Monday 21 June 2010

Day old blues.

I received a long message from my mid-chemo auntie last week. ‘Because I love you I’m going to give you a little lecture,’ she said. ‘I think you’re trying too hard. I see a lot of you in me. I’ve spent a lot of time in my life putting on a brave face and pretending to the world that everything is just hunky dory. It’s tiring. There are times when you just have to give in to how you feel... So if you don’t feel like giving your lovely smile to everyone, don’t. Then tomorrow you may just want to.’

My auntie and I have always been close, but never more so than now, thanks to the Bullshit-dictated situation in which she now finds herself. Because, much as everyone else around us understands our situations as best they can, nobody gets it – I mean, really gets it – more than she does for me, and I do for her. And so I’ve spent more time than I ordinarily might thinking about her advice. Not least yesterday morning when, following a particularly disturbing dream in an otherwise low week, I didn’t feel like giving my lovely smile to everyone. And so I didn’t. I gave in and stopped trying, as per my auntie’s advice, not necessarily because I chose to do it that way, but because my doldrums left me too exhausted to find an alternative. So instead of opening up my make-up bag and painting on a brave face, I left it zipped for the day and remained a miserable bastard instead.

It had been brewing for a week or so, if truth be told. Last Thursday marked two years to the day that I was diagnosed with The Bullshit. The week of my cancerversary is always going to be a tough’un, but I like to employ fail-safe tactics to get myself through it. Where I might otherwise see June in my diary and tear out four weeks’ worth of pages out of sheer dread, I instead fill it with exciting things – holidays, parties, Glastonbury, Wimbledon and, this year, a summer of football – so that the month becomes one to enjoy rather than fear. Except this year, of course, my fail-safe plan unravelled spectacularly when I slipped arse over tit on a marble floor in Mexico. Goodbye, month of fun. Hello, unwanted reminder of two years ago.

I haven’t been feeling down because of the broken back, as such – like I said, them’s the breaks – but more because of what the broken back brought about. Anyone who’s followed my story will know how brilliantly jump-to-the-rescue my parents are (and anyone who hasn’t would do well to read this wonderful piece) so, of course, the moment they learned of my mishap they were ready with annual leave from their respective jobs, flights to Cancun (Dad) and an empty washing basket and fully-stocked fridge (Mum). Which was wonderful. But when I landed back home after a week in a hospital whose name I still can’t pronounce, I realised I just didn’t want any of it. Worse yet – I wanted my parents gone.

I’m well aware how horribly ungrateful that sounds. Not sounds – is. It’s unforgivably unappreciative, and I hate myself for voicing it. And thus I offer not an excuse, but an explanation.

For starters, it’s selfishness. The selfishness of wanting time for just me and P: the just-us-two time we’d so looked forward to on the holiday we’d more than earned. But also, it’s frustration. The frustration of having finally got back to the post-Bullshit point of spending quality, fun time with my parents – y’know, as friend-like equals rather than as nursing parents and reliant child – only to be forced back into a situation where all of that work is undone. The issue is obviously not that I don’t want to see my parents full stop – just that I don’t want to see them under those circumstances. I’ve had enough of it.

Mostly, though, the aforementioned ungratefulness is because of the echoes of what June 2008 was like for us all. I can’t tell you how many times over the last week I’ve had to remind myself that I’ve not got cancer. Because this – this past week, with Dad doing the gardening, Mum up to her eyebrows in washing, P stroking my hair while I lie on the bed and everyone fetching me stuff and asking me how I am every ten minutes – this is what cancer feels like. In stark opposition to that is last June, when I took myself shopping for summer frocks, ate barbecued food, went to parties, spent a week in a campervan in Glastonbury with P, Tills and Si and generally did everything possible to forget about what had happened a year previous. And it worked.

But not this June. This June, all my forget-about-cancer-and-get-on-with-a-happy-life strategies are suddenly no longer there to fall back on and, inevitably – with the reminder of what it’s like to have the people around you care for you more than you can care for yourself, and the reminder of what it’s like to be killing time before another mastectomy – I reached a point where ‘pretending to the world that everything is hunky dory’ was just too much like hard work.

