Wow. So you have cancer? Shit one.”
This was the opener of a lovely letter I received in the post this week from a good male friend with whom I have barely been in touch for the past decade. Two weeks after my diagnosis of breast cancer, pretty much everyone I know knows, and their reactions have all been different.
From the very close female friend who sobbed hysterically down the phone to me for a couple of minutes, to the male colleague who said little more than “better get the box sets in then,” to the “at least you can get a bigger rack” comment, to the “I’m so sorry” and “I’m so shocked,” I’ve heard every reaction going.
The big scary ‘C’ word means something different to everyone. The most common assumptions seem to be that I will have to have chemo and lose my hair, wear headscarves and wigs and look pale and gaunt for a while, I may come out of it with mis-shapen boobs, and myself and those I love will endure a lot of suffering. All of which are likely to be true. But I have never, ever had such an outpouring of love from everyone I know at any point in my life, and in a way I wonder why people attach so much more importance to providing support for things like cancer, than for when people go through experiences that are often far more difficult, such as relationship breakdowns or the loss of a loved one. The big ‘C’ is like this magic word that automatically grants you sympathy, concern and love. I’ve started to wonder if I should be using it to queue-jump or to get better tables in restaurants.
Having cancer isn’t easy but, in a way, it’s simple. Unlike with everything else in life, with cancer there are no real choices to make. I am fortunate enough to have access to some of the best doctors in England and all I really have to do is let them do the work, while I focus on getting better and being positive. And I know everyone I love will be around to support me. So if people think I’m being blasé or brave and strong, I guess that’s why. Because I’ve accepted this is one thing in life I can’t control, and therefore I just have to roll with it.
I am truly touched that everyone I know and love, even those who have been virtual strangers for years, has had something to say about my cancer, even if that something is “I don’t know what to say.” I hope you will all remain in touch and join me for lots of champagne and cake after I win this battle!
(Speaking of cake, here is a photo of the beautiful ‘boob’ cupcakes Beth baked for me!)