Acceptance, acknowledgement and gratitude

Today is our wedding anniversary.  It is without doubt a time to reflect and give thanks for a great deal.

There are a number of Big Things which have happened in my life which have stayed with me and shaped who I am.  Events or experiences which I have not been able easily to lay to rest, and ones which play a prominent role in my conscious.  Breast cancer is obviously one of those things.

Another is our honeymoon experience in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.  We married on 10 December 2004 and travelled to the Andamans 2 days later.  We were due to leave on 26 December.  Yes, 26 December 2004.

We were incredibly protected that day, but we did experience a combination of PTSD and guilt in being part of such an immense disaster.  This is a shortened account of our experience of 26 December, 2004.

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We were sitting in the departure lounge of Kathmandu airport on 12 December 2004, waiting for our flight to Calcutta for our honeymoon trip to the Andaman Islands.  J caught sight of an elderly Ringpoche who was also sitting waiting and went over and gave his respects to him, and asked him about his visit to Calcutta.  Chatral  Rinpoche is a very senior, reclusive and fairly outspoken Rinpoche who has  shunned institutional and political involvement his whole life, choosing instead to live the life of a wandering yogi. To this day, despite his great age, he continues to move about, rarely remaining in one place for more than a few months. He is especially well known for his advocacy of vegetarianism and his yearly practice of ransoming the lives of thousands of animals in India. Chatral Rinpoche also stresses the practice of retreat and has established numerous retreat centers throughout the Himalayas, including in Pharping, Yolmo, and Darjeeling.  He was travelling from the retreat in Pharping, near Kathmandu on that day.  J’s family are very strong followers of the Buddhist faith and to meet such a senior Rinpoche was a special honour and highly auspicous.

Exactly two weeks later, on 26 December we were in Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman Islands, on our final day there.   We had spent two positively idyllic weeks on two islands – Havelock and Neil Islands snorkelling, lazing and really enjoying this magical place.  We had returned to Port Blair on Christmas Eve, to spend Christmas day and our plan had been to travel back to Calcutta and onto Delhi on Boxing day for the final week of our honeymoon in northern India spotting tigers.

I was woken by the first gentle tremors of the just before 6.30 am.  I felt an oddly soothing rocking of the bed and instantly wondered if it was possibly a tremor or whether hubby J was having some action packed Bollywood type dream!  Was hubby causing the bed to rock, or was the bed causing hubby to rock?  I very quickly realised it was an earthquake when as well as the bed, the wardrobe and mirrors started shaking and the tremors quickly got much stronger, seeming to gather speed.  I woke hubby J from his action packed dream, and we rushed out of the room.  I grabbed two strange essentials in automatic pilot – my glasses and my plastic sandals. My earthquake fear had meant that I was prepared and instantly made a judgement about where to take cover.  Having selected my glasses, I could see from the way the building was behaving, that we were safer not trying to leave the building.  We sheltered in the corridor while the quake was at its worst.  We could hardly stand, and it felt as if the hotel had turned to rubber.  The noise of the earth and building moving was the strangest, most difficult noise to describe – a sort of grinding, roaring noise.  Everything was moving, and the other guests were rushing downstairs (we were on the second floor). Glass, light fittings and other debris were smashing down all around, particularly in the stairwell.  My cheap plastic slippers protected my feet from the glass scattered everywhere.  The tremor was so strong that we could hardly stand.  Once the shaking subsided we returned quickly to the room, grabbed a couple of essentials including the nearest clothing and the small handbag with passports and made our way gingerly down the stairs which were littered with debris.  We were very fortunate not to be cut or hurt apart form a few bruises when we were thrown against the wall.

Outside we saw the extent of the damage.  Our new, carefully built hotel was badly damaged with large cracks everywhere.  The lift shaft added onto the front of the building had become separated from the main building and had probably provided some stability to the overall structure of the hotel.  If the building hadn’t been so well constructed our place of shelter could have been our death trap.

We waited and waited outside in the clothes we had slept in with all other guests also mostly in night clothes and shocked.  The owner of the hotel soon arrived and carried out a head count to make sure that all guests were accounted for.  Christmas is the peak season and the hotel was full.

At that stage, we had no idea that the earthquake was so significant and believed it was a local, though very powerful earthquake. We were to remain outside, for a few hours, as snippets of information slowly found their way to our ears, in bits and pieces.  The phone system was down but some people had picked up information from radio sources.  We had no direct way of finding anything out and for us there was an almost complete communication blackout, save these odd snippets.  We heard that the jetty was destroyed and cars and bikes were in the sea, it was more than 8 on the Richter scale, Indonesia was also affected, maybe west Bengal too, that a ship travelling from Tamil Nadu had capsized.  All vague and uncorroborated.

