See I've Already Waited Too Long....



So the past month was a stressful time for me. What is normally a pretty happy time of year (Christmas and New Year’s +my birthday two weeks later) had a shadow looming over it. I received a phone call approximately 4 days before Christmas (it’s kind of a blur, I know it was under a week but more than a couple days before), anyway I got that phone call that nobody wants to get but some of us do.

Something was found on my mammogram. A quite small something, so small it only showed up on one slide so they weren’t extremely worried but a something nonetheless so they were going to be setting up appointments for me for a follow up 3D mammogram and an ultrasound scan.

I won’t prolong the drama here, I am ok, it was just a benign cyst I found out last Wednesday immediately after my ultrasound. But it took A MONTH. For someone with my health history, it was a really long month.

The reason I began getting early screening mammograms almost ten years ago was in fact because of radiotherapy to my chest I had as part of my Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma treatment. Unfortunately that very treatment significantly increases my and anyone else who has had its' odds of getting breast cancer. Which kinda sucks. I have largely had a head in the sand attitude towards it, having, I now realize, been quite lucky to have had this be my first scare – seeing as 1 in 3 women get benign cysts, it was bound to happen sooner or later.

So yeah. I am trying not to be be annoyed at the fact they felt the need to tell me this before Christmas, given my history, and also given that they must have known there was no way I could feasibly receive an appointment through before the New Year.

I don't know, I am sure it was protocol but just…do better NHS. I then had to chase up the appointment , which I had been assured would be arriving very soon after the new year, because there was no sign of my  appointment date three weeks later. I had no answers from anyone in the clinic I was dealing with as to why it was taking so long, so I did the thing I wanted to do least: asked my former oncologist for help chasing it up (well, his secretary).

It's hard to explain, but once you cut ties with your oncologist, it has a very forever feel to it. It can be quite weirdly sad, you come to rely on them, and I have oddly had to deal with him once more because I had a blood clot in my leg a few years ago.

So in my particular situation it just felt even more like opening the door backwards to that person I used to be, the girl who calls cancer wards, and it emotionally drained me in a way that is hard to describe. I do think this helped however as within two days I magically got my appointment in the mail. I hate having to say that the NHS still makes you fight, because I know they are doing their best, but it wasn't ideal.

I was also diagnosed with my lymphoma coincidentally in December. I spent most of that month in hospital and I still remember begging and pleading to be let out of the hospital on Christmas Eve after my third biopsy, an open chest surgery. I remember everything about that Christmas, how quiet and sad and trying to be a tiny bit normal here and there it was. For years afterwards I would still get a tiny bit depressed at Christmas with the memories of that intense period of my life, so for this to happen right before Christmas, a – forking –gain, was just….gah.

I am very flipping patient and good about all this stuff truly. I hold my sh*t together, I try not to stress other people out who I know are worried about me...but I have limits now that do not take long to blow I realized after this latest scare. That third week of waiting with no answers was my limit. I found myself incapable of speaking to people on the phone about it with getting the overwhelming hard cries and fury, agh the fury. I finally found out that…get this….a radiographer had been “off sick” and so the whole department had fallen behind like a week. In a major hospital. HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?

Anyhoo. Breathe. I was obviously so pent up with anxiety and dread and terror that if I hadn’t gotten the answers last week I feel like I would have had some kind of nervous breakdown, so I am still very much coming down from it. I still feel like I’m in sort of bubble and I can breathe now but like…really? Are we sure it’s ok to breathe? Because I forgot how to again for awhile.

Because here’s the thing. Once you’ve had a ( in my case very rare, no known cause, out of the gray blobby ether) cancer diagnosis, you just lose any real feeling of the delusional faith that most people have that convinces them “It won’t happen to me”. I totally get why people are that way, I was once too. It’s human nature: “But I can’t get sick – I’m healthy, I’m good, I exercise and eat blueberries”

We are constantly reassured, in subtle and also not subtle ways, by things all around us, that our health is something we are somehow in control of. But the scary truth of it is, that is not always the case. You guys, I hate to be that bore at the party. I actually really don’t ever talk about my cancer history in real life if I can help it, mostly because people just get so full of pity and wonderment and speak well-meaning but largely mindless platitudes about why I’m still here, etc. 

