TL,DR: Sometimes You Have To Recover From The Shock Of Good News. Details Follow.

The first cancer scare I ever had was in 1999.

I’d had a mammogram and they’d found a hot spot. The nurse came at me with a needle. I clung to the ceiling and refused to come down and they decided to do a lumpectomy instead. It was day-surgery––i.e., I went home not long after I woke up from the anaesthetic.

During the time we had to wait for the results, I made a lot of jokes to Chris about how I was going to spend all our money on flamboyant wigs––this was during my flamboyant hair-extensions phase, when I swanned around town sporting monofibre down to my lower back. I would turn our study into a temperature-controlled wig closet, I said. And of course, I would need lots of new clothes to go with them. I would free my inner drag queen and let her take over. 

Then I got the all-clear and I fell apart. I was limp for days. 

Eventually I pulled myself together. I figured that was a little nudge from the universe to remind me I wasn’t invulnerable. I’d only told a few people and only after it was all over, so I pretty much forgot about it.

But the part I never forgot was how the good news––no malignancy––had undone me completely. I’d had no idea how much I’d braced myself to hear bad news. I had assumed the crash position and the plane had landed safely, normally, unremarkably. None of the other passengers were aware it could have happened any other way.

When Chris and I headed for the Macmillan Cancer Centre yesterday, we had no idea what we were going to hear. My tumour markers had already fallen dramatically, although there had been a very slight rise at the previous appointment. I’d decided to stay focussed on the things that felt good––exercise, eating fresh fruit, writing, walking without back pain. Chris helped me with everything, taking me to the gym, cutting up apples for me, making sure I could work undisturbed. He projects such an air of upbeat calm, even I don’t realise how much stress he’s under.

After we came home yesterday, he dropped onto the bed and slept for four hours straight while I danced on the couch, stared at the Gent, did a little work, and I’m not really sure what else.

Today Chris is still pretty done in. I took spoon inventory and discovered that, as I’ll be going out tonight, I didn’t have enough for the gym. That was disappointing––I’d pictured myself revving the recumbent bike to a new personal best in rpms before brandishing twice my bodyweight in the weight room. And all without a headscarf or a cap!

Well, you work with what you’ve got. Tonight I’m getting dressed up and taking my hair to a party. The gym will still be there tomorrow when I swan in with my pixie-ish good looks, even if I won’t be intimidating any of the bodybuilders with my strength. 

That’s okay, they all seem to be good guys, and very tolerant of the little old lady working a wimpy little-old-lady pyramid, straining to complete 8 reps with 3 kilo free weights. Although the “Secretly Hoping Chemo Will Give Me Super-Powers” t-shirt probably helps.

(Now aren’t you glad you didn’t read only the tl;dr and skip the rest? You’d have missed the parts about my hair and the bodybuilders.)

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16 thoughts on “TL,DR: Sometimes You Have To Recover From The Shock Of Good News. Details Follow.

  1. It is surprising how much waiting for news takes it out of you. I wonder if we unconsciously hold all our muscles taught, like you said, assuming the crash position. And we do it often, waiting for scans, then the results, and blood tests.
    I think in some ways, it must be even harder for our loved ones. I’ve accepted the inevitability of my death within the next few years, but obviously, my husband doesn’t want to lose me. He’s the one who will have to carry on, without me by his side.
    It does worry me, how he will cope after.

    • I hear you, Jools. I told my husband that it was my very selfish sentiment that if one of us had to have cancer, I was glad it was me.

      Those TV ads about how lonely it can be for a cancer patient––do you know the ones I mean?––don’t mention that it can be just as lonely and even more stressful for the partner/carer.

      • Yeah, I know the ones. I agree. My husband signed up with our local carers group, but all the things they do take place during the week whilst he’s at work. Luckily he does have a good friend for support.

  2. You really are amazing! I’m waiting to hear about a lump in my spine and there are weeks – which feel like years – in between all the tests. I am making LOTS of jokes, milking the situation and tensing up, in between. Guess we’re all just humans, doing the best we can! 🙂 xx

  3. I feel like I should cross-stitch some of your brilliant wisdom and hang it on the wall; the trouble is there is so much of it that should I live to 100 I’d never get all that stitching done. So, instead, thank you. For your guts and your humor and your defiance and determination. You are a treasure!

  4. Last year I also had a “bad” mammogram and I was struck by how much it impacted every woman I met who was going through the same process. (They segregated everyone waiting for the results of their second mammogram, for unknown reasons, and everyone there was super stressed out.)

    I read that one year after having a cancer scare patients have approximately the same stress as those who actually have cancer. It seems to me there should be some sort of closure ceremony, to help move on. I ended up taking all my kids and their girlfriends out to a very nice dinner, which seem to help.

    • I agree––after you’ve had a cancer scare, you should definitely find a way to mark it, draw a line under it, and go on.

      So many women have cancer scares in their thirties and forties––often breast cancer but also cervical cancer. Facing the prospect of surgery, chemo, possibly radiation at such a young age––well, as I said in a previous post, I think I would have been devastated. And when you have to wait two weeks for test results––! And then afterwards, you feel like you’ve been through a trauma on the order of a car accident or a mugging, except nothing is visible to anyone. It’s all internal. And even if you get good news––no malignancy––the trauma is no less real.

      It’s like hanging on a rope over a completely dark abyss. You don’t know if the rope is going to give way or not; you don’t know how deep the abyss is, what’s in it, or how long you’ll fall before you reach the bottom…if there is a bottom. And nothing can happen until you find out; anything you do is subject to change. You and your life are suspended.

      Who wouldn’t need some help recovering from something like that?

      • I had a cancer scare and a second mammography about two years ago. Three years after my mother had a mastectomy, which certainly didn’t help my optimism any. I could definitely have used some sort of recovery period.

        Unfortunately, what I got instead was the out-of-the-blue discovery that while I didn’t have cancer, my husband did. Kind of like bracing for a frontal impact and getting hit by a semi from the side instead.

      • I feel for you. My husband and I are friends with a couple who are taking turns looking after each other. First he had cancer; four years later, she developed it.

        Life ain’t merely unfair, it’s absurdly unfair.

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