I had an awareness of the possibility of a tsunami and kept looking out towards the sea from our vantage point.  Port Blair is on a hilly area and we were on a road fairly high above Phoenix Bay.  Hubby had never heard of a tsunami and when I asked him why he was looking to the sky, he said that he was looking for the arrival of the Japanese rescue helicopter mission I was talking about.

Soon after the earthquake, I don’t know exactly when as time kind of stood still that morning, we heard people saying “the water’s coming , the water’s coming up”.  I still don’t know for sure if the water had already come up at that point, or if it was seen approaching as the snippets were coming in Hindi and Bengali.  I think it had probably already risen.

Port Blair town was sheltered from much of the anger of the tsunami by the southerly islands which absorbed the full brunt of its force and when it reached us it was more like a rapid flooding than a large wave, as if the ocean was tilting, one way then the other.  We were spared the horror of its brute strength purely by being in the right place at the wrong time.

The morning passed in a surreal daze.  I felt an urgent need for information – but knew there was absolutely no way I could find anything out..  There were further tremors, some pretty strong, but we were outside and felt safe away from buildings.  It was sometimes hard to tell if there was another tremor right away as we both felt a strange sensation of dizziness periodically.  We loitered in the street, sometimes sitting on the seats which the hotel owner had brought for us, then leaving them hurriedly when another tremor came, sometimes wandering down the street.  Sitting on neighbour’s steps further down the street, still in our night clothes, I finally, in increasing discomfort, had to ask the neighbour if I could use their bathroom at one point, and she very warmly welcomed me into her house. “Please don’t look at the mess”, she said.  On the outside, the beautiful Andamanese wooden house looked untouched.  Inside, however, was a very different story.  The beautiful house was wrecked inside – the large aquarium was in the middle of the floor, smashed, surrounded by dead fish, rocks and underwater plants, furniture had fallen over, picture, ornaments, books lying all over the floor.  In the bathroom I saw that the toilet was full of what looked like mud – then I realised the seriousness of the situation facing the islands.  The plumbing system had been completely destroyed – pipes crushed and the sewerage system ruined.  Even the taps refused to produce anything but a trickle of mud.  We were clearly a burden on this island – clean water was desperately needed for the Andamanese and not for us outsiders.  This wonderful woman made tea for us and chatted as we sat on her steps waiting for something, not sure what.

We continued our wait outside the hotel, naively aware that our flight time was approaching and not knowing if flights would still be operating.  Slowly the hotel owner found places to stay for those guests who still had time in the Andamans.  Gradually we were reunited with most of our belongings (the hotel was too damaged to let us back in, so things were slowly recouped for us).  We packed our bags in the street, but had no place to change so headed to the airport still in our night clothes.

On our way to the airport we passed Jungli Ghat which was inundated and damaged, and people standing around dazed.  We heard people saying that some people had died in Port Blair – no one knew whether the earthquake or the water had caused their deaths, all was so uncertain.

On arrival at the airport, many people were outside on the grass.  We had to wait outside as no one was allowed in the airport building so we waited and waited for news of flights.  Gradually we learned that the runway had been damaged at one end.  No one knew what would happen.  It was impossible for the large planes which usually fly to Port Blair to land so eventually all flights were cancelled.  A large queue formed beside the Air India window as people tried to get their tickets altered.  Jet Air passengers were reallocated seats and accommodation found for them and they gradually left the airport.  Nothing was going to happen quickly, that was sure, so hubby left to try and phone again, and to get something to eat.    He brought back some mung beans, crisps and pineapple juice which we consumed with disinterest and mechanically – neither of us were hungry but our bodies told us we had to feed ourselves.  The afternoon progressed and I waited patiently and politely at the end of the Air India queue as the queue in front of me grew and grew and people gradually left as their tickets were endorsed in some way for later travel.  Finally, we were told that the Indian government would put on one relief flight later that day as they recognised that that they had to start lifting people out. An empty, smaller plane would be flown in, and would be able to land on the shorter length of available runway.

We were extremely fortunate to be on that first airlift, and it was purely down to chance, and probably British queuing style.  We had a connection in Calcutta for Delhi which we knew would have long departed so asked about that.  Due to the emergency situation there would be no problem with our tickets – but we were told that our luggage might not go on the flight with us.  As part of the runway was disabled, the plane would not be able to carry all passenger luggage so it could lift abruptly before the damaged part.  The priority was to evacuate people and bags could follow later.

