Not mine. That’s a thing I have dealt with a long time ago and I fully embrace upsidedown head status. Nope, I’m talking about my wife’s.
The past 4 months have been harder than most. My wife, Hilary, was diagnosed with breast cancer in September and I have been wanting to write something like this for awhile but always found it difficult to start. Indeed, I still am, we’ll see how this goes.
Breast cancer isn’t rare, everyone who reads this will know someone affected at some time. Breast cancer at 35 is a lot less common but still significant numbers with massive amounts of research performed each year. I am aware of the research; I’ve read it, been lectured upon it, attended 1000s of talks/seminars where breast cancer is talked about and even written grants and journal articles where the driving force behind my research into understanding the fundamentals of cell migration is to better understand tumour metastasis and identify novel therapeutic targets. While my exposure has always been in the abstract, this understanding should make dealing with the real-life situation easier to deal with. In many ways it has.
The percentages, the 5 year, 10 year, 20 year survival rates, all the clinical aspects, the chemo choice and its side effects, the decisions about reconstructive surgery, and the fertility implications. They are all fine. Maybe i just deal with them in the abstract; I can put Hil’s staging information and age into the normal distribution without it bothering me. Maybe I am kidding myself and this really is what is bothering me but genuinely, my view is that the cancer and knock on effects are just a thing to deal with.
Despite the title of this post, it’s also not watching Hil deal with everything. She is a rock, unfazed, not willing to let anything as stupid as cancer hold her back (“fuck cancer”). As it became increasingly likely that her hair would fall out she got it cut in a really cool edgy look (Natalie Dormer/hunger games-esque), then shorter (Sinead O’Connor) and now is rocking the totally bald look. She has a wig but has only worn it twice. And I think that the decision to just own the look was cemented recently when she got hit on in a bar by an attractive women while rocking her bald look.
Of course, being winter, she has a plethora of headscarf and hat options that don’t look out of place and that means she doesn’t have to talk about it with random strangers. We can also have fun with those. And best of all, it takes less time to get ready in the morning so longer in bed!
So what is difficult then? For me, bizarrely, it’s just talking about it. At all, to anyone.
At first, I thought that talking about things upset me because it was only then that I fully embraced and “made real” everything that was going on. But now, post surgery, 3 months into chemo, its all pretty real! I’ve spoken about this to lots of people, lots of times and yet still it will surprise me with a release of emotion. Three times recently spring to mind; post Christmas party drinks chatting with a work colleague with whom I had chatted about this many times before, just before New Year with two long-time friends over from Chicago, first time in person with them but it is something we had discussed via Skype and thirdly, and much more confusingly/potentially embarassingly, at a board of studies meeting for a MRes course. The last one was really strange. Thinking further back, I think this has only been an issue whenever Hil isn’t present.
Hil will be fine, that’s what all the stats say. However, if she isn’t then we will deal with it.
So why bother writing this? Well I’m hoping that it is an effective release. I should point out that absolutely everyone has been amazingly supportive of Hilary and my emotive response is probably of no shock and while some people might be uncomfortable and not quite know how to respond (tip; ignore and allow me to be self-deprecating) its not really a problem.
There is an outside chance that someone will read this who is embarking on this journey or knows someone who is and being aware that talking about everything does help but is also possibly the hardest thing.