Next week I am taking what is, for me anyway, a really significant step. I have to believe it is a step forward and although it is not exactly brave, it is taking all my courage to move further along a path that until now has seemed one which could only lead inexorably to anxiety and unhappiness. It is a path that is meant to lead in quite the opposite direction.
Forgive me for being a little obtuse. Even that word seems designed to obstruct and prevent clear understanding. I am certainly finding this hard to express. Or easier to avoid expressing directly.
Those who know me, or have read a little about me in Dandelions and Bad Hair Days, or on this blog, will know that I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 44 in 2006. I had young children and was terrified but I came through chemotherapy and radiotherapy successfully and have just been told that I can now come off of all the medication that has been keeping the beast at bay. The worst of the risk is past, apparently. No-one will say ‘you are cured’. In Somerset they don’t even say you are ‘all clear’. It is a brave man they say that will claim to have cured cancer. It can still come back but I should, with luck, do well. Good news, move on. How much easier said than done that has been for me.
From a young age I have been faced with illness – not always my own but certainly my father’s. He was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s when I was just starting primary school and I don’t remember him physically well at all. As with many neurological disorders he had good days and bad days and our lives were ruled, understandably, by how he was feeling. But I now know that however ‘good’ the day and however well he felt he would always assume the worst. He had suffered grief and loss in a previous marriage and despite happiness with a new family he felt disaster was never far from his life. It stopped him opening up to us, to love us as he might for fear of losing us as he lost his first family. Who could be surprised at that?
Dad died almost exactly twenty years ago and until I started counselling two years ago I didn’t realise how quickly I had taken over his role; started reading from the same script. The breast cancer confirmed it for me – I was playing a part in a tragedy of my own making. A starring role in my own disaster movie. How could I be one of the lucky ones? After all I didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, had breast-fed my children and had just got fit and healthy when I found the lump. I had all the protective factors but no, I wasn’t one of the 9 out of 10 for whom all is well. I was the 1 in 10. Cue song…
But it has gone on too long. Before Christmas I had a scare. Ultrasound and MRI scan eventually confirming that what was on my liver was not the worst it could be, but something benign. Something that is a nuisance but NOT cancer.
This post came to me when I was browsing the Poetry Archive site, as is my wont. I found this poem by Felix Dennis, which I dedicate to my dad. I wish he could have read it.
Not All Things Go Wrong…
by Felix Dennis
Not all things go wrong, and knowing
This, be wary of despair,
As you go through hell — keep going,
Make no brave oasis there.
Through the shadowlands of grieving,
Past the giants, Doubt and Fear,
Heartsick, stunned, and half believing —
Heed no whisper in your ear.
Not all things go wrong — and after
Winter’s famine comes the spring,
Kindness, beauty, children’s laughter —
Joy is ever on the wing.
This is such a simple poem but very real for me as I head into 2013.
So with the thoughts of Felix Dennis in mind, where does it leave my script? My soap opera of a life of anxiety? Well it actually changes nothing. I could think ‘well those good results were this time, there will be others’ and carry on in the same way, crucifying myself with anxiety. Or I could do what I have done and at least take steps to try to break the cycle; write a new ending to the story. Give myself some funny lines and be kind to myself. Write myself the equivalent of a retreat; not from the world but from the knotted workings of my own mind.
I have booked myself onto a Living Well with the Impact of Cancer two-day residential course offered by Penny Brohn Cancer Care in Bristol. I know many men and women go shortly after diagnosis or just after treatment has ended. It has taken me six years to take advantage of the charity’s support and I hope it will make the difference to me that it has to so many others; exploring the meaning of cancer in my life with people who understand the impact of the proverbial ‘journey’. I know now I have become almost phobic about cancer, avoiding friendships with those travelling the same tough road for fear of losing them, being unable to offer the support they need or assuming their experience would be mine. I barely talk about it; hardly ever write about it which is bizarre when one’s every experience could inform one’s writing. Perhaps when I come back I will open up; I will certainly tell you how I get on.
I know it will take commitment and leaving behind all the excuses I have made to myself in the past. I must want to learn how to take care of my mind and body so that instead of taking the path that meanders without purpose to the one thing certain in our lives (death, not taxes – I paid £12 this year) I will work to choose the path that might be new and scary but which offers me not a poor shadow of my old life but a new one. I will try to come to terms with the anger and disappointment and move on.
I will tear up my father’s script and write myself a new one.