Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The Cancer Myth...



To be brutally honest, the process of re-mortgaging my flat every two years is never going to top my list of activities that fill me with joy and mirth. The only emotion that I have ever felt on seeing the six-figure sum that seems to have hardly diminished since the last ‘fixed’ period is the feeling of resignation that I will always have to work to live, and not the other way around. Still, there is something very pleasing about having the kind of financial adviser who, despite having to come to work dressed formally in a pin-striped suit, is more like a male bestie, the type who doesn’t mind a bit of idle chat thrown into the kind of conversation that often starts with world politics and ends up with the Kardashians. So although I may not enjoy poring over all the figures and being reminded why it was that I once needed the help of a tutor to pass my Maths O’Level, I will willingly spend more time than I need to in his company, simply for the quality of the conversation.

Since we’re on such good terms, it didn’t surprise me that after enquiring about my current health, my financial bestie then asked me a very leading question. ‘So, is it true that once you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, you don’t really sweat the small stuff any more ? Like those days when you’re stuck in traffic and suddenly someone cuts in front of you. Do things still get to you ?’

In retrospect I should have taken more time to figure out how to answer this. I liked his honesty, his genuineness and the fact that he really wanted to discover whether the myth was true. My gut reaction was to say with some bravado, ‘hell yeah, things still wind me up, sometimes I curse more simply because I can. In fact there are days when I’m just waiting for someone to put a foot wrong, just so that I can project on to them. Call it a cheap and effective version of therapy'. But of course I don’t say this because it isn’t altogether true.

Sometimes when I’ve spent most of the day inside my head having dashed from school to hospital to work to home, I’m so exhausted from having worn so many hats in such a short space of time that someone really could knock me over and walk across me and I’d probably get up, dust myself off and continue on my merry way. Because, like most things in life, my feelings are in a constant state of flux. Sometimes I feel angry and shouty and other times completely serene. The myth about cancer is that the payoff to having to spend the best part of a year with a cocktail of poisons infused throughout your body or being zapped by gamma rays, is that somehow you will come out of the experience a better, stronger and wiser person, that your patience will be boundless, that your ability to encounter the complexities of life will become god-like. Well, it isn’t like that really.

I don’t remember where I began, but I told him that yes, I still get angry over silly things, in the same way that I probably did before a cancer cell ever developed in my body. But the thing that I try to do differently is to be aware of the fact that I'm still able to do this. When I’m frustrated with my journey to work, I remind myself of the time when I was too weak to do the seven minute walk to my local station. When I’m on a bus and someone is rude to me, instead of immediately throwing an insult back, I try fixing my gaze at the window. I understand that sometimes silence is the best answer. And I continue my journey in peace without having had to absorb their negativity. This may sound as if my reluctant dalliance with the big C has now transformed me into Mother Teresa. It hasn't. The mind likes to stubbornly cling on to the ugly, so I'm always in a fight with my ego. But I find, I say, that even when I do lose it, those red mist moments often get shorter. I find myself playing the ‘will this really matter in five years time ?’ game. And invariably, the answer is always no. He listens intently and with admiration, as if I’ve just revealed the secret to happiness in the Modern world. I try my best to make my words sound more pragmatic than they really are, but it's too late and without intentionally doing so, I fear that I have just reinforced yet another cancer myth about life after diagnosis.

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