After my own family’s recent experience of my mum being diagnosed with breast cancer I got a bit upset when I saw this feature today, as the news is still very raw, but I thought it was worth sharing. TV presenter Amy Robach recently had a mammogram live on air to promote breast cancer awareness and encourage more women to be screened. Shockingly her results came back positive and she is now undergoing treatment. While Amy Robach looks impossibly calm and together while explaining her surprise to the cameras, I can only imagine what is going on beneath the surface both for her and her family.
I thought I was dealing ok with the news that my mum had been diagnosed with breast cancer. After a few tearful days of struggling to talk about it at the beginning I thought that I had made peace with it in my mind. I could discuss it with my friends in a calm, controlled manner without bursting into tears. I could watch adverts about cancer or tv or news items about it without having to leave the room. It was difficult, sure, but I thought the spirit of ‘just getting on with it’ had prevailed. How wrong I was.
I think a big part of being relatively ok within a few days of getting the news was that nothing had perceptibly changed. Sure, cancer was the elephant in the room but life unfolded as usual. My mum went to work, my dad went to work, my sister went to university, I unpacked my suitcase. Surgery was four weeks in the future (I’m still struggling with this one, always a kid with a preference for having the plaster ripped off quickly, a four week wait to have a cancerous tumour removed seems like an unfathomably long time. This is MY MUM we’re talking about here guys, why can’t it come out TODAY!?)
In a decision that doesn’t sit particularly well with me, my mum has opted not to tell my elderly grandmother until after surgery, as my grandmother is not in great health herself and spends much of the day alone. She thinks my grandmother can do without this worry until she absolutely has to know (eg. when my mum starts getting treatment and won’t be able to hide it). My mum has also decided not to tell her sister – my aunt. In terms of family I feel like there’s a wall of silence, and it has been making me very uncomfortable since I think my mum could be getting a lot of (much needed) emotional support from those people around her. On the opposite end of the spectrum I wanted all my friends to know immediately, but of course I still have to keep if from my grandmother – which hurts.
Yesterday my mum’s friend came to visit as she has also recently been diagnosed with breast cancer (they are both around the same age and were picked up in the same round of screenings in our local area). As this lady’s cancer was more advanced she has already had surgery and hence is a few steps ahead of my mum. I don’t know if it was overhearing snippets of this conversation full of scary things like radiotherapy, the dreaded chemotherapy, tamoxifen . . . general treatment plan stuff, or if the encroaching date of the surgery is starting to play on my mind, but in the last 24 hours I’ve been one hot mess. Cancer is now stepping out of the abstract in our house, and is becoming real.
I’ve lost control over my emotions, and it just feels like I am surrounded by cancer. All of a sudden it seems like so many women not that far removed from me have it, and my mind has been wondering back to all of those friends I’ve had who have lost their mother’s to cancer over the years. At this minute cancer looks a lot like something that only effects women. This is a dumb observation obviously, but for me right now it just seems like a veritable plague amongst women over a certain age and I am scared.
In order to do something proactive I have booked an overdue cervical screening for myself, and I have untold paranoia and fear that something abnormal will result from this. Guilt wouldn’t let me avoid doing it, certainly not at the moment, but there’s no guarantee that an irrational freak-out will not occur while waiting for results.
Having being generally tearful and unbalanced today the complete pièce de résistance came when I had an appointment that I had to reschedule. The receptionist wanted to book an appointment for two weeks time, and was fairly forceful about this. Two weeks time is the day my mum has surgery. And while I tried to explain that even though I know they aren’t flexible about days I really couldn’t do that day etc etc. I properly broke down. Along with the public embarrassment of this I am sad and upset that I’m not dealing with the bad news as well as I had thought. Even afterwards I was completely scattered and distressed. I didn’t know what to do to calm myself down or make myself feel better. Should I have attempted to placate myself with coffee and cake? Bought myself a dress to cheer myself up? Called one of my friends, in one of those blundering phone calls where you don’t have anything to say but just want to hear a friendly voice – which inevitably then makes you cry a bit more? I decided instead to first go to the bathroom to calm down and wash my face, only to be confronted with: cancer awareness posters! It feels like there is nothing I can do to ‘escape’ or ‘forget’ because no amount of distractions are going to make my mum not have cancer.
All this being said my mum herself is currently looking distinctly unruffled, maybe Amy Robach is coping a lot better than my initial suspicions. Whether this is acceptance, determination or denial remains to be seen . . . I’ll support my mum in any way that I can, and I’m eternally grateful to others who in turn are able to support me.
On the terrace by the lake the rain pours on a Saturday afternoon. A cold glass of wine, condensation dripping down the outside. Later when the rain stops we sit by the lake at sunset, mist rising off the water. ‘It doesn’t have to be this way’. You say. But the city pulls us back on her tendrils, pulls us down into the vortex. Parties that never end, wooden floors, echoes and ghosts. Night bleeding into dawn already, but you have barely arrived.
Fleeting glances of yourself in the mirror, a reflection you hate so much. A reflection you don’t recognise, pin prick pupils or a dark pool the covers your entire eyes. Pale and shaky and cut adrift. What happened? What paths brought me here?
A reflection that you try to seduce. When you look a certain way, when you smile, lower your eyes. Change your hair. Change your dress. Try to find a combination that will make him want to fuck you. That will make people like you. That will make the city accept you. But it’s all lost when you hate what you see. Shake your head. Shake your head. Walk away.
At 4am on a U-bahn platform he tries to explain. But we’ve heard it. Before. And –
Can’t take it now.
DROWN YOUR SORROWS
Berlin is not perfect, but a different form of not-perfect to the last thing. Maybe a better form. Maybe. Nothing is ever quite perfect as our perceptions and expectations are in constant flux. Always saving for tomorrow. Accept the imperfect nature of things as they are.
But the swans and the willows by the canal on this perfect August afternoon. Happiness is as fleeting as the image of it in your head.
Smoke that blows across the grass.
A goodbye party by candle-light. Standing on the edge of the circle, skirting the fringes, the darkness at your back. All the young, and talented, and beautiful, and drunk, and drugged, and lost. And sad. Sometimes. Libations in the moonlight, but you’ve lost your tongue at dawn.
Warm sunlight non-judgemental
Walk alone by the canal
Turn the handle
High ceiling and wooden floor
Silence in the courtyard
Her sleeping back, bare and smooth
Another day. Another night.
YESTERDAY WAS DRAMATIC – TODAY IS OK
Peace in this empty Berlin altbau on an early autumn evening. Low lights and houseplants, emails and wine. Neukölln night progresses around you as the clock on the kitchen wall ticks. Away.
Crying into coffee and scrambled eggs this morning. ‘Write it out’, you said. Draw out the poison. Time melts when we are together. Seconds and eternity hard to distinguish between.
Disclaimer: This is raw from my notebook, so, yeah.