Two years ago when I was diagnosed with locally advanced lung cancer the feeling of despair was overwhelming. One aspect of that despair was the belief that my future had been stolen. I tried to write an essay on it at the time but it was impossible. Two years on this is my first serious attempt at describing the feeling.
I was initially told “…you will never go back to work”..(I did by the way). And that I should get my affairs in order.
No one actually tells you how long you have to live at that stage because they just don’t know. However, it didn’t take me long to find the statistics on Google that showed there was a 5% chance of being alive in 5 years. I know these are quite old stats and cannot be applied to an individual but it is very difficult to be objective…at least at first anyway.
At 47 even with a fair wind that makes living to 52 very good going! Strange that prior to diagnosis I was not really looking forward to being 50 but now it is a massive milestone in my life.
I could not get out of my head all the things that I would never do:
I would never grow old…
I would never walk my daughter down the aisle…
I would never be a grandad…
I would never retire (a bit of a relief as my pension is rubbish…every cloud!)…
I would never…
I would never…
This is despair of the like that I had never experienced before. It was actually worse than the thought of dying (more on that in another essay).
It is like I was grieving for myself, for the loss of my own future.
It does not go away. Writing this in a coffee shop in Blackheath two years later my eyes still well as I type the ‘I would nevers…’.
But it does become less prominent, to the point where you only think about it in your occasional, lowest moments, when your guard is down.
The answer is simple. It does not get easier, you do not get used to the concept or accept it.
The reality is that other things get in the way. Bit by bit they cover the wound until, for the most part, you don’t realise it is there.
I guess this is what they mean when they say that time heals. It doesn’t… it just puts a whole load of other stuff in your way, slowly covering the wound.
You also get bored of the same thoughts. And this happens very slowly and without you really noticing it. You can’t just make yourself get bored of it, it doesn’t work like that. It just happens.
And if you are an analytical person like me you start to find the space to be objective (some initial therapy really helped with this and if you get the opportunity I would recommend it).
Logically you have to ask yourself is there any point wasting effort grieving for something that has not yet, and may never have, happened? You cannot lose something that you never had. All you lost was the vague promise of having it in the perfect world that you had planned out in your head.
Ask yourself how did all the perfect world thoughts you had 30 years ago go? Not to plan? Not how you expected? Then why now do you believe that the perfect world you have planned out for next 30 years is any more likely to go to plan?
I live with the sword of Damocles hanging over me. A horses hair keeps the sword from falling down to secure my fate…a bit over dramatic and historically incorrect, but hey I am indulging myself!
Living with the impending threat of the cancer once more proliferating is now a greater day to day concern.
Logically I should therefore focus on the things that are real, that are happening now. Things that have a direct impact on me and the things I care about. My family.
And I have been partially successful with this but also the normal stuff like work and paying the bills becomes important again. It had been suggested to me that these things would become more trivial after holding hands with Thanatos. And maybe it did for a bit until the stark realisation that the realities of life had not gone away.
The ‘old normal’ so to speak!
It is too easy to forget how lucky I am to be alive and generally well, for however long this reprieve continues.