Last Saturday I went to have coffee with the amazing group of women who formed a support group here and who welcomed me with open arms.
Upon arriving, the youngest member of our group shared some truly heartbreaking news. To protect her identity, I won’t share the details of her diagnosis other than to say she was diagnosed this week as Stage 4. Her primary cancer has metastasised.
I can’t speak for her. I can only speak for myself and share with you what it is like to hear this kind of news.
My first reaction was naturally shock. I sat there making nice small talk but on the inside I was screaming FAAAAAAAAARK. After I got over the initial shock I went over to talk with her and was truly humbled by her grace, her dignity and strength. More chatting, coffee, lalalalalala, then we said our goodbyes and I got in the car.
And bawled my eyes out. I was talking to Steve the whole way home just sobbing uncontrollably. I got home and fresh tears started up. I worked myself up so much, I had to quarantine myself in our bed and just cry it all out and have a sleep.
I don’t really know her that well so, whilst the tears were for her, they were also for me.
Because the truth dear reader, is that no matter what brave face we put on, the hard reality of cancer, and the whole shit show that is treatment is really fucking awful. Yes I admit it – I have faked it. A lot. We all do. Even when cancer isn’t in the house, we have all smiled and said we are ok when we are not.
I have smiled through an astonishing parade of mental and physical pain, horrible chemo side effects and self esteem issues. I will continue to do so because I want to feel ok, even when I am not. It is through other people treating me no differently that I can gain some control over situations where I am vulnerable and struggling with my emotions. I crave normalcy because none of this is normal. None.
At the true heart of my anguish over her news is FEAR.
I have made no secret of my fear of recurrence. It is with me every day. It is behind every decision I make about my lifestyle. I can’t seem to think super far into the future anymore because I don’t trust that I will not get cancer again. This is despite the fact there is no clinical evidence that I still have cancer. And there is that pain in my hip that until I heard her news, was just an annoyance, but has now (irrationally) turned into a concern. I can’t shake the feeling that it is not just a dodgy hip, but evidence the cancer has spread. It is crazy to think this and I know I have fallen into the trap all recently diagnosed people can fall into where they think every little ache or pain is the cancer rearing back up. I know this. But it does not stop me being scared out of my wits. It is simultaneously frustrating and terrifying.
And that brings me to the real trouble with support groups. We are all members of this group because we all had cancer. This makes the women in our group some of the most understanding people when it is time to vent. They have been there. They have seen it all, done it all, felt it all.
But also, we are all a constant reminder of cancer. Whether it is the newcomers like myself who turn up at various times during treatment with hair loss and a list of shit. Or the long-timers who have a slightly haunted look about them. Or those who are weirdly competitive about cancer (don’t even get me started). We all represent that scary statistic that most people know about and hope to never be included in.
And then there are people like her. Who break your heart.
And stir up fear like nothing else can.