Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The real and the unreal

Does this look like a woman who has a possibly deadly disease?

Given that yesterday was my 56th birthday, I'm thinking the rose looks in a lot worse shape than I do. I look tired, yes, but I could pass for a healthy woman.

I keep trying to give myself reality checks like this, to try to head off the unreal (yet) thoughts that are constantly dancing through my head the moment I drop my guard. Last night was another restless one, as I started getting twinges of pain around the site of the Freeloader. I can't help but wonder what they mean.

Reality says I got a horse needle jabbed in one of the most sensitive portions of my anatomy a week ago, so it's probably still a bit traumatised. (God knows it's still bruised.) To be rational about those moments of crushing fear, I have to be logical- which means intellectually alert- which means awake. 

Then I have to start trying to settle myself down again, until I reach that moment of total vulnerability just before sleep where some new and horrible thought reaches out and grabs me by the throat. Repeat, ad infinitum. It's like some form of torture, dragged straight from Greek mythology and adapted by the Nazis. Tantalus, with the dangling fruit tree replaced by the alluring and desperately needed nothingness of sleep. 

The most frightening part of this is that I know it's going to go on, and on, and on. Chopping the Freeloader loose from his cosy hideout and zapping me till any little mates have been knocked senseless isn't the end of it- not by any means. There will be follow-up test upon follow-up test, anxious wait after anxious wait, and they're all going to play merry hell with my head. For years.

And of course, the closer I come to any results, the more these thoughts intrude during the day. Today I'm a total cot case, as I wait to see the surgeon late this afternoon and find out if anything new showed up in the bloods and the CT.

Somehow I have to drag myself out of this anticipatory trap. Somehow I have to learn how to put the Freeloader aside and live these days as normally as I can. (Normal? Hah. As if.)

Dr Rosie had an idea: "Allocate yourself an hour to worry about each issue," she said. "During that hour, go for it- and outside that hour, put the worrying off until its next turn in the queue."

Hmm. A disciplined approach; not the strong suit of this particular creative mind. But it's worth a try.

So I've just spent a good hour writing down questions to ask the surgeon. Poor man. He's going to get a barrage. I don't even know if he can answer half the questions I want to ask. I worry that I'll piss him off by taking over our appointment time. I find myself worrying still about stupid stuff, well outside my allocated hour. 

Not working.

So my answer, as ever, is to write about it. And still I'm worrying- I'm worrying that by blogging about how I really feel today, I'm dragging my friends into this nasty little world that I've suddenly been forced to inhabit. You know what I mean- cancer sufferers are OVER HERE, and you guys are OVER THERE. Where I used to be.

There's such a thing as too much knowledge, for you. I don't really want to freak you out about what it's like over here. But at the same time, I have to learn to be weak sometimes. I'm way too used to being the strong one, and I have to unlearn that a little. 

If I don't tell you what a mess my head gets in, then I'm refusing to let you in to help me. I need you to help me- to tell me the realities, to remind me of them, and often. I know them already, but they're getting lost in the quicksand of fear and unreality I've found myself in as result time approaches.

I need to be reminded of things like this, every day, every way:

1. I found the cancer. I was, and am, asymptomatic. I am ahead on points. I am likely to survive.

2. I am not my mother, or my Bear's mother, or my grandmother, or Jane McGrath, or Belinda Emmett, or the Bear's last partner. Comparing myself to them and fretting about their fate is completely pointless- I am on a different road from the start.

3. Statistics are as good as useless if I try to apply them to the outcome of my individual case. They just qualify the 'maybe'. (I KNOW THAT, so why can't I hear myself when I shout it out?!?) I'm way better off just speaking severely to the Freeloader than trying to analyse whether I'm part of the unlucky 5%- even the doctor can't answer that question.

4. I am 56 years old and my body has had various ailments and twinges for years. They are not all going to stop out of respect for my diagnosis. I need to deal with them the way I've always dealt with them instead of assigning extra meaning.

5. True beauty is not external. (Oh boy, this is a hard one.) From the time I started my working career at age 5 as a child model, my appearance has been part of my whole understanding of who I am. FFS, someone tell me you'll still love me if I'm bald and asymmetrical. 

And so on.

This good brain of mine is working against me, you see. It's always been far too good at projecting into the future and seeing how things might turn out. I've always been one to plan for consequences well in advance. So, for example: before I even know whether I'll have to have chemo, I'm grieving the loss of my hair and planning how to get a wig made from my own tresses. 

That sort of thing. My head is full of that sort of thing, and it's driving me nuts. I've never been good at 'one day at a time'.

Anything at all you can do to get me back to living in the moment will be good. Okay? Thanks.


  1. Shit....I feel you. I am so much like you with negative thoughts- the positive just doesn't stand a chance, in my head. And then when that thought comes (after the zillion or so negative ones) I start on a fresh wave of panic because apparently thoughts become reality. Argh!
    Anyway, what has helped me immensely, very recently is repeating a positive statement over and over and over, and then some more. I don't have to feel it, just keep saying it over and over in my head.
    So you could make a short list of positive statements- keep them in present continuos to make them feel more real to you- like, I'm so grateful the tumor is reducing. I'm so grateful that the report is going to bring me relief.
    Sounds silly, but works great, I think.
    Ad I do have some personal data to back up my tip- I've actually experienced some miracles with it ( small, everyday stuff and a couple of big ones too)
    Another tip- make your statements up and start chanting them mentally at those 'blank and ready to fill with negative thoughts' times, like brushing, peeing, showering....you get the idea.
    And gosh, could I give you a big hug, just for your honesty. Hats off to you AA!

    1. Hmm. Worth a try!! Thank you. And hug gratefully accepted.