Life, the Universe and Everything. (Well some of it anyway)
During the last week I have felt completely rubbish and extremely well. I'm currently getting over a common or garden cold, but there's something quite comforting about how normal that feels compared to the hideously weird sensations I've been going through with the chemo. Round 3 (and the halfway point!) is looming but I should now have a week of feeling almost totally normal.
And I'm making the most of it!
Life is too short to waste worrying about what's coming up. Or what's happened in the past. I am here now and I am one of the lucky ones. I am alive.
On Wednesday night, the wonderful Shirley Carpenter, Head-teacher of St Mark's Primary school, lost her battle with cancer. Both my sons (in their own very different ways) were deeply affected. Arthur, who is just starting his school life in year one, has been asking a lot of questions about dying, death and what comes after.
Part of our conversation the other night went something like,
"Is Ms Carpenter in Heaven now?" "Yes"
"Are you going to die soon too?"
"No. Not if I can help it! I'm intending to be a very, very old lady when I die"
"Are you going to live to 1000?"
"No. I wouldn't want to live for that long!"
"I do. I'm going to live forever"
As I remember, when you're five and three quarters, living forever seems like the only thing for it.
But none of us are going to live forever.
When Henry (now almost 12) was a tiny baby (and I'd had very little sleep for the six weeks or so of his life so far!), he was lying peacefully in his little rocking chair, gazing about the room as babies do. Looking at him, I suddenly had a very clear vision of him as an old, old man. This tiny, perfect creation who I had miraculously manufactured inside me, was on his inevitable journey through life towards death.
It's a very difficult subject to broach as, by nature and in order to survive as a species, we have a very real and sensible aversion to "shuffling off this mortal coil". And now (in our culture at least) talking about it has become almost taboo, a subject to be avoided as avidly and assiduously as the act of dying itself. Unless you happen to be a child. Our reticence to think about death, let alone talk about it, makes it hard when children ask questions. When, in their endless thirst for knowledge, they make their inescapable enquiries regarding and surrounding death and what, if anything follows.
Arthur's questions were all quite matter of fact (he's that sort of character, a scientific mind if I'm not mistaken), he was measured and calm but there was an underlying, subtle anxiety to do with how long his Mummy was going to stick around for before she died too. He knows I've had cancer. That I'm being treated with very strong medicine to make me better. And he knows Ms Carpenter had cancer and that for her, the medicine didn't work. But he also now knows that there are a lot of different types of cancer and if you catch it early enough you don't have to die from it.
I now have a visualisation for the disease (thanks in part to a wonderful workshop at The Haven on Friday) which is giving me a positive point of view of the cancer and chemotherapy treatment and (incidentally) a great explanation of the whole thing for small children... It goes like this:
What remains of the Lump, the microscopic breast cancer cells, I see as naughty little aliens who've escaped from their original landing place (the Lump in my left breast) and taken to their toes, hiding in various places around my body. They think it's a game. They're waiting. ready to build another alien camp somewhere else while I'm not looking. But I'm now very firmly telling them that the game's up, it's over and it's time for them to leave. The chemo drugs are their alien transportation system (which is why they make me feel so bad and are doing a little bit of temporary damage in my body) Strangely perhaps, I'm not angry with these rogue, alien breast cells. If I'm honest, I'm actually more than a little bit grateful to them. They've made me realise how finite and therefore valuable my life is. I'm thankful for the impetus and inspiration they've given me to start writing. And thankful and so so grateful for revealing the vast warm ocean of love and support I have from my family and friends who I hope I will never take for granted.
I am alive, I am here now and I am not going to waste another second.