As I may have mentioned (in my entire post dedicated to it), I turned 45 last Friday. This was my second birthday since the cancer diagnosis, and like last year I made sure I had a fat time (and I mean that literally – thanks to Cafe Sydney, Mr Wong, Balla, Danjee and Red Lantern amongst other amazing Sydney restaurants).
The celebrations involved a fantastic couple of days in a fancy hotel in Sydney with my two dearest friends from high school, followed by another couple of wonderful days with my two boys. Here is a photographic summary of what I have christened my birtholiday (patent pending).
Even though we are home and back to reality, enhanced by the bone-shaking cough Hugh apparently bought back as his Luna Park souvenir, I was still flying high on the joy of my birtholiday today when I was brought crashing right back down to earth. I got a reminder about an appointment I have on Monday. It’s my regular 3-monthly check-up with my oncologist. As soon as I read the reminder, I felt sick. Hot. Cold. Weak at the knees. Teary. Panicky. Worried. Terrified.
I don’t want to go. I don’t want to walk into the Cancer Care Centre ever again. I don’t want to sit in the waiting room, desperately trying not to make eye contact with anyone. Concentrating on not noticing how pretty much everyone else is bald, and that those that do have hair are either in the process of losing it. I don’t want to go into my standard ‘visit with the oncologist mode’, where I do my best impression of the world’s happiest person who will surely stave off cancer with the sheer force of her bubbly personality, whilst internally my fear and anxiety is so bad that I am only just able to swallow down the vomit that is creeping up my throat. I don’t want to take off my jacket, and my top, and my bra, and sit there feigning nonchalance whilst the oncologist does a physical exam. I don’t want to be unable to breathe the whole time her hands are on me, listening to the cancer demons screaming in the back of my mind, trying to convince me that her hands just slowed and that must mean she can feel something. Convinced for the minutes of silence that constitute her exam that I am about to be hurled, again but this time with no chance of escape, into cancer.
I read that appointment reminder and I was immediately taken back to morning in October 2012 when I was diagnosed. I am there, in my lounge room, wearing my bathrobe and saying ‘oh shit’ over and over and over as the doctor delivered the news. I am staring at the faces of my husband and mother who have overheard my side of the call but are waiting, with faces full of blind hope, their eyes pleading with me to say that they have somehow misunderstood, and that I am fine. I am saying those words for the very first time ‘I have breast cancer’. I am sobbing as I look at my four year old, tow-haired boy. I am marvelling to my husband about getting an appointment within my GP within the hour, when it normally takes two days to get a slot, until the reality of why I am now at the front of the queue hits me fair in the chest as we are ushered through the waiting room without a pause and delivered straight to the doctor by the gloomy faced receptionist. That was also the first time I observed what I call ‘cancer face’ – a look that many people (probably quite unwittingly) give you when they find out you have cancer. Cancer face is a cross between pity (for me), fear (of one day being like me), relief (that they’re not me) and denial (both that I may die and they may ever be in the same position as me). Cancer face is very similar to this:
Every time I think I’ve made such great progress, I am dragged right back. Whole days go by, when I don’t think about cancer. I go to work, get caught up in problems that need to be solved and people who need to be helped, and I am worker Julie. I come home and have conversations with my husband about whether we should buy a new dishwasher and when new series of The Walking Dead starts, and I am wife Julie. I help my son with his homework, and almost burst with pride at his reading ability, and I am mother Julie. Whole days and no sign of cancer Julie. And then, bang, BANG:
A reminder that your next appointment at the Cancer Care Centre is scheduled for Monday, 8 September at 4:20pm. Please bring with you the results of any scans you have had in preparation for this appointment.
and I am right back there, on the ground.