Hopefully last cancer-y post for a bit.
It is three weeks since my surgery, two months yesterday since this new cancer journey started.
The big, pressing, everything-immediate section of the journey is almost over, I can feel myself beginning to head into the next part, the loss/recovery/healing part.
Yesterday, I saw the physio at 8am (physios are such brilliantly sporty/early-start types, aren’t they?). She was very useful, did some massage (painful, but good) on the tricky underarm/shoulder bit, showed me some good exercises, and has given me lots of hope that I will regain full mobility in my arm and shoulder, as I did after my first breast cancer surgery fourteen years ago.
Then we had a family funeral, my brother-in-law Alan. Because of the wide age range of us seven children, and me being the youngest, I do not remember a time in my life when Alan wasn’t around. He will be sorely missed.
And then we went to see my breast cancer surgeon. This is the first time I’ve had a chance to talk with him since the surgery. He thinks I’m healing well, even though the blood and the blisters (from having had radiotherapy before) are a bit daunting to me, he thinks it’s all doing okay.
(By ‘all’ they mean the mastectomy and reconstruction, but I’m beginning to think these are the wrong words. The words ‘Tissue, blood vessel, skin and bone amputation, followed by tissue and skin grafts’ would make much more sense of what has actually taken place – and why it hurts so much. The bone bit! They omitted to mention, pre-op that they’d be removing a chunk of rib! Now that I know this it makes way more sense and I can understand the pain far better, and work with it far better as well.)
Regardless of the wording, the best news is they were able to move all the cancer they found, and this time I don’t have to have chemo again. I can’t have radiotherapy (in the same place) a second time anyway, but having been down the chemo route once before, I know I’m fortunate not to have to go through it this time.
And so we come too that term ‘fortunate’. Another dear friend has had brain tumour surgery this week, for the second time. And his surgeons think (so far) he’s going to do all right, there may still be other treatments and other surgeries in the long term. And I note that people are delighted for him, as they are for me, and I’m delighted for both of us as well. I’m delighted that we’ve made it through surgeries, that we’re doing okay, that we are able to cope with pain, we have modern medicine that can help us, and we both also have a deep sense of the spiritual that we believe also helps us, to heal, to cope, to keep on.
And there’s also a small voice that asks why isn’t everyone else also jumping for joy that today they don’t have to have chemo either? That today they don’t have to have surgery? That today they are not worried about losing their lives? Why don’t ALL of us, when we’re not in pain or grief, not dying (and yes, of course, we ARE all dying, all the time, dying a little bit more just as we continue to live) – why don’t we all feel this gratitude all the time?
Because we could all do this, we could all wake up with joy that we are not facing a day-long surgery, that we are not facing horrible medical treatments that might save our lives, that we’re not having to do painful exercises to regain a mobility that we and many others may have taken for granted, that we are here, and that right now, we are alive and therefore have a chance to make a difference in the world.
Just because I and my friends (five of them, all different cancers) who are going through cancer at the moment (and other diseases! other diseases are also available, and prevalent! plenty of friends with other diseases too) are managing to keep going, does not mean that other life difficulties have gone away.
Does not mean that those of my friends-who-are-sick who have children are not also concerned about their children. (And not even in the what-if-I-die stuff, but just the usual day to day stuff.) The same for the friends-who-are-sick who care for elderly relatives.
Does not mean that my-friends-who-are-sick are not also worried about work.
Does not mean that my-friends-who-are-sick don’t also have concerns about wider family and friends, about the state of the world, about it all.
Being ill, being in pain, being in the process of coming through it, does not mean that usual concerns disappear at all, sometimes it actually magnifies them.
But what illness, and facing our own mortalities can also give us, is an ability to notice that it is good to stay alive. That’s why so many of us are prepared to put ourselves through a huge amount of pain to do so. All the other concerns of life go on, but the concern of staying alive becomes, for a time, paramount.
And so I wish for anyone NOT currently in pain or concerned about their own mortality, or grieving the loss of a deeply-loved one, a moment to consider that being alive is good in and of itself. That good health is great good fortune in and of itself.
That even adequate health is great good fortune in and of itself.
That being alive and being capable of making a difference in the world, as we all are, is good fortune in and of itself.
I wish this for me too, I note that even now, three weeks after surgery, I think it’s okay that I can get out of bed and not wince in pain, that when I do wince it’s a smaller version of the wincing and yelping of two weeks ago, one week ago, two days ago.
I wish that I, in future, when I am not in pain, when I’m not worried for my actual life, will also be able to remember that simply not being worried about dying or hurting or being hurt is, in itself, a good thing. Not even a normal thing, but a GOOD thing. That no matter how busy my day, how concerned I am about other people I love or care about, how worrying or upsetting work things may be, that simply being able to get out of bed without wincing in pain, that ‘merely’ planning ahead for the next six months, is a good thing in and of itself.
It’s bigger than The Glad Game, it’s more than counting blessings (and while it’s easy to write it off as sanctimony, I’m going to risk saying it anyway) – it’s simply knowing that being alive AT ALL is such an accident of fate and circumstance and universal (non)design, that to forget gratitude for merely living, to forget to use it well, to forget it is of value, that we can each be of value, would be a damn shame.
I wish it for everyone, not just those of us currently being reminded of the value of life.
And I will try to remember this feeling. I’m sure I will need to.