Wednesday, 6 April 2011

What could possibly be scarier than cancer ?

A mouse, that's what.

Even though I've recently been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer that has spread to my sternum and liver, I'm still scared of mice. How can this be ? I thought I'd have nerves of steel by now. Friends and family often waste no time in telling me how 'brave' and 'strong' I am in dealing with such a devastating diagnosis. But I've realised that these are character traits that have been bestowed upon me with little or no prior knowledge of my past neuroses. For a start, I'm afraid of cockroaches, rats, bats and mice - roughly in that order. I'm also afraid of heights, deep water, and driving when there are other cars on the road. Yes, really I am.

I'm afraid of crabs because they walk sideways. I'm afraid of dogs that bark too loudly. I'm afraid of strong ocean currents, pitch black darkness and making a fool of myself in public. That's quite a long list. For this I blame my mother, who told me recently that she's afraid of so many things that it's far easier to just admit that she's afraid of life. At the time I found this revelation kind of sad. If you're afraid of life, then surely you're also afraid of living ?

But back to my four-legged friend. It has been months since he first set up residence in our kitchen. First of all we tried the softly, softly approach. A few humane mousetraps that trap but don't actually kill. When this didn't work, we tried the real mccoy - mousetraps that killed with one fatal blow. Still no joy. We worked our way through peanut butter, chocolate and cheese. In the morning we'd often find half of the bait already eaten. After another sighting of our grey, scraggy-haired friend gingerly moving along the kitchen worktop, we tried sticky traps - the kind that would keep him stuck in one position until we awoke, discovered him and then worked out how to dispose of him. Instead we awoke to clean, spotless sticky sheets. We caught him once, not dead but clanging away while I entered the kitchen to feed baby A. He'd got stuck in a trap and wasn't dead but obviously desperate to get away. When my boyfriend tried to release him in the back garden, he escaped and wasted no time in sneaking through the outside brickwork and back into our flat. We were back to where we started.

We've now just bought some poison and have tried to scatter this at the entry route outside. I'm not sure how we got from humane traps to toxic, life-threatening substances in just a few months, but it goes to show that sometimes you don't continue as you started. In an odd, ironic way the persistence of the mouse makes me think of the persistence of cancer. You discover them both by chance one day, you try killing them, they come back, you try killing them again in another way, they come back again, you use another technique, so do they. If there was ever a disease that felt more like an adversary than cancer, I'd love to know its name.

But, its not all doom and gloom. The mouse is still alive and so are we. At the moment he's residing in our bathroom while we're cosily watching TV in the lounge. Perhaps like this mouse, there's a way in which we can live with cancer even though both have entered our lives as unwanted guests. Perhaps with metastatic cancer, the solution is perhaps not to try to kill it, but just to keep it at bay so much that after a while you don't even notice that it's there. Or alternatively, you let it take up residence, give it a false sense of security and when it least expects it, you blast it with a secret weapon. Of course not being a scientist, I have no idea what this secret weapon might be. But when it comes to trapping mice, I think I've used up all my ammunition. If anyone else knows how to get rid of a determined rodent, I'd love to hear from you.


  1. Hi Coral, I love your metaphor of the mouse & cancer. As much as we fear it, we somehow learn to live with it, some days scary, some days a sigh of relief. Your blog is beautiful & insightful; I don't comment often, but I always read your posts & my thoughts are with you. I recently learned about a woman who has been living with stage IV BC for 18 years, and it certainly offers me hope. What do you think?

  2. hi laurie,

    thanks so much for your very kind and flattering comments. I just try to write about how I feel in my blog and am glad that someone appreciates it ! I have Katherine Russell Rich's book. It was one of the first books that I bought after my diagnosis. I thought it was brilliant and inspirational and I think about her often. In my recent post called 'the power of stories' i talk about how her book really motivated me to push myself. Thanks for connecting and please keep in touch !