Back to the beginning – ‘The first symptoms’ Up to – ‘To you’
Back to previous post – ‘Fear of Death’
At the end of July 2010 I find myself suspended from a thread, up in the air, dangling. Between the ‘I do-s’ and ‘I don’t-s’, I swing and balance, back and forth, forth and back, day and night, week after week, until exhausted, I drive myself into a state of utter confusion.
‘I have ovarian cancer!’
‘No, stupid! You don’t!’
‘This is an ovarian cancer!’
‘No, it isn’t!’
Trapped in the ever spinning circle of self-diagnosis dilemma, I’m experiencing a form of mental anguish from which I’m unable to escape.
When faced with a cancer diagnosis, doctors and psychiatrists will often tell you that the battle against cancer is two-folded. On one hand, you have the fleshly, physical fight taking place at cellular level, deep down inside your body. This is the battle-field where the big guns of surgery and chemotherapy play a very important role and come into combat. On the other hand, there’s the spiritual conflict, unraveling inside your mind, bringing sadness and fear and invading your soul. As a cancer patient you have no other choice but to learn how to be the best soldier you can, and fight in both.
– ‘You have to stay healthy and strong!’ – oncologists will tell you.
– ‘You have to keep a positive attitude!’ – psychiatrists will advise.
Depending on circumstances, neither is particularly easy. A lesson to be aware of is that nothing about cancer is ever trivial, or easy, or guaranteed, and everything is connected. Highly debilitating, cancer comes at you, raging, from all angles and on all levels, physical, mental, social and professional, it relentlessly encloses you, baring all escape, ever closer, inch after inch, cell after cell, until you can no longer defend or survive.
Hold on tight, you poor soul, raise your towers, target your archers and cling to every hope, because this here, is a mighty fight like you’ve never had before and never will after.
It’s the battle for your last breath, the one battle that you cannot afford to lose.
I hold my hands in prayer and I wish.
‘Be my hero!
Stay alive, you, part of my soul, cancer patient. For the beautiful life awaiting ahead of you, for me and for all the others who love you, be the winner and beat this!’
Although in July of 2010 I’m still many months away from surgeries, chemotherapy and ravages of the flesh, mentally I’m already surrounding to cancerous invasions. Between the ‘I do’-s’ and ‘I don’t-s’, I swing and suffer.
Every day I look at Dr. Patricia McNicholl’s referral note. It’s sitting here, on my computer desk, white envelope silently tormenting me.
It is addressed to ‘Beaumont Hospital – Emergency Room’.
And every day I find a new reason to ignore it.
– ‘Ah, but look! Today I’m feeling a little bit better! Perhaps I won’t need any doctors afterall!’
(And indeed, there are days when I do (feel a little bit better).
But the apparent return to normal health is only temporary, a slyly clever trick in cancer’s arsenal of weapons, to fool you into thinking that everything is alright and medical help is not necessary. The well-being is a chimera, it doesn’t last and symptoms always come back).
– ‘Today I’m very busy. I need to go shopping, buy some more milk. Obviously, I can’t go to the hospital today, I have to finish the milk business first. I’ll go there tomorrow’.
Tomorrow the weather changes.
– ‘It’s raining. Can you not see how heavy the rain is? I lost my umbrella and I can’t walk in the rain.’
The next day I’m late.
– ‘It’s already too late in the afternoon. Doctors have left by now. Let’s leave it for some other time’.
Some other time is the time of the darn hair.
– ‘I have a bad hair day. It’s all fuzzy. I can’t go to the Emergency Room looking like the hideous extension of a broom’.
And so it goes, on and on, for another month of dangling in confusion and the ever more phantasmagoric excuses I’m digging out from dark corners of imagination in a desperate attempt to prolong the delusional status-quo, to dwindle and linger, far and away from facing a reality I cannot yet accept.
Clearly I’m a sissy.
To defend my irrational behaviour I have only one excuse. Not only I am a sissy, but I’m also very alone.
Have a good look at me, frightened chicken with ruffled feathers and bloated belly, sitting at the computer desk, up in the dark room in the attic.
Can you hear the silence? Can you see the emptiness?
A single bed, one lonely chair, a solitary toothbrush, one window to the sky.
Everything in my life comes in 1-s.
The loneliness of me, of I. One. Only.
There’s no one else here to share with me, to hold my hand and my heart, to give me strength and to encourage me. Nobody is warning me: – ‘sweet-pumpkin, you either go to the doctors tomorrow, or you’ll sleep on the sofa until you do!’
The silence of the void.
Because, I’m essentially a waste and nobody cares about me.
Except, perhaps, for the Post Office with a heart.
Cancer patients will often tell you that the experience of surviving the disease has made them richer, fuller, more accomplished and more aware.
They will tell you that cancer brings unexpected gifts.
The joy of living in the moment, the intensity of ‘Carpe Diem’, the beauty of a sunset that you only now, after being attacked by cancer, have eyes to truly see, the majesty of the ocean, the glitter in the sun rays and the wind blowing in your hair.
