Post Office with a Heart

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.
-‘Promise me!’
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’

This entry was posted in Breast Cancer, Cancer, Health, Ovarian cancer, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Post Office with a Heart

  1. loiscochran2020 says:

    Andrea, I have followed your journey to this point and my heart goes out to you for so many reasons. I am so sorry that you have suffered so much pain, both physical and emotional, and so much fear. Your “Post Office Angels” are the one ray of sunshine that gives me hope that you will find the support and strength you need to finish the journey.

    My prayer is that you will search and find in your heart a tiny seed of faith – it is smaller than a mustard seed – and allow that to grow – actually feed and nurture that seed. It can grow and provide the very strength and peace that you need right now. You don’t have to face this nasty disease and the fears it brings alone. You are not alone – someone is knocking at your door and I pray that you will open the door and let Him in. I continue to pray for you.

    • Cancer By 2 says:

      Hi Lois, :)
      so nice to see you here, visiting me :)
      What do you know?
      Your beautiful words made me cry in roars. There is nobody at my door, Lois, HE is not there. I asked and prayed, but there’s nobody there Lois, I can’t see, or feel anything.
      I’m being emptied of all, including Faith.
      Except, of course, for the cancer.
      The cancer is here, alright.
      I don’t feel well at all. I’m sick, a huge and painful belly, and huge and painful legs (the ovarian cancer attacked my lymph nodes and caused a condition called ‘lymphedema’) and I vomit and I hurt. All the time.
      Just to let you know that on Wednesday I go to the hospital. Thursday (6-th of October) I’m scheduled for a second surgery.
      Please pray for me :) If you feel like :)
      There will be nobody there, with me.
      If I survive, I’ll come back here and to visit you.
      If not, please remember me.
      Many thanks Lois,
      wishing you, as always, all the best, in your life, with your family and the fight against your cancer.
      Many thanks,

  2. ebb says:

    Dear Andrea;
    I wish you the best possible outcome for your upcoming surgery. As a ‘survivor’ myself, I have experienced much of what you are writing about. Your ability to put your journey into such powerful words is an enormous help to both those of us who share this disease and those who care for/are caring for someone who is ill. I hope to see you back here soon: I will be thinking of you every day and checking your site for your next update.

    • Cancer By 2 says:

      Hi Ebb, :)
      thank you for visiting and for your kind words :)
      You made me feel better, and in a way, more worthy. Worthy as a person, worthy of life.
      It was a gift I wasn’t expecting, thank you :)
      I’m terrified, terrified of the surgery (it’s my second already) but as you know, when faced with cancer, there really isn’t much choice for us.
      I either go ahead with the treatment (and hope to live a litte bit longer) or simply die in the next few weeks (months).
      I don’t want to have any more surgeries, I don’t want any more chemo, but unfortunatelly I’m far from being in remission, and I probably never will be.
      In my case time is very limited and although I wish that I can stay alive long enough to at least finish this blog, I’m aware that it might not be possible.
      Don’t worry too much, though. I will probably come out of the surgery alive and well. Doctors don’t like you dying on the operating table :)
      Keep your fingers crossed for me, and hopefully we’ll talk again soon.
      Many thanks for your kindness,

  3. loiscochran2020 says:

    Andrea – we will both be going into the hospital on Wednesday – me for more chemo; you for surgery. On Thursday, you will be in my thoughts and prayers all day. I know that the surgeons will be skilled and the results will be good. I pray that through all this pain and terrible illness, you might find that there is hope and there is more than this . . . My prayer for you is that you would ultimately know that you are NOT alone. You only need to hear and respond to God’s loving call. I can’t answer the question – why? Why the terrible suffering? I don’t know. But there’s a lot about this life that I don’t know or understand. I do believe that this life is not all there is and therein lies the hope. You have it within you to grab hold of that hope – I hope and pray that you do just that. I’m praying for you – relief from pain and sickness, some time to rest and reflect, and peace – the kind that goes beyond our human understanding.,

    Love, Lois

    • Cancer By 2 says:

      Hi Lois,
      there’s something about your words, and your blog. There’s a sort of aura, a feeling of peace of calmness, that comes through every one of your writings. It is beautiful, somewhat ethereal, and it always makes me cry. :)
      Good luck on Wednesday, Lois, and following days. Chemo is not easy, no matter what drugs they use, the experience is never easy.
      For some strange reason, the fact that we both go in hospital on the same day, gives me strenght and solace. It’s probably because ‘misery likes company’, and if so, so be it. What is important to me is that I will be looking for you, to hold your hand, at all times.
      Thinking of you, and wishing you all the best, from the bottom of my heart, let’s get through this week, alive and well!
      PS A second comment to follow on your own blog. I’m coming to visit now.

  4. loiscochran2020 says:

    Andrea – thank you for your kind words. You have been in my thoughts all day and tomorrow as we go together into the hospital, please know that I will be praying hard for you — I’ll be pretending that we will share a room and a hug and both of us will come out of the hospital stronger and ready for the next challenge. God Bless you, dear friend! Be strong and feel better! We’ll talk when you’re back home.

    Love, Lois

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