Getting diagnosed with cancer is exhausting. Your mind goes into over drive. There are so many things that you end up thinking and worrying about that from the outside you would never consider in a MILLION years.
I went back to work two days after being diagnosed. No one was there. There was a show touring and being performed in Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. It had always been the plan that I would stay behind at the office, holding the fort. I think it’s more like the fort was holding me.
I was in an empty office, talking to myself. Tears were shed at least every 20 mins. I’m not sure how much work I got done, I’d wager it was very little. It’s a bit of a blur now… but it doesn’t really matter whats happened in your life, you still need to be able to pay for things. Rent, car, food, life in general. Life goes on, very normally. Too normally. Your life has been turned upside down and you feel like you’re walking on the ceiling and everyone is still talking to you like your standing on the same ground as them, walking around normally and no one seems to notice and you want to scream “Can’t you see I’m upside-f***ing down here?! No, I don’t want to talk about *insert mundane topic here*!!!”
Cancer is an odd topic. It seems to reach most people. Everyone seems to have a friend or a relative who has been affected by cancer and if they haven’t yet, the chances are that they soon will.
In my previous experiences of cancer I thought ignoring it was the best possible option. Carry on as normal. Life goes on. Distraction is best. No one wants to dwell on something horrible. It was the elephant in the room and I was hell bent on avoiding it. When my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer my response was something along the lines of “Oh, ok then, right, what’s for dinner?”. Now don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t meant in a callous way. I didn’t want to give cancer any power. I didn’t want to give it the time of day. I genuinely thought that continuing on in a manner as “normal” as possible was a good thing. I thought it would be productive for the person dealing with this awful disease to have a haven where it wasn’t mentioned, to not talk about it, to forget about it and have 30 minutes of normal conversation where life was “normal”. WRONG!
Once I was diagnosed there was pretty much nothing else in my head. CANCER was there, loud and proud, screaming at me from the four corners of my mind and it wasn’t going away.
It was all I could think about and process. It didn’t matter what I was doing; driving, not sleeping, talking to friends, watching TV, eating, in the shower, on the toilet… basically just ALL of the time.
Two days after I was diagnosed a group of my friends came round. It was lovely. The elephant was huge and pink and sitting in the corner but having MY people there meant the world. I wanted to talk about cancer. I wanted to process it and analyse the experience I had been through and discuss the nitty gritty with the people I cared about. We chatted about all sorts of stuff, I remember lots of hugs and getting chinese food (Duck with Water Chestnuts and Bamboo Shoots – pretty much my ultimate favourite, so v v v good! Not necessarily healthy but good for the soul.) I think it was meant to be a games night but I don’t remember playing any games. It was mellow and lovely and just what I needed it to be. The majority of my friends had talked to Rosie and knew what was going on but I was able to explain in small chunks to people what was happening. Looking back, I was super positive when talking to everyone – apart from Rosie, I was unbelievably emo and shockingly negative pretty much every time I opened my mouth to her. I was constantly crying on her shoulder and she got virtually NOTHING back from me during that time. It wasn’t that I was lying to everyone else, I did genuinely feel positive and proactive and productive at times but Rosie just happened to get the bad truths, the deep dark soul crushing doubts that kept bubbling up to the surface. Gosh, that girl is a legend and I genuinely don’t know what I would’ve don’t without her! I let myself feel however I needed to feel at that time and having someone to voice that to REALLY helped. Having support from the people I cared about carried me through some very scary times.
The following day I went back again to work. Again this is a blur I don’t remember whether I delivered a workshop or not. I kind of hope I didn’t, but actually, thinking about it, it would probably have been the best thing for me and I think I did. That rehearsal room was the one place where you left the world outside and focused on the work. An extremely clarifying and refreshing environment to be in! I remember telling a colleague about my diagnosis. That was so so hard. I balled my eyes out. I think that was the first time I had to verbalise it IN PERSON to someone who had little, to no idea what was going on. That was tough. Poor girl, not what she’d signed up to deal with that day!
After the workshop, that I don’t remember I trotted off to the train station and travelled up to Scarborough. In my current state, I didn’t want to go, but in my heart I did. It was part of THE PLAN. I wanted to stick to the plan. I didn’t want to be a burden, or put extra pressure on my colleagues by not turning up. In reality though, they didn’t need me and I felt like I was in the way. It was a strange night. I arrived to Scarborough in the rain. I trudged to Lidl and bought a salad which I didn’t eat. The fire alarm went off in the theatre right before the show so we all had to evacuate in the rain. It was the last show of the tour. We went back to the hotel and had drinks. Everyone was tired. My mind was obviously elsewhere and I didn’t want to drink. The actors were super excited and pumped up with adrenaline. The rest of the staff were SHATTERED. I felt in a very strange world of in between. It was great to be included, because I wanted to be, but I was very much on the outside of what felt like the core team and that just exacerbated how alone I was ultimately feeling.
I did however get to spend the night in a beautiful hotel room.
When I had a few quiet moments to myself I continued to contact my nearest and dearest.
How Do You Tell People?
My best friend had been there, I didn’t need to tell her. I’d informed my parents by text. I’d informed my boss via email. It was easier to communicate via written word than verbally. Talking about it was HARD. I wasn’t sure I could get the words out without crying.
I knew I wanted to let people know about it. I just wasn’t sure how and I wasn’t sure when. I am a lover of Facebook… okay, maybe more of an addict, but for me it has always been an easy and effective medium to stay in touch with my friends in Ireland and the UK and America and Australia and… well everywhere really. I’d been very open about my LLETZ on Facebook and I felt I should be open about the rest of my journey too.
Family were informed first via Messenger. Then really close friends.
It was of kind like when someone informs their family and friends when they get engaged or are pregnant, before they go “facebook official”. I definitely would have preferred to be telling everyone happier news. I was extremely upbeat in my communication of the diagnosis and I didn’t really reflect the turmoil that was going on inside, however I have amazing friends and they know me very well.
The following day, I arrived home to this (thanks Hanni!)
I was relieved to be home and even more relieved that it was the weekend. I had the house to myself over the next few days and I really made a point of looking after myself.
*This is not the post I expected to publish, but if I’ve learnt anything throughout this interesting journey it is that there are some things I just can’t control and even if I do, things never seem to turn out quite how I had planned. I’m going to embrace the imperfection against the “idea” of what was going to happen in my head and just go with the flow. The flow is telling me to stop the story here and start again another day…
Top tips of the day :-
Go and get your smear test (or do that thing you have been putting off forever).
If you are feeling down or you have a problem or you are scared or just feeling a bit lonely/low/shit TALK TO SOMEONE. It’s a top move.
Treat yourself with care.