Writer Babette Hughes shared her experience with breast cancer in a powerful blog post recently. Here is a follow up to that must-read blog.
Back home after the diagnosis, I make dinner, noting that the salmon smells fishy. I cut the ends of the string beans and wash the romaine for a salad. I hear my husband’s key in the door. He comes into the kitchen, says hi and gives me a kiss. His face feels scratchy. “It’s cancer,” I say, smiling. (Smiling!) I feel my absurd grin, pleased to be crazy.
But over the next days my brain begins to let in a little news at a time, like a gate that opens and closes at mysterious intervals, as if it knows how much my mind can handle without imploding. The gate swings open when I’m alone and I find myself crying at a traffic light; or on the freeway (risk cheating cancer by getting killed by the pickup truck tailgating me); or standing in the shower with a tight heart. The gate closes when I run errands, have dinner with friends, sit in the radiation waiting room. As the hours and days go by the gate stays open longer and longer until I begin to get it. I get it. This thing on my breast can kill me! Reading and writing become lost to me. The now wide-open gate has me imagining the unthinkable. Imagining my own death, my absence from my own life. In a crazy, perverse way it is secretly thrilling. I have cancer! I’m still alive! I check out my will and talk to my husband about his options when he’s a widower.
When you show up for your doctor’s appointment you are handed a clipboard on which lies a questionnaire with a laundry list of every disease, malady and symptom known to man. You are supposed to check those that you have or had, or think you have or had. You are also asked to check whether you have it sometimes, often, never or frequently. You obediently ponder the clipboard and make your checks.