Tuesday, 28 June 2016

I always believed in futures (I hope for better in November).

I am very lucky. My entire life I have been told that if I want something, with perseverance and hard work, I can get it. I have known no limitations as to what is expected of me. I could have done anything I wanted, I could have been anything I wanted. I have been provided with the opportunities to make any number of decisions to lead me down one path or another, to wherever I wanted to go.

And then I got cancer. 

You might think that what I long for (and what I mourn) are the opportunities I am no longer able to seize, for example, I haven’t been able to finish my degree, or qualify as a midwife. But what I mourn more is the forward-thinking perspective on life that I used to take for granted. I used to plan things. I used to look into the future and see a long expanse of time in which to Get Shit Done. If I do A and B I will arrive at C. And I have plenty of time to do A and B. It was a neat and satisfying arrangement.

As cancer patients, we are suddenly told to live in the moment. People write it as watermarks over photos of some tanned and blonde person running on a beach somewhere in the southern hemisphere. We are told to feel everything profoundly and experience everything fully. It seems like the ideal and idealistic way to experience the world, to gain the most from every possible moment. But when the expanse of the future you have always known grinds to a halt, and all you are left with is now, and everything else seems vague and distant and out of reach, and you have no choice BUT to live in the moment, you don’t book a round-the-world ticket and go screaming into grand canyons and jumping out of planes; instead it leads to a kind of lazy fatalistic hedonism in which you find yourself sat on the sofa for the third day in a row, drinking a glass of wine and taking alternate bites from a chicken leg and a bar of chocolate. Because fuck bikini bodies. And you find yourself spending hundreds of pounds online shopping for lemon juicers and calvin klein tshirts and too many cushions. Because you can’t pay off your debts when you’re dead. 

Cancer strips away the future, and with it, consequences. 

When you realise you have no control over the future, you don’t stop trying there is simply nothing to try for. There is no way of trying. You can’t sit and grit your teeth and will the cancer into non-existence. You feel like an vessel for chemo and steroids and pain meds and junk food and blood products and antibiotics and stem cells. But you’re present present present. Don’t think about the future right now, it’s too much to handle. But don’t think about the past because there are hundreds of things you would have done differently.

My perspective on these things, on the future, and on how I relate to the present moment, change from one week to the next. There were times during chemo where I was more sure of myself than I have been since my transplant. And I guess that’s the nature of AML, the fact that they won’t say I am cured for four more years. This remission is limbo. It is frustratingly impermanent.

Some moments make me take a metaphorical step backwards. I call them snapshot moments. They are the instances in which I feel that if I could have seen a photograph of that moment in September 2014 or January 2015, those times when all seemed lost, when the future was not just out of reach but entirely absent, that it would have been so much easier to get through the long nights with only terrible thoughts, the beeping of an infusion pump and the night nurses, those angels, for company. Those moments: a year post transplant, my wedding day, climbing a mountain in Riva del Garda... they would have got me through. Instead there were unknown unknowns. It is that lack of perspective that is perhaps the hardest thing about having cancer, knowing that time didn’t stretch in only one direction would have changed everything.

1 comment:

  1. So proud of you and everything you have achieved so far and will go on to achieve.

    My hero always xxxxxxx