Can diagnosis be forgotten? At what point is it possible to say, “I won’t worry about cancer,” and really, truly mean it? You know I’ve heard more than once that after a diagnosis, people simply want to escape. Maybe they cannot handle the sudden mortality, or illness, or the fear of chemotherapy and further measures . . . maybe the sudden flip of that switch (you know, that big red switch on the wall reading “healthy” and “unhealthy” that clicks back and forth with every cold, flu, and cancer diagnosis) from a perfectly normal life, to life suddenly on alert . . . maybe it’s too much.
I’m just trying to wrap my head around this today. I can remember being told about the cancer, I can remember the acute fear that filled my thoughts . . . I can even remember wanting to run away. But you know what? I never, not for a second, actually humoured the idea of leaving well enough (or poor enough) alone. Something had to be done. I had to do something.
But what if I hadn’t done anything? What if I’d said no to the surgery, or no to the chemo (after the doctor tells me I’ve got a 90% chance of recurrence if I don’t get further treatments . . .)
Would it have been courage or cowardice?
Because for sure I consider this past year of my life, while both revealing and defining, to have incorporated a challenge to identity, joy (not always, but sometimes it dried up and the depression ran deep), and independence.
Would it have been right to pretend the cancer didn’t exist? There are people who don’t get treatment – no matter how far things have progressed, and right deep in my heart I cannot decide if it’s the damn bravest thing I’ve ever heard, or the craziest.
I suppose the answer to that rests in the individual. Everyone gets to decide what is best for their life. Even if it means battling odds not stacked in your favour. Everyone should (though I know we all feel pressure) decide how their treatment is administered, or whether it’s administered at all.
Today I walked into the office of my General Practitioner. I’ve know her for about 23 years. Back when I was six my parents sent me to her for an ear exam. “She never answers when we call,” they said. My doctor thought it was probably nothing, and after a series of tests the results came back in: “She hears perfectly well . . . she’s just ignoring you.” (Though I’d argue it’s selective hearing.)
Point is: there wasn’t any problem. I was ‘Catherine, the little girl with no problems’.
Today I walked into the office of my General Practitioner. Today I was there to renew the drug that helps fight estrogen-loving breast cancer. Today I was a cancer survivor.
And it felt strange.
For one week – one lovely week at a cottage along the St Lawrance – I had nearly forgotten. And for a moment today, just a twinge before heading to the medical office, I wondered: “Could I just forget about everything? Wouldn’t it be great to not have a follow up, not be reminded of recurrence, not remember that I have an oncologist, and my GP is prescribing anti-cancer drugs, and I need to sign up for a drug plan cause, yeah, I’m not yet in the clear.”
Aren’t you ever tempted to forget?
But the only person we can answer for is ourselves. Anyhow. This week has made me wonder about courage, decisions, and forgetting. Wonderful things have happened too – Zsolt got a bank card, I set up my desk with paintings of Gatineau and Nice and wedding photos, and the entire family got together for a Sunday meal – but the back my mind has been ticking. Wondering. Reasoning. Coping. Wanting to understand.
And for today, that is all I can say about that.