Everything except the one check in desk was eerily deserted in the airport. Shops, phone booths and even the immigration desk for foreigners was empty.  This caused a difficulty for me as the lone foreigner on the flight.  Immigration officials had been released when the flights were cancelled and I had to surrender my permit and have my passport endorsed before I would be able to leave the Andamans.  As the rest of the passengers filed through to the departure area, we were left sitting there until we were almost alone. Cracks were everywhere in the building – supporting walls separated from adjoining walls with gaps of a several inches.  A TV was playing in the corner, showing a cricket match, bizarrely.

We heard the aircraft arrive – safely clearing the damage on the runway.  We were on the point of being lifted out of the emergency situation, but we couldn’t stop thinking of those we had befriended on the islands not knowing how they had been affected.  In particular the warm people on Neil Island where we had extended our stay.  Finally a lone official arrived who was allowed to carry out the exit formalities, he took my permit, and stamped my passport  “Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Port Blair – departure 26 December 2004”.  We joined our fellow passengers in the departure area, all exchanging our stories, a motley crew of travellers, some with injuries from the earthquake and most in various states of dress (we weren’t alone there).

Finally we boarded our flight as daylight was fading – mirroring our abrupt start to the day as the first light was seeping into our room when the quake came.  After our idyllic holiday our departure from the Andamans felt strangely one of relief.

The departure was frightening because we knew that the pilot had to calculate precisely how heavy the plane could be and where exactly to take off – a minuscule error could be disastrous, and there was enormous relief when we took off sharply away from the damaged earth behind us.

Our pilot must have been carefully chosen for this job, not just for his wonderful skill in guiding the aircraft in and out of Port Blair, but also for his gentle, caring attitude which came across during his in-flight announcement.  He told us to relax, that he and his crew would look after us and take us safely to Calcutta after our ordeal.  We didn’t even realise that there had been an ordeal I don’t think at that stage.  We did realise we were pretty hungry too and hubby asked the cabin crew if there was any extra food (we had eaten only those crisps and mung beans all day) and they happily gave us extra portions, seemingly having thought of this already.  We flew towards Calcutta, the sun staying just on the horizon on our western side as we travelled northwards, and the full moon lighting up the sky on our eastern sky, another strange mirror that day.

I remember little of that flight but do remember feeling cold when we arrived in Calcutta, in my short trousers and night shirt.  When we had packed in the street at least we had been able to recover our Kathmandu winter jackets so must have looked really strange – but we didn’t care or realise at the time.  We waited at the luggage carousel – and were reunited with our bags for the second time that day.  We were among a few lucky ones, I think we travelled a lot lighter than many of our fellow travellers.   At the baggage carousel there was a lot of interest in us – “what is the situation like in Port Blair – there is no news, what has happened?”.  I started to realise how cut off we had been and that the world didn’t know how the Andamans had been affected.

I was desperately anxious to call our families, just in case they had heard anything in the news about the earthquake.  We had phoned home on Christmas day to send seasonal wishes, and to gloat about our good fortune spending Christmas in such a wonderful setting, particularly when Scotland had seen blizzards and Christmas dinner had to be postponed as not everyone could make it.  So they knew exactly where we were.  It appeared that the rescheduled Christmas dinner was again heading for cancellation as the news of the earthquake was the news which Scotland woke to on Boxing day.

It was then we really learned the enormity of the disaster.  It was then that slowly news of the tsunami and its devastation across south Asia was appearing.  Our telephone calls were very emotional and shocking.  Our loved ones had been through hell and unable to get any information, partly due to official lines being overloaded, but also because there was no communication with the Andamans and no news. We had been posted missing with the British Embassy consular officials in Delhi.  My mother in law had collapsed, fearing a double cruel blow in a few months as she had only recently been widowed .  Our ordeal was nothing in comparison to what our families and friends went through.

We were put on the last flight to Delhi that night, and at 10 pm were finally called to the departure lounge.  Here there was a TV in the corner and BBC world was broadcasting.  I stood in sheer horror and disbelief, oblivious to the tears rolling down my face, as I listened to the ashen faced newscaster recounting the emerging devastation of the tsunami, seeing the map with Andamans right in the midst of the disaster.  I was totally unable to comprehend this massive tragedy.  I was completely unable to grasp the fact that I had been right in the very place which was so prominent on the world stage.

