Thursday, April 26, 2007

Preparing for the worst, hoping for the best

This is a phrase which keeps coming up in all the breast cancer literature I'm reading.

And it's a good maxim. For me anyway.

When it comes to how others react to me having breast cancer, it's maybe a little confusing for them.

I remember in the early days of diagnosis, and straight after the op, people saying things like "Well, it's been proven that being positive really helps you beat cancer so you must remember never to be negative".

That's easy for them to say.

They are not the ones who have suddenly, with a jolt, realised they are not actually immortal and have been informed they are actually quite seriously ill. They are not the ones who had to drop everything, including their dearly-held dream of running away to Africa, and stay here for treatment. They are not the ones risking a nasty smorgasbord of side effects from hair loss to infertility.

And then there was my mother, being her lovely, no-nonsense self, virtually scolding me for telling her that bad things might actually happen to me as a result of the treatment. Of course it's unlikely I will get all the side-effects. I'm hoping I barely get any. But my way of coping with the shit that could happen, is to explore and research and understand the worst of what's at stake. So if I'm prepared for the worst, the reality is likely to be a damn-sight easier.

I don't mean to be mean. I know that's it's really hard to know what to say when people share some life-shattering news. Believe me, I've been the perpetrator of many a foot in mouth moment in the past. And it's not that the 'stay positive' people or my mother are actually wrong. They're right to be willing me to stay positive. I'm willing me to stay positive. But it's pretty galling to get that reaction when you are only days on from being diagnosed and you're still processing some of the major news yourself.

The best reactions have just been those where people have listened, and sympathised, but not tried to tell me what to do or pass judgement in any way. I remember the day after diagnosis, losing my temper and getting upset when one of my very closest friends tried to gently make the point that I should consider alternatives and that the medical profession were not always right. Maybe she was right (and it was based on personal experience) but at the time I felt like she was undermining my faith in the medical establishment and what they could do for me. After I'd lost my temper with her I was devastated. I knew she was trying to help but I had suddenly felt under so much pressure and lashed out at one of my best friends. It was horrible.

And listing symptons and side-effects isn't me wallowing in despair - it is the rational side of me trying to understand everything that might happen so that I am ready for it. Just because I'm frank about the possibilities involved in this disease does not mean I'm welcoming it with open arms. I'm positive about beating this, but it's a case of know thy enemy. And on the whole, I am managing to stay positive without really having to try.

But (and there is a but) every now and then I suddenly remember that it wasn't supposed to be like this.

I was meant to be saying final goodbyes to family and friends this weekend and boarding a flight on Sunday night with R for a new life in Uganda. With hippos.

Instead, I'm about to start chemo, facing all sorts of side effects, have several scars on my boobs which were not there four weeks ago, can't yet touch my toes with my right arm again, and will always live in fear of it coming back.

So don't be surprised if every now and again I go a bit quiet, lose my temper a little too fast, swear a little too loudly or have a bit of a blub. Because this was definitely NOT part of the plan.


Marie said...

When something bad happens to me, I just wallow and don't think anything positive.

Everyone deals with trauma in their own way. I for one appreciate your honesty and frankness. I don't see it as negative at all. I think it's positive to face something head on.

Anne-Marie Weeden said...

I wallowed for several days (as you could probably tell by absence of blog writing - too busy wallowing) but then my brain needs to understand stuff. It just gets difficult when other people don't want to deal with my illness the same way I do. Then there is a clash. But they will forgive me because I have the ultimate get out of jail free card. And in the meantime I must try not to let the bitterness rise to the surface all that much!

Today is a better day. Think yesterday's black cloud partially caused by coming down with what might have been flue but had turned out this morning to just be a light cold. Not usually this much of a hypochondriac but if I have a chest infection or a temperature on Tuesday they won't be able to do the op to insert the port, or do the chemo...