This weekend, Eloise Cook is marking the end of her year of cancer with a big party. As well as celebrating with her friends and family she has worked through her memories of the last year in a prayer. “It feels like a full stop,” says Eloise, “It feels welcome”.
My fingers found the lump with a jolt.
I knew it was alien, other, not quite right, not meant to be there
But I had no concerns, only curiosity.
“We found something. It’s cancer.”
What’s the proportionate response? How serious is this?
The answers emerged through a haze of not knowing:
I face a threat to my life.
Curled up on my bed the terror grips me.
Trapped in my own body
Physically sick with emotion.
My prayer – “Be with me”
The darkness between the stars.
The initial panic faded into reluctant acceptance.
Advice was offered:
“Just because it is worse than you hoped does not mean it is as bad as you fear”.
And the surgeries went ahead.
I felt traumatised
Each invasion worse than expected
Worse than the last time
A constant lowering of expectations of what it is to feel well.
But in the morphine haze I felt love.
I’m not a silver linings kind of girl.
Tell me like it is.
A gambling game, stats that “make for stark reading”.
The horror of the treatment that isn’t even a cure. A high price to pay for a percentage stake in the future.
I relinquished half a year to the horror. Half a year and more to the recovery
And yet, I am hopeful.
If I can do nothing else, I can at least bear honest witness to that time. So,
Let us speak about Trial by Chemo…
The journey was long and full of horror
And it had to be taken alone
No matter how much others offered to come too
I didn’t avoid it
I ran into it headlong
And I lay there day after day
As the poison took its course.
Each time my hand was plunged into water to reveal the vein.
The toxins brought by gloved hands and pumped into my system.
So toxic, they hoped it wouldn’t even touch the inside of my vein as it found its course.
My hair fell out, my immune system lowered, my taste became bitter,
There was sickness, headaches, diarrhoea, hot sweats, pulsing pain in my spine, sore mouth, constipation, anxiety, heart racing, broken sleep and fatigue.
Fatigue and anxiety were the slowest to leave.
The ridges on my nails tell the story of my suffering like the rings on a tree.
“You’re so strong”
Concern from others that whispered of gratitude
This horror was not happening to them.
“Be strong” – there is no alternative. There is no escape.
Strong through default not choice.
No bravery or courage
There is no glory to be had in this pain
No lesson to be learnt that I don’t already know.
Forced endurance, acceptance, patience.
My life force, My Kiai, a coiled spring waiting for release
Only to sink back, defeated
This state is unbearable and full of horror
And yet, “we must press on”
Drink from the poison cup once more.
My body went into shock but still the drugs pumped in
Being that ill made me selfish
My world narrowed
I had only enough energy left to make it hour to hour
I was a bystander to my own life
Unable to actively participate
Left frustrated and inert, imprisoned in my room.
I’m not a silver linings kind of girl
But thank God for G and for others.
They kept the world turning around me.
There were countless kindnesses from those around us
People came through in numerous big and small ways:
Meals were cooked, our girls were taken care of, an old friend took time off work to care for us, another sat in silence with me as I cried, texts were sent to check in with me, cards and flowers were received, my family listened to me weakly repeat the same reports of horror time and again.
All as important as each other
I was not forgotten.
And, after a time I emerge, battle scarred and tattooed.
It is not a lesson to be learnt. It is to become other.
My body altered
My mind changed
My relationship with the Creator shifted
My prayer, “Stay with me”, I imagine now sung as a duet.
Threads of learning:
Don’t rush through Holy Saturday and the time of unknowing
Hold faith in the darkness
This is messy
No neat happy endings
No silver linings
But I have hope
I am expectant
I made a promise
(For all that has been – thanks, for all that shall be – yes)
And I did not take it lightly
I have laboured and brought forth life, touching the divine through creation,
And now through vulnerability and frailty
Let’s plunge in
Let’s see what comes
Thee and I
This far have we come
Give us this day our daily breath
If you feel inspired to write a story, poem, prayer, song, movie, book, blog or sitcom about your cancer experience, we would love to share it.