We flew late that night onto Delhi in a complete daze and decided to drive down to Agra where we collapsed in a freezing hotel room in the early hours of the morning, and finally slept for most of the day.  We decided not to go tiger spotting in Bandavhgargh as we had originally planned as it seemed a bit irresponsible to risk being eaten by tigers after being blessed with protection in the Andamans. Instead we headed to Rajasthan after Agra and spent a very quiet New Year counting our blessings and thinking of those so less fortunate than us. We returned to Kathmandu with, I have to say, an altered perspective on life.

I had nightmares for a long time, occasionally still having one.  I used to wake in a panic, convinced that I could feel the bed rocking again. Sometimes there would be a reason, such as a lorry trundling past in the street causing buildings in the street to shudder, sometimes hubby stirring in his own nightmare, and sometimes it is just the pounding of my heart as I try instantly to assess if it is a tremor.  I am fortunate – at least I wake up.

I cannot ignore the coincidence of meeting Chatral Rinpoche in the departure lounge and what he said.  When hubby asked him about his journey  we were struck by what he told us. He said that something terrible was going to happen and many people would die.  With the conflict in Nepal this did not strike us as particularly unexpected. He told hubby that he was going to the Gaya Ganga fish market near Calcutta where he would buy fish and release them back into Ganga holy river, which goes to the bay of Bengal and of course Andaman islands, from its origin in Kashmir.  He said that releasing the fish and blessing them would save some lives.  We gave him a donation and asked him to get more fish and release them and maybe more lives would be protected.  Chatral Rinpoche thanked us and told us that he would release fish in our name for the long life of others.   It seems too great a coincidence that our lives were somehow protected in the Andamans on 26 December.

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When we married seven years ago today we had no idea of the challenges ahead of us.  We have certainly been tested.  We certainly did not sign up for the tsunami, nor the cancer club.  But these things did happen, and sitting here today in peaceful, tropical surroundings it feels almost surreal to reflect back and accept and acknowledge what has happened.  And most of all to appreciate and value how fortunate am I to have been protected, looked after and cared for by hubby during these times.

Thank you, J.  Happy Anniversary 🙂

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Bleurgh

I awoke in the middle of the night, in a sweat, trembling and my heart racing  The details of the vivid dream refusing to recede as I struggled to reach for consciousness.  The day of the annual hospital check I had slept well, emotionally and physically exhausted.  But the following night sleep came reluctantly and when it did, it brought its own nasties, nightmares of a sky filled with planes all preparing to disgorge destruction.  In my dream I knew it was my last day on earth and the thoughts going through my mind were vivid.  In my dream sheltered inside, because I did not want to see what was coming and anticipate those last moments.  I have not had nightmares which linked closely to my experience in a conflict setting for some time.  It is over three years ago, and was rapidly overshadowed by the cancer nightmare.

Even my lay mind can see the connection between the trauma of the annual check and the extreme nightmare.

As always, I did not sleep very well the night before the checks.  I made sure to keep well hydrated prior to the fast from midnight.  As well as making it easier for bloodletting, I am convinced that dehydration contributed to raised tumour markers a year ago.

The day started early and before 7 am I was heading to the hospital, stomach churning, wondering if my landscape would be different at the end of the day.

The hospital has a pink ribbon theme and there were two large pink ribbon trees in the foyers.  A series of posters about breast cancer were on display throughout the hospital and the staff were wearing little badges.  And that is the most evidence I have seen of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  It is a bit strange having the Big Annual Check amongst all this but it is not overwhelming.

I arrived at Counter No 2 and was greeted by Dr W2’s PA and her warm friendly smile.  A few clicks in the computer and I was waved off to the lab for blood letting.  And that answered my first question.  No CT scan today!  Phew!  For insertion of an IV line I am always directed to one of the little rooms and an oncology nurse from floor 5 with her extra gentle techniques is provided for me.  The fact I was heading to the lab meant a simple blood take.  Sure enough, 4 huge vials of blood later and a sticky plaster and the first needle stick of the day was over.   And no IV line.

I was then sent to the Imaging department.  Bleurgh.  The memories of Diagnosis Day flood back as I walk through the automatic doors and I am escorted to the changing area.  I put on the gown and return to the waiting area, my stomach churning.  Within minutes, I am called.  I am led into the X-Ray room, somewhat unexpected.  But that is fine, I am happy for an X-Ray as I have visions of my ribs and bones disintegrating thanks to surgery and radiation.  Oh, and cancer.  Just as rapidly, I am returned to the waiting area.  All too soon a technician calls my name and I follow obediently, like a biddable puppy, to the mammogram room.

