On Fear & Recurrence

From the moment I was diagnosed with breast cancer, the fear of recurrence was something that occupied a lot more of my headspace than it should have.  But I didn’t for a moment think we wouldn’t be able to get rid of it the first time. Yet here I am, a year into treatment and halfway through a second lot of chemo.  This doesn’t happen very often. Sod’s law I drew the short straw and got the cancer equivalent of being seated next to the dull bloke at dinner.  It’s tedious, boring, goes on waaaay too long and distracts you from all the fun stuff you could be doing instead.  I shouldn’t really be surprised that my seemingly tough as nails body that laughed in the face of chemotherapy and radiotherapy should have grown a badass cancer that has done the same.  Though, in contradiction, that was the very same malfunctioning body that allowed the cancer to grow in the first place.

I have developed an excellent ability to pretend this isn’t happening for much of the time.  But all too often, usually when my mind is not well occupied enough, it comes…THE FEAR.  It can sneak its way in at the most unexpected and inopportune of times.

In the summer I watched my favourite band The Killers for about the 7th time at a fabulous gig in Hyde Park. As I caught my breath after my usual euphoric dancing and singing (actually, more tipsily leaping about and shouting) to ‘Mr Brightside’ – whilst still basking in the warm glow of a fabulous night with people I love – a nasty little thought popped into my head.  “I wonder if this will be the last time I get to see The Killers”.  It’s not something you should worry about when you’re 39.  It should always be presumed there’ll be a next time.  Luckily, there was, as I safely made it to the next Killers gig I had tickets for in November and even threw in an extra night at their Sheffield gig for good measure.  Keen to set another target I’ve now booked tickets to see them at the Isle of Wight in June and in Bolton next July.  But even as I write this I worry I’ve in some way tempted fate by voicing that. THE FEAR at work again.

We have the best dog in the world (I know everyone thinks that but we really do).  Bodie is such an adorable fool of a hound. Ever since he was a puppy, in those moments I’ve looked into his beautiful brown eyes and loved him so much my heart could burst, I’ve worried how I would cope when he dies. How I would fill the big retriever shaped hole in my life?  But now when I’m hugging his big furry warm lump of a body of an evening, I sometimes think, “what if I don’t outlive the dog?” This is not how it was supposed to happen.  To add to my worries he’s also incredibly sensitive – he just wants everyone in the world to be happy.  He should seriously work for the UN Peacekeeping.  A voice raised by a mere note will have Bodie on the scene, proffering his paw, panting a little anxiously and imploring everyone to just love each other (and chase more balls and eat more biscuits).  I’m not sure his shredded little nerves could cope with a grieving daddy.

We love a good TV drama in our house and were particularly addicted to the brilliant ‘Line of Duty’.  I was over the moon to report in a news bulletin back in May that it had been recommissioned for a fifth and sixth series.  But when I saw the likely release date – 2019 – THE FEAR asked whether I would still be around to hear Superintendent Ted Hastings utter the word “Fella” again.

Sometimes my mind goes for a little wander, and before I know it, I’ve pictured my funeral.  Mused on who will attend.  Wondered what would be said about me.  Just the ordinary ponderings on the journey home from work really…what shall we have for dinner tonight? Would I want people at my funeral to wear black? Flowers or no flowers? The usual.

THE FEAR isn’t always a source of misery.  Sometimes it raises a laugh, like the time I asked my husband Steve if he thought I’d be worthy of an all BBC Staff email if I died.  I really was only half joking…but even when we’re laughing together and having fun, THE FEAR can strike.  Like when I suddenly think how awful it would be for Steve to be left without anyone to chuckle over in jokes with.  He doesn’t deserve that.

And then there’s my beautiful little boy Freddie.  He’s only 2 and he needs a mummy for a long time to come.  The thought that he may have to grow up without me there to cuddle him when he’s sick/had a bad dream/just wants his mummy is too much to bear.  It’s just not fair on him.  But as my Dad used to say ‘life isn’t fair’.  THE FEAR also ramps up my FOMO.  Freddie is so cool and so much fun.  I’d be really pissed off if I had to miss out on all the amazing times ahead with him.  Steve hates it when I start a sentence with the words…“If I die…” but in a weird way as I give him instructions on mundane things like how often to change Freddie’s bedding if I weren’t around to do it, I derive some comfort from knowing things would be in order.  Just in case.

THE FEAR can escalate every minor ache, pain and cough into thoughts of “Is it the cancer spreading?”  The scanxiety is real and it’s fuelled by THE FEAR.  The low-level tension that just won’t go away as you wait for the results, like the knot you get in your stomach before an exam you really haven’t prepared for.  You jump every time a phone rings.  You second guess timings, no news isn’t always good news.  They might just be waiting to discuss your case at the MDT before delivering any bad tidings.

I have to admit to the odd moment of resentment of people who have healthy, non-cancer filled lives.  But then I remember that everyone bears a burden.  We’re all getting THE FEAR about something.

And I really would hate to leave you with the impression that I am wandering about the place a shivering, terrified, wreck of a woman.  Because I’m not.  Most of the time, I’m going about my ordinary life experiencing the usual gamut of human emotion from hysterical laughter at one of mine and Steve’s in ‘jokes’ to mild irritation at the length of the queue in the Post Office.  Sometimes THE FEAR rears its ugly head and I try to recognise it, acknowledge it and move on.

I first wrote this blog during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October during which the excellent breast cancer community on twitter asked for a #breastcancerrealitycheck.  It’s not all about pink fluffiness and special edition cosmetics.  Sometimes it IS a pink ribbon on your lapel.  Sometimes it’s THE FEAR.  And that is just the reality of breast cancer.

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