There’s a kiss on your lips, a touch on your hand.
With a sparkle in your eyes, you smile and breathe.
In love and alive.
The wonder of being.
Cancer patients will tell you that cancer taught them how to appreciate life, and how to be grateful.
And some of them will even tell you about angels.
My landlord is a cancer survivor himself, (three years out and looking healthier, stronger and more handsome by the day). My landlord told me that while travelling through his journey with cancer, he had met angels.
And he met fairies too!
His story about the fairies is enchanting and goes a long way back, to his childhood, but since this is not quite the right place for fairies, I will save it for a more appropiate time).
Today, I will tell you about the angels instead.
I met them too.
First, you have to know that the angels I met are masters into fooling you that they are nothing of the kind. There are no wings to be seen, no walking on clouds and no magical wands with sparkling rubies to wave around and satisfy your every wish.
The angels I met look just like you and me, ordinary people.
The magic is secret and kept hidden, deep inside.
There’s a heart there, a heart that beats bigger, wider, kinder and more loving.
A heart that cares.
It cares for a stranger, for someone who it has never met before and doesn’t know, for someone who is in pain, and lonely and sick and who will never have the means to give anything in return.
This is the wonder of unconditional kindness.
The gift of an angel.
I met my first angels at the ‘Carey’s’ Post Office, in Baldoyle.
See what I meant?
See how skilled are the angels into hiding themselves?
Meeting place for angels, instead of an enchanted meadow in the heart of a magic forest, a Post-Office, for God’s sake!
Of all places!
At the back of the shop, behind the glass, two ladies work there. They’re younger than me, and their names are Bridget and Irene. Bridget has dark hair, Irene is blonde and they’re both beautiful.
I see them every week, but except for the quieter times when we can afford a smile and a short conversation, we don’t talk much. At the Post Office they’re busy people, and the queues are ever pressing.
Until the advance of my cancer.
Every week I come to the Post Office, and every week I look a little bit worse than the previous. My symptoms are progressing and the physical deterioration is becoming obvious.
The bloated abdomen is firm and grows ever larger. There’s a water fountain in my belly and the gurgling sounds never stop. The swollen lymph node in the groin is so big and so painful now, that not only I’m in pain while walking, but I can’t even stand up straight.
It hurts too much.
Bent from the waist, with a hand on my belly, I appear twisted and in pain.
The ladies at the Post Office are silent witnesses to the degradation of my body.
With a look of worry in her face, one day, Bridget asks me:
– ‘Andrea is there something wrong with you?’
Well, what do you know?
That’s all I needed.
All the loneliness, all the stress and confusion, the fear and the anxieties burst out pouring in an avalanche of tears and mostly unintelligible words.
In roars, I start crying and sobbing.
Yes, that’s right!
Right there, at the Post Office.
Desperate for human touch and warmth, I lose all pride and dignity.
Someone, someone out there, please show me that you care!
And, would you believe it?
At the Post-Office they do.
I tell them all about my bloated abdomen, the swollen lymph nodes, the gurgling noises, and the pain. And I tell them about my doctor’s referral to Beaumont Hospital.
They take time to listen to me, to talk to me, to hug and encourage me. But most of all, the two ladies at the Post Office insist of sending me to the hospital.
On that point they’re adamant, and don’t give up an inch.
Relentlessly, they demand that I should go to the hospital, and they leave me with no place to hide.
Every week they ask:
– ‘Did you go to the hospital?’
And every week I blush red with shame and find a new, sorry pretext.
– ‘No, I was so busy this week. I will do it next week!’
But after a few tries the trick stops working. They don’t believe me anymore, and they turn up the heat a few degrees higher.
They make me promise.
– ‘Andrea we don’t want to see you coming here again with a list of excuses’, Bridget tells me. ‘You’ve been delaying this for far too long and it’s not doing you any good’.
She looks into my eyes and asks:
– ‘Promise us that you will go to the hospital next week!’
This is no joke, she’s worried about me, and she’s serious.
Cornered and with no escape in sight, I finally agree:
– ‘All right’, I mumble and smile, ‘I will go there next week. I promise.’
And that was it.
Bridget and Irene didn’t save my life.
That is not even possible, there’s too much cancer rotting at me from the inside, and nobody can.
But if I’m still alive today, grateful and happy that I can write for you all, women from around the world, it is in part because of them.
The two ladies at the Post Office.
(Up in the air, there’s a white flutter.
Can you see the wings?
It’s the sign of angels).
In the next few days, trapped inside a promise I don’t have the heart to break, I will be left with no other choice but to painfully limp my way through the doors of the Emergency Room, at Beaumont Hospital.
The world of the doctors frightens me out of my mind, but the image of Bridget and Irene will hold me fast and give me strength.
I won’t feel so alone anymore.
(Because, you see,
from up there,
angels will be watching over me too).
Back to the beginning – ‘The first symptoms’ Up to – ‘To you’
Back to previous post – ‘Fear of Death’