Saturday, October 13, 2012

Waiting messes with your head

We've had insane weather here for the last few days. It's been bitterly, unseasonably cold, and the wind- well, it's been blowing dogs off chains. Welcome to spring. Or not.

High winds at this time of year always piss me right off, if you'll pardon the French, because with all the pollen around I invariably end up with chronic hay fever resulting in week-long cracking sinus headaches. But of course, this year I HAVE CANCER. Which means that my headache is a definite indication that I already have secondaries in my brain.

Or so my head says, at three in the morning when I can't sleep.

The crick in my neck from finally crashing out at an odd angle, after tossing and turning for hours, definitely means that I also have tumours on my spine. Feeling a little woozy walking around town after eating no breakfast definitely supports the brain tumour thesis. And if I drink my herbal tonic for the first time and my intestines end up bubbling and popping like a sly grog still, that definitely means the cancer's gone to my bowel as well.

In the cold but sanity-bearing light of day, I know this is nonsense. Waiting for cancer test results makes paranoid hypochondriacs of us all. It's clear that one part of my brain, suppressed pretty heavily during the daytime, is fully expecting my body to light up like a Christmas tree with sinister dots when I have the CT scan on Monday. At night time, as I look at my partner blissfully snoring beside me and try desperately to drop like him into the desperately-needed relief of sleep, these ideas creep out of my subconscious and parade in front of my eyes in all their technicolour glory; it's the YOU HAVE CANCER mardi gras, presented just for me at the moment when I'm truly alone.

And of course there's no way I'm waking him up. He has quite enough to cope with. This is round one for me, but it's round three for him and he lost the last two rounds by knockout. He needs to sleep.

I need to sleep too, and by yesterday my body was screaming 'ENOUGH!'. The night before I'd barely closed my eyes, thanks to my head exploding; I suspect that extreme tension on top of pollen allergies is an excellent recipe for feeling like you have a knife thrust in your eyeball. It was time for some affirmative action.

So despite the fact that our water tank is down to the second-bottom rung, I got in a hot bath with a book last night. Blessings upon my dear mate Vi for buying me the whole Millenium trilogy as an early birthday present; the first one kept me sane through my sleepless night, and the second will be keeping me company through quite a few bath times. I need escapism like never before.

The steam obviously relieved my head, because the headache gradually abated; the football helped me, too. The timing of the Australia-New Zealand rugby league test was perfect (as was the result), and I forgot all about my diagnosis for the best part of 90 minutes while I screamed at the hopeless referee and whooped encouragement at Billy and JT. When it was over my partner went out to attend to a bonfire in the yard, and by the time he came back I was completely gone. I only woke once during the night, and mercifully was able to go back to sleep again.

This morning, with the headache gone, it started to register upon me that I need to do a little more than drain our water tank into the bath every night and pray for another football game if I'm going to be able to deal with the constant waiting. If I put my Aunt Annie hat on and imagine myself advising somebody else, I'd be saying "Look it in the eye. Go through it, not around it." So maybe that's what I need to do.

Are you with me? You're not going to like this next bit, I bet. If you're with me, read it anyway and bloody well look it in the eye with me. Please.

What's the worst that can happen?

The worst is that, against the odds, I do light up like a Christmas tree and have a very limited time left on the planet. The worst is that I have to make a major decision about whether to be treated or not, to try to extend my life.

That's not such a hard decision. I know, really, that my quality of life is much more important than my length of life; watching my father lose his mind by degrees for some five years, watching my mother suffer treatment that made her incoherent with nausea for twelve months was quite enough to convince me of that. Hit me with the morphine, please, and I'll float out of here as fast as I can on a cloud.

If that happens, I can cope with it- I know I can. It's my partner who'll need the most support. I'll have to stay unstoned for long enough to marshall and brief the troops for him, because it'll bring him completely undone- I know it will.

I'll have to tie up a few loose ends. I've got a will, I've got a beneficiary for my super, I just need to think about the odds and ends and who might like what from my more cherished possessions. My piano. My jewellery. The stuff my son and my partner have little use for.

Shoosh. Stop telling me it's not that bad. I KNOW that the results so far don't suggest anything of the sort. (Oops, sorry for shouting.) But no, I'm not just being maudlin. I need to look it in the eye, so I can damn well sleep at night.

What's going to make me saddest?

