17/11/15- Home: Friday 6th of November I receive a copy of the referral letter that hands me over from one consultant to another. It contains brief details of the pathology of my cancer cells.
Things I know already. Things I don’t.
Something about its nature- official and serious takes me by surprise and I find myself detaching from the woman it describes. ‘That woman’ has been given an NPI (Nottingham Prognostic Index) score of 5.02. This refers to the likelihood of my surviving five years though not necessarily disease free-the score equates to 70%.
70% chance of me being around in 2020, I guess that’s not bad odds really. Better than the odds of snow at Christmas and people bet on that all the time!
Over the week that follows I find myself in a strangely surreal place. My mind lurching continuously back and forth like a drunk on a boat between two starkly contrasting positions: ‘I cant believe this is actually happening’ and ‘This is it, this is going to get me’.
I am unemotional-there is no fear attached, no sadness. I am calm. It is purely a head thing-my mind attempting to find a resting place that acknowledges the full weight of my new reality whilst allowing for hope and possibility to remain.
Days pass and I wait.
Life continues and I wait…
And then it is Friday 13th and because I am still waiting and because life continues the time arrives for the Carnival! I get to come back to my beloved Weston-Super-Mare. I get to come back to my beloved friends. I get to come to the Carnival.
So here I am. I’m standing at the seaside in the dark. I’m standing in ferocious winds and torrential rain, buttoned up and battened down, hatted and hooded, scarfed and gloved. A cacophony of music swells in the air around my head and the multitude of lights on the floats burn so brightly that I can feel their warmth caress my cheeks as they pass me by. The colourful carnival folk, dance and sway and sing on this bitter night- their faces are lit with smiles and life and I am lit up inside like a child on Christmas eve.
I am overawed.
I am overwhelmed by the simple joy of being and belonging and sharing. It fills up my heart and prickles at my lashes and I know that life is sweet, life is good.
But I can feel that my feet are wet and cold inside my boots now and my bones catch a chill and the chill becomes a cold and the cold takes a better hold than it has any right to and as Friday passes to Sunday I begin to feel unwell.
So I’m back in my hometown, back in my real life, back at University on a cold, wet, grey Monday morning. I find myself with conflicting loyalties. I find myself struggling to balance my commitment to my course and my need to protect my health. My immunity, usually so robust is failing me and I know that if I don’t get on top of this quickly it could impact on any commencement of chemotherapy.
I grapple with the horns of my dilemma. In my fantasy I work out that if I can just complete this week at Uni, I will have enough stuff to work on over the last few weeks of this year at home, in order to pass my first assessment in January before I have to take the inevitable study break.
In reality…I can’t even make it through Tuesday.
I feel exhausted. I feel low. I feel defeated.
I pass a mirrored surface as I descend the stairs and ‘that woman’ strange and shaven headed watches as I go, triggering another, earlier image of my newly lopsided body in the shower this morning. My confidence waivers.
Between me and the world there’s a clear but impermeable membrane. I see life happening all around me but I feel separate. I see the world in full swing, glorious and vibrant but it scares me leaves me anxious and I feel overwhelmed. The world around me is moving fast, stopping for no one.
I come to a standstill.
I have to sit down.
I’m in an empty stairwell in a University building. I sit where I’ve stopped. Two thirds of the way down this particular flight.
The weight of loss hits me.
Tears tumble and I hug myself, holding on tightly to my own body rocking myself gently until I’m able to halt the flow, albeit temporarily.
I send out texts to those I will fail to meet up with today and draw myself up to my feet.
Anxiety hits me.
All I can think of now is going home. Home where I will be safe. Home where I will feel like me again.
So with heart heavy I make the right decision and let go of my university dream for now, at least. I reconcile that my health must be my focus. I need to concentrate all my energy on building up my immune system, restocking my psychological stores and replenishing my emotional well.
It is now just over six weeks since I gave up my breast. In a couple of days I meet my oncologist for the first time to talk about the next part of my treatment and maybe in a couple of days the waiting will finally stop.