Over the past two and a bit years, I have had many, many conversations that I could never have imagined myself having. I’ve talked to doctors about a lump that in my heart I knew was sinister, I’ve talked to other doctors about my prognosis and five-year survival chances, I’ve talked to my husband about how good his financial position would be should I die, and I’ve had a conversation with my then four-year old son about whether I was going to die.
I’ve had conversations with my parents where I’ve tried to convey to them the seriousness of my illness, and failed, because no loving parent is wired to be able to accept such devastating news about their child. I’ve had conversations with my friends about the role I’d like them to play in helping my husband and my child should my death be imminent. I’ve had a conversation with my insurer about the status of my health, and discussed the nuanced differences between being ‘treated with curative intent’ and ‘curable’.
I’ve had conversations with an old school friend, who I met up with after 25+ years when we were both diagnosed with cancer. I’ve had conversations with researchers who are trying to find out more about sporadic breast cancer, which is the type that is not related to genetics – the type that kills the most women. I’ve had conversations with myself – many, many conversations, most of them silently in my head in the darkness before dawn – about the hows and whys and what ifs of my situation.
The weekend just gone, I had a conversation that was so brutally honest that my throat still feels like it’s on fire from the words that I pushed out. I was walking along a footpath in Melbourne, with my friend Jules, who is a mother, writer, self-confessed bogan bon vivant and writer of extraordinary talent (we wrote this post together). It was a glorious, temperate Melbourne afternoon and we could feel the sun on our backs each time we walked out of the dappled shade. We had to keep stopping for Jules to rest, because she has bowel cancer which has spread to her liver. But as we walked, and paused, and walked and paused again, we never stopped talking. Words flowed out and as they came from both of us, I could feel them swirling about inside me, and I wondered if Jules felt the same, but I didn’t want to sound like a dickhead, so I didn’t ask.
During that conversation, Jules told me that she couldn’t just be alive, that she needed to live, and to live, she has to take the most enormous, terrifying risk of having a surgery where there is a 50% chance that she will not come out alive. At that moment, I turned to Jules and said ‘You are going to put it all on red’. And she quietly repeated my words ‘All on red’ and we continued to amble slowly up that tree-lined street. It occurred to me later that maybe drawing a gambling analogy was probably a little bit tasteless in the circumstances, but as it happens, Jules let me know via this blog post, that the flow of words between us, our conversation, had meant something to her.
Jules, you got me despite my inability to draw situation-appropriate analogies. Whatever, wherever, whenever, you are Julia Watson and you are a fucking legend who’s putting it all on red. There is no other way to end this post, so here he is for your listening pleasure: