Saturday November 10th – 39 days since diagnosis; 17 days after surgery
Yesterday I ventured out alone. I drove for the first time since my surgery and did some food shopping. If you had happened to see me in Sainsbury’s you wouldn’t know I had cancer or that I was recovering from surgery. I look very “normal”. I am unremarkable, indistinguishable from all the other shoppers – well perhaps the purple streaks might attract an additional glance or two.
I found myself thinking about all the other “normal” looking shoppers and what challenges they are facing. We do not know each other’s challenges, what lies beneath the outward persona, or behind closed doors. I know more than most the challenges that people face, because of the work that I do. Yet I have underestimated what living with challenge, ill-health, loneliness, rejection, trauma, loss or abuse can actually mean. I pride myself in being able to tune in, on being empathic and non-judgmental – yet we cannot truly “know” what it is like to walk in another’s shoes, even when we have shared experiences.
This week I have found immense strength and support from friends and family, and from many, many people I have never met. In particular, a group of women who share the experience of vulval cancer with me. Most are further along their journeys. Their advice, caring words and knowing has helped me with my recovery. Their shared laughter and humour has made each day just a little easier. But they do not know what it is like to be me – any more than I know what it is like to be them.
I read about these women’s challenges and am in awe at how they are coping and raising awareness so that other women do not have to live with what they are going through. I am told by friends that I am “an inspiration” – that I am brave and courageous with my open candidness. But today I don’t want to be brave. Despite the love and support of friends and family – and strangers – I feel alone, vulnerable and terrified. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I didn’t want to bother having a shower. I couldn’t face finding an unbruised spot on my belly to give myself my daily heparin injection. I just wanted to stay there – and wallow in self-pity. Is that so wrong?
I am finding this cancer thing just a tad too much. I had adjusted to a life where I would grow old alone. I wasn’t fearful of this – I enjoy my solitude. I have a few good, close friends, can socialise as much as I feel the need and do not have to compromise, or adjust, to accommodate an “other”. I’d just about laid the (present day unacceptable) conditioned childhood expectations of finding “a man” to take care of me to rest. But suddenly, facing an uncertain future alone, the independent, strong woman, being brave … it just all feels so very, very frightening.
As I lay listening to the torrential rain, watching the skies clear, the blue painted with wispy white clouds – I shifted my butt, showered, performed my ritual blow drying of my nether regions, pinched my belly, injected myself and came downstairs to fortify myself with a bacon butty.
I know the logical trigger for today’s morose state is receiving details of my next appointment at the hospital: Friday 16th November. The day when I will find out the results of the tests on my tumour. The day I will find out what happens next. I cannot change any of this … and I am scared.
So in the meantime, I will do what I can to distract myself. Today I will go for a short drive, a stroll, soak up the wonders of nature for a while, share in some banter with friends and strangers alike, watch some rugby and Strictly Come Dancing, eat a rib-eye steak and gratefully receive all the kind wishes and messages of support which are so generously given. I will relish the love that I have in my life – my parents, my sister, my children and close friends. I will strive to remain positive – but brave? Not today. Maybe I can try brave again tomorrow ….
You can find out more about vulval cancer at:
- Cancer Research UK https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/vulval-cancer
- Macmillan Cancer Support https://www.macmillan.org.uk/information-and-support/vulva-cancer/understanding-cancer
- The Eve Appeal https://eveappeal.org.uk/
You can follow Vulval Cancer Awareness Week on Twitter: