Today I had to pick up a prescription at the cancer centre at the hospital where I was treated. Walking into that place, almost a year since my last day of treatment, brought it all rushing back. I actually had to take a couple of deep breaths and physically steel myself to walk up the stairs and go into the waiting room. At 12:15 on a Wednesday afternoon a couple of days before Easter, it was standing room only in there. It is not a small waiting room. So many people sitting silently, apart from an ocassional cough, waiting to do whatever they are told that they have to do. Despite what the cheesy telemovies would have you believe, oncology waiting rooms are not (in my experience at least) full of jovial head-scarf wearers who are firing up for another 12 rounds where they will no doubt triumph over nasty old cancer. People sit silently, avoid eye contact with each other, and jump like startled rabbits when their name is called.
Going back there today, combined with some very sad news about a family friend, has reminded me about how much I hate cancer. There are many, many reasons, but in the spirit of a man who looks like he’s wearing a bad wig even though it’s his own hair, I’ve limited this post to listing my Richard Wilkins-style top 5:
1. Being asked by my 4 year old if I was going to die
We did our best to protect our son from the worst of my diagnosis and treatment, and certainly we never discussed death or dying with him. But children are of course incredibly perceptive, although I didn’t realise quite how perceptive until one night when I was in the middle of chemo. I was putting my boy to bed, and after we’d read a story and I was adjusting his blankets, he stared at me thoughtfully for a while, and then said ‘Mummy, are you going to die? Because if you die, then it will just be Daddy and me’.
2. Filling in forms
Insurance forms which ask you to tick the box if your cancer is terminal and you’re likely to be dead within the next 12 months are a special kind of torture to the cancer patient. No, I am not terminal at this point in time, so I’ll tick the other box. Well now you’ve ticked the other box, we’re going to need a letter from your doctor telling us what % chance you have of still being alive in five years time. Thank you, oh faceless insurance actuary so much for the reminder, I’d almost forgotten how completely shit this whole situation was and will continue to be.
3. Seeing every event as a possible ‘last’
Will this Christmas where I’m bald and too fatigued to even wrap a single present be my last? Should I throw my kid a huge birthday party this year like I did last year because what if there’s no next year? New York for my 50th birthday, or this year even though we can’t afford it because I might not make it to 50. Living in the now never felt so bloody awful.
4. Having no tolerance for bullshit
Anxious and upset about having to move from your current office to a very similar one on a different floor of the same building? Get a real fucking problem and get back to me. As I wrote this one, I suddenly thought, is this actually a thing to hate or a thing to love about cancer?
5. Knowing no doctor will ever again say to you ‘you’re going to be fine’
When I was diagnosed, I just wanted a doctor, any doctor, to say those magic words. Of course none of them did, and they never will again. As a result, I imagine EVERY SINGLE ache, pain, cough, twinge, lump or bump is the cancer coming back to finally take me out. It can be so tiring. (Oh, and then I start imaging that the tiredness is the cancer coming back).
Cancer people, what’s on your list? Non-cancer people, what do you reckon about number 4 on my list? Has cancer turned me into a nasty bitch, or someone you’d like to have a drink with?
I agree with all of them. In regards to number 4 I think you just reassess what (and who) is import in your life and you just don’t want to waste what time you may have left on the inconsequential things. Being told you have a 50/50 five year survival chance really puts thing into perspective.
Others I would add
The Guilt – seeing the emotional toll it is taking on your family, how it is impacting on your children, the “if only’s”, the financial cost, knowing things will never be the same.
Being in Limbo – you are always waiting for something; treatment to start, treatment to finish, surgery, recovery, appointments, test, test results. You can’t plan ahead because you never know where you are going to be treatment wise and how you are going to feel at any given time.
Oh the Limbo thing is huge, and sadly I don’t think it will ever go away.
I can remember totally agreeing with you on number 4 at the time 🙂 Maybe we are just both bitches. xo
“Get a real fucking problem and get back to me!” Bwhahahaha!! I love it. So true. Interestingly I have suddenly developed the patience of a saint when it comes to some of life’s ‘irritations’. Traffic jam? Waiting 20 minutes for my coffee order? No worries. I’ve got a REAL problem. But people and their bullshit …… well not so much. However I would say my children are coming out of this pretty well at the moment. I’m bloody Super Mum at the moment and husband is Super Dad. This house has never been so child-centred and so …… calm. It’s probably the calm before the storm so I’m drinking in every moment.
Love number 4 Julie ; tears and smiling simultaneously as I read all of your musings ; especially argyle dick warmers !
I have some crazy dreams but that one takes the cake. Thank you for taking the time to comment Michelle, means a lot!