My uncle Gerd (my mother’s twin brother, who was visiting the country with his wife, my aunt Susan, and my aunt Ingrid), pointed out that I hadn’t updated about my health status.
Technically I shouldn’t update yet, because my follow-up appointment is this coming Tuesday. However, I discovered last weekend that I had two new bumps on my neck, placed like a vampire bite. I found this quite depressing. Clearly whatever is going on with me is not over, and if it’s a bad something, it’s spreading pretty quickly. I spent Saturday in a funk, losing myself in novels and absently stroking these telltale bumps on my neck.
As annoyed as I’ve been at the idea that just because I’ve had cancer before, any lumps and bumps that I get are so much more likely to be cancer again (not statistically likely in my case), I succumbed to it this time. It was seeping down from my head into the rest of me now; maybe this would be the last year of my life.
So dramatic! But I sort of feel like I have to at least imagine it, prepare myself on some level. If I only have a year left, I want to be able to enjoy that year, not live it in fear and panic. So I thought about it a bit, considered the upsides. Sure, I wouldn’t ever see 40, but at least I (probably) wouldn’t have to experience the death of my parents. I’m at a good point in my life, in my career, I’m close to my family. I have good friends. My nephews are all perfect little angels, I won’t ever have to see them suffer disappointments, heartbreaks, accidents and heavy sadness. I’ve demonstrated a certain amount of potential in various professional areas; isn’t it better to be a tragic loss to your workplace and profession, someone who might have gone on to take on important leadership roles, rather than actually doing it and disappointing everyone? Isn’t there something positive about leaving while you’re on top, all unused potential without any black marks? Surely there is an upside in dying young. I’m determined to find it. It was a rather dour weekend.
In this frame of mind, the world and the general complaints of the people around me look so different. Complaints about getting older? Getting older is what you get to do when you don’t have a terminal illness, when you’re one of the lucky ones. It’s a mark of success, not something to feel sad about. With these bumps on my neck, and a history of cancer, and a feeling that I’ve already dodged an impossible bullet, I spent the weekend just hoping I get to see 40. I wasn’t thinking as hopefully as 60 or 80, just 40. It seemed impossible, too much to ask.
Monday morning I showed my bumps to a couple of colleagues, whose faces looked pretty grim. Yes, spontaneous bumps on your neck? Not a very good sign. Cancer girl has cancer again? Isn’t it inevitable? I felt myself going down that scary path in my head, so to stop it one way or another, I picked up the phone and called my surgeon’s office.
I said something like, “Hi, I had this procedure, and now I have two more bumps, do you think he needs to know about that? I’m seeing him on Tuesday, I’m just kind of…anxious…”
She passed me off and suddenly I heard the dulcet tones of my lovely South African surgeon. “Rochelle?” I felt a bit embarrassed. Surely he is a busy man. My paranoia doesn’t exactly deserve this kind of time and commitment. “The biopsy came back negative, it’s not cancer! It’s just a reactive lymph node. All good! I’ll see you Tuesday!”
I don’t know how to describe the relief of this. It was that good news I didn’t think it was really safe to hope for. It’s nothing! No treatments! No impending death! I jumped up to tell some friends, to tell my boss. Not cancer! Someone said to me: “you must be relieved!” and I thought, well, yes, but instead I felt a stinging behind my eyes that suggested I was about to cry. This knowledge would take a bit of time to assimilate. In my experience, good news is usually accompanied by feeling all the same feelings that you anticipated with its opposite, at least for short spells. So the following hours and days were a bit of an emotional roller coaster.
And now I wonder: will I ever wait for test results again without imagining and mentally preparing for my own death within the year? Cancer has made me a hypochondriac.