One of my sisters, R, lent me Rose Tremain’s “Merivel” as recuperative reading. (I love Rose Tremain, and have read “Restoration” three or four times – one of the very best of contemporary novels). I don’t know if R had remembered that there is a breast cancer episode in the book, when Merivel (who is a surgeon) cuts out a cancer that has clearly spread to the lymph nodes and beyond. This being the C17, there is no other treatment, and, unsurprisingly, the woman dies. It set me thinking: was the psychological impact of bc actually much less in the days before the whole modern medical machine? Would it in some ways be preferable to know far less, and to be able to do far less about it? Would your mind get less messed up that way?
For me, this is almost all about the psychology just now. You see, in one way, I’m relatively accepting. I’m not hiding my asymmetric look away. I’m determined to get back to a new normal. But I still wonder every day, “How did this happen? All this palaver and treatment for two tiny, tiny bits of rogue tissue? Is this not out of all proportion?” And I think all the time about the decisions I have made and am making; the treatment I have had; the irreversible change to my body; the fear of the effect of future treatments; how I will deal with future invitations to screening and monitoring; the possibility of recurrence; and the inconsistency of my actions ( = rage, protest, question, make a big fuss – and then ultimately agree to surgery and hormone therapy. What’s going on here??)
I still don’t see myself as up against cancer per se. Maybe I am in deep denial and unable to accept that my body actually went wrong. There are people posting on the bc discussion sites who clearly feel relieved to have had a lump cut out/breast removed, and say unequivocally that they would have the other breast removed without hesitation if another cancer was found there. They are glad to have all the aggressive treatments that are offered – anything to keep the cancer itself at bay. I just am not like that. Despite the kindness and care of individuals, I still see myself as up against some cancer bandwagon – with its confusing and conflicting messages – even while I am agreeing to accept its help.
So, the current state of play? I have had breast cancer, but haven’t got it any more. But now I’ve got cancer in the head. Big time. It has spread. It has got me. Maybe it will be with me forever.