of hair here-- I can't get a hand around it when it's loose, to give you an idea. The photos I just showed are all old-- The hair in question comes, currently, to my waist. I wish I had thought of this before I cut 6" a week ago, but them's the ropes. This hair is my trademark, my "thing," my pride and glory.

...How much do you reckon I could raise, if I donated it to your fund?

Lisa Lynch said...

Blimey, Dae.

Half of me is thinking, 'Good God, woman, you're mad to even consider lopping off that beautiful hair.' The other half is screaming, 'Hell, yeah, go for it!'

But seriously... are you serious? Like, seriously?!

In terms of what you could raise, oof – loads. A sacrifice like that deserves one hell of a lot of charity sponsorship (my SS30th funds will be going to Breast Cancer Care). Not to mention a huge round of applause for even having the thought in the first place, you amazing, loopy lass, you.

Don't be doing this unless you've properly thought it over, mind (but with seven months until the event, there's lots of time to do that). Losing long locks ain't easy, believe me! x

Lisa Lynch said...

Whoa whoa whoa, Dae. Step away from the scissors.

Another blog reader (far smarter than I) has just pointed me in this direction, and I reckon that – if this is what you want to do – this could be another idea to consider.

Totally your call, though. I'm backing off now because this decision is entirely yours. But of course I think you're awesome for even considering it. x

Anonymous said...

Damn it. If I'd read this before I saw you at the wedding on Saturday, I wouldn't have been able to stop hugging you.

You're the bestest, as the others here will testify, and it was really really great seeing you this weekend; it's been far too long.

By the way if it helps I'm also willing to do the lopping off the hair thing. I suspect I may not raise the same amount of cash mind.

Anonymous said...

Shit. Cancer really does piss on your chips, more than I would ever have thought of. Maybe you will get used to the niggling of non-remission. After a certain amount of time, it must get less. I very much hope so anyway. ♥

Anonymous said...

P.S. - Tried to find your interview in derWesten, but my German isn't even good enough to *find* the article, let alone read it!! I shall just assume you were funny & brave & witty as always. :)

- Erin. x

Anonymous said...

Thanks to my cocktail (huh) of Tamoxifen and Zoladex, absolutely no one would want to bid for my straw-like hair, but one comment that helped me came from my GP. She was telling me about an 80-year-old patient of hers who had had a radical mastectomy when she was 30 and pointed out that women survived even when the treatment was crap, but now that treatment is so much better, many more survive.