17/05/16-University cafe, lunchtime: I have a longer day out than usual today. I’ve managed to sandwich a meeting with my university Student Support Officer somewhere in between the emotional roller-coaster of this morning’s radiotherapy and a one off charitable session this afternoon that I’m booked on called ‘Look Good, Feel Better’ otherwise known as ‘Hair and Beauty for the Chemically Bloated and Follicly Challenged’.
So after I complete my radiation therapy I bus myself back down to the centre of this sprawling metropolis, negotiating my way through unfamiliar streets and alleyways until I find myself standing outside the entrance to the vast old city post office-now newly inhabited by the art department of my university.
I say ‘my’ but here in these anxious moments as I step over the threshold for the first time into a building I don’t know, swimming against the tide through a sea of purposeful, youthful arty strangers…it has never felt less like mine.
But then I suppose nearly six months is a long time to be away…
and I am bald as a coot.
And I guess 24 weeks really is a pretty long absence…
and I am here with no eyebrows.
And 169 days…and with only five spidery eyelashes to share between both my eyes…well you get the picture but you know me…so I front it out.
I front it out. I take a seat in the cafe amongst the students.
I front it out. I take a seat in the cafe amongst the students pretending that I belong here.
I front it out. I take a seat in the cafe nonchalantly tearing off a piece of my sandwich popping it into my mouth and trying to look like it’s going down a treat. Effortless! Of course the reality of the situation is that it’s sticking to the roof of my mouth and clinging for dear life to the back of my tongue and refusing to go anywhere.
I gulp down some water and hope that nobody asks me anything-fortunately I appear to have remembered my cloak of invisibility today and so no one even so much as glances in my direction although two students manage to trip over the hind leg of my chair so I utch myself protectively closer to my table for one, so close in fact that my one boob is practically sitting on it alongside the remains of my lunch.
I’m all churned up inside and my mouth is arid, though mostly this is a hangover from my days of chemotherapy.
Still in spite of all of this here I am.
In spite of all of this, I AM HERE!
Once again I sit amongst students who are young enough for me to have successfully breastfed.
I sit amongst students who are young enough to look fabulous in any damn thing they grab at to wear on their bleary eyed, morning stumble from their cots.
So here I am sitting in this Uni cafe amidst what appears to be the setting up of an end of year exhibition. Busy bodies surrounding me, some with angst filled faces arranging then rearranging bits and pieces of what quite frankly seem less than intimidating works of art if you ask me-what’s that? Oh I see-you didn’t.
Others happily chatting in small spectator groups offering moral support to one another and some who appear completely disinterested in the whole affair- perhaps they’ve already shown and are simply here relaxing in the afterglow.
So I’m sitting in this Uni cafe amidst this cacophony, an alien in a foreign land and I’m pretending to enjoy lunch before my meeting.
I don’t belong here, I know I don’t…not now…not here in this moment but…I feel the stirring of a longing inside of me and that’s all the encouragement I need. Here is the glimmer of possibility the rumblings of a hunger I know can grow and I know that this is where I want to be- and I know that I want to belong. Here. Again.
Powerful feelings these.
I won’t allow the treatment to take anything else away.
My breast, I had little choice about.
My hair, my dignity, my self confidence well they will all return in their own time.
The time I have lost engaging with life, I will never recoup.
But attending university, completing the two years I need to graduate-these things are within my power and I do have a choice…at least for now and that’s all that really matters-now.
I sit quietly in the midst of this end of year creative storm, amongst the detritus of their creativity, amidst the detritus of my declining treatments- and I see that I am my own new work of art, my own new me.
So I meet with my kindly Student Support Officer and we talk of my return. She makes a list and I make a list. She has some queries and I have some quandaries…but somewhere nestling in between the form filling and the letter writing and the questions and the answers, somewhere between the appointments and the interviews that are forming the steps back to the dream I have had on hold-it occurs to me that I am beginning to assert myself out in this big beautiful world again. I feel the wall between me and the rest of the human race begin to tremble and quake. I am beginning to rebuild my life.
With renewed enthusiasm I head off back up in the direction of the hospital to the charity centre where I’m about to find out about looking good and feeling better!