Mammograms are not pleasant but nor are they too bleurgh.  While the plates are compressed to get the best possible picture, it is painful but not unbearable.  And it is soon over each time.  A few more poses, Twang Arm persuaded to stretch towards the reaches of its limits and soon I am told that the mammo is done.  Good to tick that one off.

I am then ushered into the small “ladies” waiting area to await my call to ultrasound.  And again. I am not waiting long before I am summoned.  For some reason this is the part which I find the most difficult.  Perhaps because I can see the images on the screen above me, and I can see the technician pegging contours.  And very likely because that is where I first encountered the “spaceship” shape and met Dr W.  That is where I found out there were at least 3 masses in my left breast 2 years ago. Bleurgh, bleurgh, bleurgh.

The Ultrasound technician started her procedure, carefully working her way around my chest and upper abdomen areas.  Every swimming image on the screen made my heart beat faster. I knew there had been a small cyst in my right side last year, so I was looking out for that to appear.  Nothing seemed to materialise though.  Then she moved to my abdomen area.  Little masses started appearing and soon she was pegging them and keying in letters.  I saw the word “cyst” appear.  More than once.  I asked her about the cyst in my breast and she told me that it was not easily visible this time, perhaps it had disappeared.  Cancer doesn’t disappear – does it?  I grabbed at that snippet of information and grasped it tightly.  It seemed to be ages before she finally told me that she was finished.

Relieved to be finished with the scans I sat up.  Then she burst my bubble.  She told me there was an area on my right side which was not clearly visible, and she was sending me back for more mammo images.  She wanted to see magnified images of an area on my right breast.  She also wanted my left side to be mammogrammified.  That would be a bit of a challenge.

I was led back to the mammo room and again was pulled into different directions and compressed.  I could feel the plates pinching my port but she told me not to worry about it.  It took some time to get enough flesh between the plates on my mastectomy side but eventually she seemed happy with the little she got.

Finally the scans and imagining were finished and I could return to the changing room and dress.

The physical side of this is easily tolerable.  However, the mental and emotional aspect is torturous.  All the time, my mind was going over and over the fact that there was something that they wanted to look at more closely.  I am incredibly fortunate that I get the results the same day, but even the wait of a few hours is agonising.  Bleurgh.

I am also incredibly fortunate in that I have again been able to schedule my checks at the same time as my friend.  We turn into schoolgirl cancer rebels and descend rapidly into silliness as a way of getting through the day.  Silliness verging on hysteria.  However juvenile it is though, it helps!

My next trip was to see my endocrinologist, Dr A.  Prior to my consultation I had my usual weight, blood pressure and vital signs checked.  Unsurprisingly my BP was high.  Dr A was happy that my thyroid levels are stable thanks to the thyroxine medication, happy with kidney and liver functions and delighted with my cholesterol!!  He was also happy to note a slight decrease in my blood sugar readings.  This is good news because I know I am set to follow my mother, grandmother and great grandmother towards late onset diabetes.  The longer I can keep this at bay by careful diet and exercise the better.  He was not so happy about my BP but could see that I was in a state of anxiety following the scans and preceding my appointments with onc and surgeon for the verdicts.  He was very interested in my Croc shoes and asked if they were comfortable and good for rainy season.  I told him that they were not only comfortable and waterproof but they were also quite smart and I could wear them to work.  It must be a good sign when your endocrinologist likes your shoes!! He took my BP again and noted that although it was still high, it was falling.  He saw no point in changing the dosage of meds and being happy all round with my endocrines or whatever they are, he sent me packing for 6 months.  Phew!

I had already been at the hospital around 3 hours by now, and having fasted since midnight it was time for sustenance.  My friend and I grabbed a coffee and snack and I updated her in minute detail about the scans and my worry about having been sent back for a magnified image.  She expressed surprise and alluded to my abundance of right side, saying that it surely didn’t need to be magnified.  This made us both snort with laughter and was just what I needed to hear.

Next in the timetable were our appointments with Dr W2, our shared and larger than life oncologist.  My name was called a good before the scheduled appointment time, another example of how good the patient experience is in our hospital.  They knew I would be hanging around all day so I was slotted in early.  Greatly appreciated.

