Friday, April 23, 2010

Cancer...where to begin

Having a cancer diagnosis was a terrifying and immobilising experience for me as I imagine it is for many people. The amount of new information I have had to digest and then reinterpret at a later date once my hysterics had settled, is enough to write a compact medical book. I feel just as entitled as any doctor or nurse to use terms that were alien to me but are now part of my vocabulary.

I don't know where to begin with this 'story' so I'm just going to let it tumble it out naturally in it's own style. I will unpick it in a non-linear, ad-hoc manner in the hope that I can make some sense of it and lay parts of it to rest. Nine months past diagnosis I realise clearly that cancer will always be part of me - not necessarily in a literal physical sense - it has simply become another intrinsic aspect of what makes me who I am.

This week I started radiotherapy. This means that I need to drive to a hospital one hour away 5 days a week for three weeks, lay semi naked on a cold metal bed whilst scary, sci-fi like machines hum and click over me dispensing radiation. I'm so glad my husband and I went to the information evening beforehand and had a tour of the department. It was the first time in my life that I ever paid attention whilst someone talked physics!

It is surreal to sit in a waiting room with strangers, knowing that cancer links us. It doesn't discriminate - the room is filled with a cross section of the population. Some people come alone for treatment, other's bring back-up in the form of a spouse, friend, sibling, adult child. Yesterday I watched a youngish woman tenderly adjust the crumpled clothing of her husband who had just come out of a treatment room. He was frail and her love for him overwhelmed me and reminded me how lucky I am to have had love and care to help me through this. This week my husband came to the hospital with me twice, a friend came once and I went alone twice. Part of my plan to start reclaiming some independence is to do things on my own. This is important to me.

I have spent so many hours/days having hospital treatment in the past nine months that I see this environment as 'normal' - I long for it to feel alien again, because that means I have been cured and released from this protective custody. As a writer I realise that by writing about my experience I am reinventing myself in a story: I am creating my cancer survival narrative.

Survival is one of my new favourite words.


Chris Stovell said...

I was very moved reading your post and I think letting your story unfold is just the way to approach it. I found the last paragraph particularly poignant. My OH was successful treated for cancer but was quite distressed when, after many years, he no longer had to go for regular check-ups. He felt he'd lost a safety net.

May you go from strength to strength. Cx

JJ Beattie said...

Yes, letting the story tumble out naturally is the right way. Cancer touches so many people and yet as an experience if you haven't been through it either yourself or with a loved one, it all remains a mystery.

Sending you lots of strength for the coming treatments.

liz fenwick said...

I agree with Chris and JJ - let the story tumble out.

The image of the woman and her husband - beautiful...

NoviceNovelist said...

Thanks Chris, JJ & Liz for popping by. I've heard that said by a few people Chris - that once the safety net is gone it can make you feel a little abandoned. I love hearing the success stories so thanks for mentioning it.

Fia said...

Well done, especially for the days you went alone.

My mother had breast cancer when she was forty two. She's seventy six now and can't be bothered to wear her bit of rubber so she's a bit lopsided but couldn't give a ****