The great American writer Flannery O'Connor once said, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
I can relate to those words, particularly when I'm writing my journal which has helped me to make sense of the world, and myself, for over 40 years.
Writing for me has always been a balm for the soul, an outlet for the imagination, as normal and natural as breathing (whether it be deep or shallow, fast or slow, or yawning), and definitely a way for me to figure out exactly what I am thinking, why stuff happens, and where I am going.
Often this type of writing is private, jotted down in my journal, but sometimes I share it, as I did with my book 'Welcome to the Amazon Club' where I made public my first experience with breast cancer in 2001.
I knew Amazon Club would never be a best seller, but hey, we did OK. The intent of producing a book about something so intensely personal as a nitty-gritty description of what it's like to have cancer, goes way back to the days when I was still at high school and had a writing mentor, Mrs M.
Mrs. M was my best friend's Mom, and she took me under her wing and taught me some writing skills and truths about 'being a writer' that have stood me well over the years. Once or twice a month on a Saturday afternoon, rain or shine, I'd trudge down the hill and up another to her house where we'd sit at the dining table and go through the writing she had set me to do. A slice of cold apple, a glass of cordial and some Super Wine biscuits were waiting to help me cope with the slashings of red pen.
Mrs. M told me many things. She said that we write because it helps us understand ourselves and our world, and in so doing, we can help others do the same. By writing about a life challenge, we can help those who may be going through something similar. Our words resonate with them, bring comfort, solace, a way forward at a time when there is such darkness that we can't see our hand before our face.
I've been diagnosed with breast cancer again, but I won't be writing another book. However, I will write about it because it helps me get through the challenges that life throws up at us. It helps me to accept the why, the what is this all about, the why has this happened to me again, and the how will this affect my life now.
It's a comfort, that pen and paper.
Oh yes and for yet another reason to write, I quote Alex Miller who says, "... if you’re a writer you don’t have to retire but can keep on doing the thing you love till you drop off the chair.”
I’d always wondered how I would feel if breast cancer came back.
Now I know. It’s like a hammer blow to the heart.
In my previous posting, I'd written about the anniversary of my first diagnosis, and how I usually celebrate that day marking another year of being cancer free. Of course I was unaware that I had another breast cancer then.
As usual, I went in for my annual mammogram. It was clear, but my breast physician picked up a very small irregularity on the ultrasound scan which she always performs. “I think I’d like to biopsy this,” she said.
She wanted five core biopsies but I so hate the procedure, I said she could do four. It was a deal. We weren’t too worried.
When I went in for the results a day or two later, I don’t know who was more surprised, me or my specialist.
On this anniversary, I celebrated her diligence and care, let me tell you.
Things move pretty fast when you receive a cancer diagnosis. I saw the surgeon three days later and was in the hospital by the end of the week.
The speed with which things happen can leave you muddled, trying desperately to keep up, all the while struggling with the effects of shock, organising for a stay in hospital, having blood tests, getting your work in order, letting people know, then of course the surgery itself knocks the stuffing out of every moving part and all of your brain cells.
Now, into Week Two post surgery, I am beginning to have little glimpses into the reality of what has happened.
It takes time to process. That’s the part people don’t always realise, looking in, and it’s the part that you rail against because you want to get back into life, back to work, back to doing – but your body, and mind, needs rest.
You need to prepare for the emotional and spiritual impact that will come – the grief, the fear, the loss, the exhaustion – and it will come, eventually, so getting as healthy as you can does help.
Suffice to say, the second diagnosis of a new primary was a horrible shock and I am so grateful it was found early, on this anniversary. I celebrate that.
I have never completely turned my back on cancer. I don’t think those of us diagnosed with it ever really do. It hangs about like a ghost at a far-off window, and comes closer at check up time. Sometimes it leaps out and says ‘Boo!’, as ghosts do. The thing is that you know it might do that, at any time, you know it could happen, but it’s still a complete surprise.
I was better prepared this time though. I know so much more. I understand the words the doctors use, the terminology, the implications, the reasons behind things. That took so much of the fear away because I knew my adversary very well.
We all took up our arms, put on the armour, and moved forward to face it.