Dr W2 was in his usual ebullient mood and proceeded to ask me all about the changing political landscape in my work context.  He had a good old physical examination and then he called me back to the seat.  My heart beating fast, I asked him about the scans.  He said that the imagining showed up the small cyst on my right side and the nodules on my liver which had been checked 6 months previously.  They hadn’t changed.  He was that the mammo had come up with a Birads 2 result (benign findings) and that he was not concerned about it.  My CEA tumour marker was down again and I was looking strong.  I asked him about the mark on my lower arm which I just wanted him to be aware of.  Just in case.  He pronounced it to be “age” and told me I am getting older.  This made him roar with laughter.  He loves his own jokes!

I asked him whether he has been flying commercial planes in his spare time and he loved that idea.  Then he started writing on my notes, saying out loud as he wrote “no relapse”.  No relapse – jut the words I wanted to hear.  Finally I could exhale.

I returned to the waiting area, with a grin across my face.  Even though I still had to see my surgeon, I knew the headlines and trusted there would be no nasty surprises.  Bleurgh but okay bleurgh.

Next is a trip to floor 5 and the oncology ward for port flushing.  Bleurgh  The nurses there greet me like a long lost sister and show me into one of the side rooms.  I have already applied my Emla but to be honest the abject fear which the port procedures instilled in me at one time have gone.  I don’t like the port procedure of course, but I know it is quick and easy.  There is no blood return but the nurses say that the infusion is fine and they are not concerned.  Within minutes I am holding my breath again and the long needle coes out.  That’s me flushed again.  Another task done and checked off

I settled down to a little online time while waiting for my last appointment, my attention span incapable of even engaging with Facebook.

Finally the time came for my appointment with Dr W, my other hero.  I was ushered in first which was very welcome and he greeted me warmly.   He is always very thorough in his examinations which I find very reassuring.  If there is anything at all palpable then he would be sure to find it.  He scolded Twang Arm again.  Twang Arm and I seem to have reached a kind of stalemate, a resentful co-existence.  I do have a surprise up my sleeve (;)) for Twang Arm though for some point in the future.

After the exam, I dressed and Dr W was scrolling through the many images. He is always very serious and focused as he concentrates on image after image and while I am glad that he is, I always think he is seeing something that the reports have missed.  The fact that it was him who said the cancer word to me, changing my life, makes this a nerve wracking time.  While I welcome and value his thoroughness and attention to detail, it terrifies me at the same time.

Finally he looked up though, and said that he was happy with the reports and the imaging.  Then he asked me when I wanted to come back – what about 3 months?  My lip petted as I have been anticipating the move beyond my 2 years from diagnosis and towards 6 monthly checks as a huge milestone.  I replied that I wondered if I would progress to 6 monthly checks now that I had crossed the 2 year point.  He was happy with that, as long as I keep taking the Tamoxifen.  I was planning on taking the Tamoxifen anyway, but if that was the reassurance he needed then I was more than happy to provide it.

He told me to keep on doing what I am doing and that he would see me again in six months!

So all is good.  Friend and I have been sent away clutching our envelopes with results and appointment slips for next time.

We are rather sombre but that we have made a pact.  Celebratory bubbles if all is good and commiseratory bubbles if it is not good.  I find it amusing to pick up pink bubbles.  We toast each other.

So why does it feel so weird?  No leaping about, high fiving and squealing.  I simply feel like weeping.  I have been here before, and while I would far rather be here than where I was 2 years ago, it is a strange place.  An emotional pit.

I think my nightmare reveals part of the answer. This is not the first time I have had a nightmare which takes me back to a terrifying experience I have lived through.  I have had tsunami and earthquake dreams following the checks.  This nightmare of being in an air raid is not purely from my imagination.  It opens a chapter which is usually closed, but can never be forgotten.

And I think I can understand why.  Being told you have cancer is terrifying. Being told that there is no evidence of cancer is of course an enormous relief.  However, there is an undoubted feeling that you have had a “lucky escape”. So the mind seems to flick back to another time when you are confronted with mortality.  Such as an earthquake. Or an air raid.  Previous traumatic experiences which I have lived through.  My subconscious accepts that the cancer fear has been allayed for now but it feels as if it rewinds to another point of abject fear and plays back a version in my dreams to correspond with the fear I have of recurrence.

I wonder if this is a classic sign of post traumatic stress disorder?  Irrespective of whether it is or not, it just goes to show that a cancer diagnosis is just as traumatic and vivid as a seemingly more dramatic  trauma.

I believe that this affirms the extent of a cancer diagnosis on each of us and its life changing nature.  It is indeed a huge deal. We must recognise and acknowledge the impact this has on us.

And to be honest, it’s often just bleurgh.