And so when I woke up yesterday morning after a late-night row with P and a troubling nightmare in which some kind of weird cult encouraged me to cut my wrists, and then cheered when I did (seriously – I was *this* close to calling The Priory), I hid under the duvet as my anger at The June That Never Was stormed into my brain to the sound of The Imperial March. And boy, did I underestimate the power of the dark side.

See, while occasionally giving into the blues may indeed be a necessary release, what it also does – on the rare occasions in which I allow said blues to surface – is make matters worse thanks to the guilt that comes with them. That may not be the case for everybody, but for me – with an impossibly-eager-to-help family as wonderful as mine – it doesn’t half shroud me in shame. The thing is, priceless as it is to have such a lovely family and friends around you, when things are shit you sometimes find yourself wishing that there was nobody who cared, because then at least you’d only have to deal with the shitness itself, and not the guilt that comes with inflicting that shitness on the people you love.

Which is why, in a nutshell, I do make the effort to put on a brave face the rest of the time. (Not that I always need to do it, of course. Most of the time I’m fine and dandy – it’s the low moments that I’d rather hide that I’m talking about.) Because not painting on a smile when it might be easier to do otherwise can sometimes bring about as many problems as caused it in the first place. But also because I simply hate feeling like that. I hate acting like a miserable cow. I hate being a wanker to my parents. I hate getting in a grump with my husband. I hate giving in and I hate crying to the point of hiccups and I hate making the people I love worry about me more than they already do.

But that hate, I guess, is what ultimately snaps me out of it. And makes me want to try again. My auntie was right: sometimes, I won’t feel like giving my lovely smile to everyone. Today, however, I might just want to. 

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Drama queen.

My mate Andrew teases me mercilessly about my life being like a soap opera. ‘What’s happened in this week’s episode?’ he’ll ask whenever I’m in the office, before I bring him up to speed with a previously-on-Lisa-Lynch omnibus of the mail-order bridesmaid’s dress that got held hostage by US customs, the VW-camper hire company who did a runner with our Glasto-van deposit or losing Sgt Pepper beneath the foundations of the flat while we were getting the kitchen done. 

But, by Andrew’s own admission, the broken back saga has lifted me beyond the realms of EastEnders’ market stalls or Coronation Street’s cobbles and into full-on, escaping-from-a-mental-institution, faking-your-own-death, affair-with-your-daughter’s-fiancee, Melrose Place territory. I mean, come on. The famous last words of this is going to be the best June ever’... the dramatic fall (in a bikini, no less) immediately thereafter on a terrace overlooking the sea… the deafening screams disturbing a tiny island’s peace… the terror on the faces of the hotel guests as the stretchered patient is carried down three flights of stairs… the celeb-worthy boat that was chartered to sail me over to the mainland hospital… the emergency-room MRI drama… the will-they-won’t-they cliffhanger of whether surgery was necessary… the nail-biting anxiety of how to get back to Britain…  Never mind who killed Archie – breaking your back on a getting-over-cancer holiday? You can’t write this stuff.

And it’s a good job, really, since I doubt even Melrose Place has scope for plotlines about heavy-handed bed-baths, a 30-year-old forced into wearing nappies (I kid you not), and a husband having to lift his immobile wife onto a bedpan. (And I thought I’d left my dignity at the door with The Bullshit.) Plus, of course, there’s the fact that this series would need to be dubbed, given that it all took place in Spanish. Which, in a fortuitous turn of events, is the same language in which my husband is impressively articulate. (Mind you, I bet even P could never have imagined his language skills could see him through a conversation about the merits of a colostomy bag.) If I were a believer in fate or religion, I’d think that God put me and P together for reasons like this. As it is, though, I just feel bloody lucky – despite The Bullshit and The Backshit – to have Him (P, not God) on my side. I mean, sheesh – talk about landing on your feet. How many fluent Spanish-speaking scousers with a talent for caring for ill wives can there be in the world?

After my last post, an anonymous commenter questioned the legitimacy of my back-break story. ‘Is this a wind up?’ they inquired. ‘Are you a fraud? Get better soon, if you're for real.’ It’s a question that, I imagine, most people asked when they learned about my holiday in a Mexican hospital. And fair enough. Because, whoever the anonymous commenter that was brave enough to raise his or her reservation was, they were right to do it. Hell, I can barely believe it myself. But – even more of a pain in the back as it is to admit – I assure you it’s true.