And I have to bite my tongue to stop from screaming sometimes “I’m not special. I had cancer. Anyone can have cancer. Oh, not you, obviously, you could NEVER get cancer, because Jesus and kale and karma and oxygen and any other comfort that helps you sleep at night is all totally going to protect you, because life is fair and you get a magical health halo around you no matter what because you are a good person.”

Look, obviously people who have had illness touch their lives don’t think this way but like…there really is no going back once you’ve seen “the dark side”. You just live your life, and when the bad stuff happens, you gird yourself for the worst, you go into autopilot mode. 

I didn’t feel much shock this time at the potential bad news. The thing was I had a lot of time (A MONTH) to try to kid myself, whereas the first cancer rodeo once they found my giant mass they just knew it was bad news from the get go and even though I had a few months of symptoms I really didn’t have a clue or fear it might be cancer prior to that.

I sort of succeeded keeping it together around Christmas, my Mom was here, we were trying to keep Christmas as light as we could. I didn't want to watch any potentially cry making movies though so we watched a LOT of dumb Christmas comedies. I knew that the chances were pretty decent it was nothing, and that rationality was something I managed to hold onto for a bit. I felt mostly weirdly calm for a week or so after the non-news news.

But like, people can only do that for so long when they know what it means if it’s not good news. Doubts creep in. Like “Ok sure kid yourself all you want lady”, (cancer is super annoying and calls me lady! ;-), but you and I both knew I’d be back, didn’t we, we have unfinished business. You see, you just aren’t grateful enough as a survivor, you really lucked out and yet still here you are, not living your best life, not chasing your dreams, not self-actualizing into a super zen next level goddess or feeding the hungry or doing anything noble or meaningful enough to merit you survivorship status. You blew it, lady, and now you must pay!”

What can I say, the cancer boogeyman voice in my head is a vengeful and mean spirited one. It knows I am weak, not strong. It knows I am terrified despite my insistence otherwise to anyone who asks. It knows I barely made it through the first round and am so deflated and spent feeling already at the mere thought of having to go through it again that it has already won. It knows that it has me, and there is nothing I can do about it, not a damn thing.

It knows I am not a warrior or a badass b*itch. I am feeble and weak and sobbing, I am nothing I feel nothing but emptiness and dread.

So yeah. That’s the headspace I am shaking off, so I’m not beating myself up too much for not springing back to emotionally stable form right away. It’s just as well it turned out ok, because I am not the one to deal with it again. No thanks. 

I guess it doesn’t matter how much time passes, the potential for fear of your own imminent mortality is (naturally) limitless. But having gone through it once before, the real fear for me was the “battle” itself.

It’s a cliché for a reason, but mentally anyway, it is a battle, to have to fight for your life and suffer feeling worse than you ever thought possible for what feels like forever, all while knowing it might not matter anyway. It takes a certain level of grit, whose supply I am not especially convinced after my experience this month is infinite. Hope is a fragile and tricky thing to grab hold of if you feel you are almost tapped out.

That’s where this took me. I’m sorry if it upsets anyone but it’s all I got. Obviously I am grateful, and relieved, in the immediate aftermath when the doctor smiled and said "Good news, it's just a cyst!" I was awash with the good endorphins of relief, but the truth is I'm still a little bit scared and I know I have to shake that off now, but it's obviously brought a lot of stuff up that it took me awhile to let go of the first time so I guess I just need to be patient with myself.

It's important to me to write my true experiences of this stuff always as best I can. I'm sorry if it's not super life affirming or inspirational, but honestly I'm not writing this for anyone seeking that from me. I'm a bad b*tch who has had cancer, you can take your kale and positive thinking and shove it, kindly.





4 comments

  1. Wow, I'm so sorry :( I think for someone that has had cancer before, it's so much worse mentally because you've already been through it, you KNOW. I schedule medical appointments for a living, and the holidays is HELL trying to get appointments, so I feel you on that. SO GLAD IT WAS BENIGN. My one sister had a bit of a breast cancer scare a few years ago, but they were also benign cysts. Right now my cat has a cancerous tumor that we are dealing with and it sucks that I can't figure out a way to make her more comfortable in the meantime between appointments. BUT WHY DID THEY HAVE TO RUIN YOUR CHRISTMAS. A month is just way too long to have to wait for that kind of information!!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am so sorry about your kitty! I hope she can get some treatment that helps her.

      Delete
  2. I am so glad you're okay, and I'm glad you're in a place where you were able to write all of this down. I hope getting it out helped. You are one bad bitch, Steff! x

    ReplyDelete