When Breastscreen staff told me that I had triple negative breast cancer my distress was compounded by circumstance. My only child, my beautiful twenty year old daughter, was on holidays in China. It would be a week before she was home.
I agonised about whether or not to tell her. My first instinct was to wait and let her enjoy her holiday. Then a dear friend reminded me that Zoe and are are very close, and the chances of her going a whole week without picking up that something was wrong were slim. There was also the risk that she’d find out via Facebook or through some other means and would be very angry that I hadn’t told her. I decided to tell her. It was the hardest call I’ve ever had to make.
Yesterday Zoe told me she’d found a poem that she’d written after I’d rung her to say “I’ve got cancer.”
She’d forgotten about it and found it the other day when she was cleaning. She read it to me, and we both had a bit of a cry. I think it’s very beautiful, but it did make me so sorry to have put her through all of the distress that comes with this illness.
It was also a great opportunity to see how far we’ve come since diagnosis. Those first few weeks are fraught. Everything is so uncertain. You look at a pair of shoes and wonder if it’s worth buying them; will you live long enough to wear out the ones you own?
She’s given me permission to share it with everyone, so here it is:
The vibration travelling
In waves; through air over cables and the waves and mountains between us
The infinite void between us and
The deafening silence before
Three words to crumple me
Doubled over in heart-tearing pain
Clutching at nearby objects
In feeble attempt to grasp reality
In the foreign yet too well understood meaning of those three words
Grasping for breath and for answers
Trying to find something to say
Nothing to counter the brevity of those three words
In the space my mind seems to so readily fill with complex sentences
In the vast infinity between us
And yet a rush of desperate remembering
Suddenly yields a child-like terror
At not, in this very moment, being held
By the person
Whose essence seems entwined with every fibre of my being
Blue eyes catch mine in unwelcome reflection
Your eyes, essentially
Semi-trailer to the chest for a second time in the stretched out pause – only seconds, infinite seconds
A shock that makes me see
Even over all that sea between us
That you, my perfect, beautiful mother
More than the death that’s a threat from the Big C
Don’t you see?
You are entwined in the lives of all you have touched with boundless wisdom, with kindness
More than genes, it seems
You are an electric pulse in otherwise unlit humanity – live
This is clarity
Three words to change everything
But you are infinite.
It turns out that before Zoe had any idea I was going to get a call back from Breastscreen she dreamt I’d had a cancer scare. Just as well I didn’t try to keep it a secret.
From this end, looking back, things are a lot more optimistic than we expected. Having been told I had an uncommon and aggressive cancer with a poor prognosis I am now in a position where my oncologist seems ‘reasonably certain that we’re looking at a full pathological response’, in other words, I no longer have cancer. We’ll need to wait for surgery and a week of biopsy tests on the tissue they take out to be certain but all signs are good. Only two more rounds of chemotherapy to go and then a few weeks break, surgery and radiation once I’ve recovered from that.
A cure is possible.
Neither Zoe nor I knew that when she wrote that poem.