The unfinished projects, I guess. The books that I've been writing, one that's not quite perfect and one that's not quite finished. The unfinished house, the unfinished bedroom up in the trees, the unlined room, all the things I've talked about doing that just haven't happened yet.

Gradually losing touch with the people I've come to care about far away from my home, my wonderful and supportive internet friends, when I'm too zoned out to write a sensible status update or comment, or too sore to hold the laptop. Not being here in my mind enough to talk to people.

Those things will be hard. Of course they will. But the worst, for me, will be knowing the fallout I'm leaving behind. I know my own pain will eventually be over, but if you've ever suffered terrible grief yourself from losing someone to cancer as I have, you'll have some insight into what I know is going to happen to my friends and loved ones.

That's the bottom line. That's why waiting is hard, and results are terrifying- for me, at least. I don't want my loved ones to go through what I went through with my mother.

How can I comfort you, just in case I do have to go?

Well, knowledge is power. I can only say from my own experience that in the end, you accept and move on- you have to. In the end, it does hurt less as time goes by.

At first, if you're one of those who are really close to me, you'll collapse in a heap. You'll have to rely on your friends for support, and when you start to feel like you're saying the same thing over and over and boring them to tears, you might need a counsellor to talk to instead- so GO. That's not weakness, that's taking control of your own grieving. Tell them I sent you.

You'll cry at inappropriate moments. Every little thing about the person who's gone will be waiting to jump out and bite you with painful memories, and there'll be no respect for where you are or who you're with. Every other death you hear about will bring it all back, no matter how remote from you that person might have been.

It will take longer than you think to move on, and far longer than any of your own friends who haven't ever lost a loved one will ever believe. You'll wish death on those who tell you to get over it already. Be kinder to them than you feel like being, if you can; they'll eat their words once they go through this themselves.

One day I'll jump out at you through some little memento, and you'll smile instead of bursting into tears. Hang on and wait for that day. It'll come, I promise you.

And in the meantime, how about you bookmark this post, just in case you need it later? That way I can give you a damn good talking to while you bawl.

There, that's done. Now maybe the mardi gras parade will bugger off and stop annoying me in the wee small hours. I'VE SEEN ALL YOU'VE GOT TO SHOW ME, OKAY?

Now go AWAY, you multi-coloured fluorescent fools, while I get on with getting better.


  1. Hello my dear, just in case I again fail to get a decipherable signature at the end, you'll know it's me anyway. (Hmm, interesting thought, in light of what you say about mementos!!)But I want to say that,in some shamanic traditions, death is seen as an adviser, the ultimate purveyor of reality checks and discerner of bullshit, both from within ourselves and from the world at large. But there is something almost joyous and freeing in that I find - after having death sitting on my left shoulder for around 4 months when I first diagnosed myself with diabetes. Now I know that we all would do anything to spare our loved ones the harsh realities, but sometimes I think that we're maybe being a little bit too solicitous on their behalf. I'm actually thinking young children here too, btw, and I'm as guilty of that as any other parent I know. I think it's important that they're allowed their own journey, with our support if possible, not to have it too much mapped out before them. I'm thinking of your posts on risky play. This might be risky play for adults. The future is of course an unknown country for all of us mortals. And who knows? Your friends (including me) will have a rich journey with you, whatever the outcome. And of course I also fear losing you, but I know on some level that that actually can never happen, however sad I feel, it's part of life and death. Death is not the enemy of life, it's part of the same continuum I believe. Far more need to fear disconnection and numbness - there are plenty of people ostensibly alive who are actually dead to life, to experience and to richness and to learning, better to pity them, than to pity the dead and the bereaved. Just as a final thought, if it was me with cancer (which it isn't, in the moment anyway), I'd be wanting to have a good ol' boogie with those fluoro fools , for a little while anyway, just for the fun of it, to catch them at their own game, or maybe even to learn something? I know that's what you're actually doing by writing about it. Bless you my dear, today and every day.

    1. AAAAAND there speaks someone who truly loves me. xx

  2. Candy, you amaze me! AND make me cry! Such strength and compassion for your partner, family and friends. You are a precious gem. Remember to take care of YOU too. You WILL fight this and you WILL win! xo

    1. I wasn't feeling strong at 3am the other morning, I can tell you. Writing definitely helps me to be the best person I can be.