Actually, it all feels a bit too real right now. See, as much as my new ailment has brought with it all the attentive, thoughtful and impossibly generous gestures that remind me of the tidal wave of loveliness that hit once I was diagnosed with The Bullshit, it’s also a frustrating reminder of what it’s like to go from normal girl to ailing patient in a terrifying instant. And though I’ve become worryingly good at this dealing-with-adversity lark, there’s a crapload of other stuff at which I am depressingly, well, crap. Like being accepting of my situation for one. 

Yes, yes, I know that getting better – be it a broken back or broken boob – is all about baby steps, taking one day at a time, not pushing yourself too hard, yadda yadda. But, goddammit, I’m just. so. sick. of. having. to. get. better. in. the. first. place. that my tolerance of the one-step-at-at-time approach is akin to an anorexic’s tolerance of Big Macs. Add to that my growing resentment of the people around me for the sudden change in our roles – from independent adult daughter to helplessly dependent child; from happy, loving wife to grumpy, marital burden – and, dressed up in a wheelchair and an uncomfortable back brace that’s half period-drama corset, half suicide-bomber chic, you’ve got one heck of an impatient patient on your hands. So, I'm sure you'll agree, it'd take one helluva twisted mind to make up a story like that.

Thus, running joke as it may be, I have to admit that my life does seem to have all the right ingredients for a drama series. (Minus, perhaps, a house fire, car chase and an interrupted wedding... but give me a couple of weeks and I’m sure I can sort it.) But what, I wonder, is coming up in the next few episodes?  

VIOLENCE! After weeks of reliance on her family, will Lisa finally snap?
TRAGEDY! How will Lisa cope with missing her beloved Glastonbury?
REVELATION! What will the results of her parents’ gene testing uncover?
DOUBT! By how long will Lisa’s life-saving surgery have to be delayed?
TENSION! When will the painkillers give Lisa a break from constipation?
TRIUMPH! Will Lisa learn to do a wheelchair wheelie like that kid off Glee?

Yup, it’s a soap opera all right. I just suspect that this is the kind of show that nobody wants to watch. Mind you, it never stopped Eldorado…

Tuesday 8 June 2010

Alright Back.

Since I’m switching frantically between chirpy optimism and Hulk-like pissed-offness on this holiday, I’ll leave it to you to choose which of these two postcards you prefer...

First, the ferfuckssake-I-must’ve-been-a-dictator-in-a-former life postcard:

Well. So much for my getting-over-cancer super-holiday. I’m over cancer all right. Lying in a hospital bed in Mexico with a broken back. All thanks to slipping on condensation on the beautiful marble floor of our hotel room. A proper cartoon fall, too, launching into the air and landing thwack on my spine. I s’pose that’ll teach me for telling everyone I’d be having one hell of a summer... just this wasn’t exactly the kind of hell I had in mind. (So long Glasto...) So I’m not writing this postcard from beside a pool, but instead from beside a bedpan. Less ‘wish you were here’; more ‘wish I was there’. I’d finish this postcard by asking when I’m going to catch a break... but it seems I’ve got that covered already.

See you as soon as I’m declared fit to fly,

Lisa x

And now, the seeing-the-world-through-rose-tinted-morphine postcard:

Just a quick hello from sunny May-hee-co to tell you what it’s like out here. Hotel is amazing. In fact, I’m head-over-heels about it. As planned, I’ve been spending a lot of time on my back and my wishes to stay here a little longer have, surprisingly, been granted – we won’t be home as early as Thursday after all. It’s been more eventful than we’d expected, but P and I came out here to move beyond The Bullshit – and we’ve sure as hell managed it. That said, it wasn’t quite the break we expected. Will tell you more when we get home but one thing’s for sure: this was nacho average vacation...

Love and kisses (no hugs though),

Lucky Lisa x

I know, I know. I can't believe it either. Anything for a second book, eh? But meh; it's like I said once before: them's the breaks.