Away, Part Three

When something has upset me I find it almost impossible to get it out of my mind. Idle remarks that seem snide, work snarl-ups that mean rearrangements, unexplained silences from people I care about, these kind of things can revolve around and around in my brain. I like to get things fixed and sorted and it troubles me to be forced to tread water in ignorance. It’s not surprising, then, that the impossible choice between six months of uncertainty or a procedure that seemed horrific took up every available inch of my head space. I couldn’t read or write or think, sometimes I felt barely able to move, my mind was so full of a choice I couldn’t make. ‘You of all people should be able to distract yourself,’ my husband told me. ‘Read your books, write about something. Take your mind off of it for a while.’ It was as likely as the lump disappearing overnight. But the difference between adults and children is that we have resources, and that means we can find ourselves a measure of control. When the terrible fears come, the ones that remind us what it felt like to be so utterly vulnerable, we might not have the child’s pure courage any more, but we do have knowledge and experience and a whole range of support. I told a few more of my blogging friends, who instantly sent me the kind of messages that strengthened my moral fibre, I rang the clinic and spoke to one of the care nurses who described the biopsy in less lurid tones and assured me its great advantage was that it was over very quickly, and I went back to my GP and asked him for some sedatives for the day itself. But oddly enough, the one resource I most needed, and the one I would never have anticipated being so valuable, was simply time. As the days passed, days I spent doing small, easily accomplished, mindless tasks, following the patterns of a life that was not mine but something borrowed and rather ill-fitting, so the extreme anxiety receded to the margins, to the early mornings when I awoke groggy but full of tension, to the dying of the light when my heartbeat quickened. But gradually I won back the passage of the day itself and found within it enough perspective to view the procedure as unpleasant but not necessarily traumatic. And so I booked myself an appointment.

I wish I could say that the newfound calm I experienced over those days lasted until I had to go once again to Addenbrooks. That it sustained me through the anticipation, held me in the waiting room, carried me through the procedure. It didn’t. The morning of the biopsy found me almost incapable with terror. I had to break the event down into its component parts. If I could just get to the hospital, I told myself, I’ll talk to the doctor again. I don’t have to do this, I can say no. This time my husband took the day off work and drove me there, but when they tried to usher him into the treatment room too I vehemently waved him away. My husband is, if anything, more squeamish than I am, and I imagined that the sound of the thud as he hit the floor was hardly going to calm my nerves. This time I had a young, Chinese doctor, very jolly and exuberant with the kind of English that is not perfect but seems somehow more expressive for the faults, and a Sri Lankan radiologist. I was determined not to regress to that awful child’s place of passive horror and so to begin with I sat on the couch and we discussed exactly why this biopsy was necessary. ‘We think you have a fibroadenoma,’ the doctor said. ‘If you were teenager or in 20s we wouldn’t dream of having a biopsy, but at your age… there are some cancers that mimic the shape, you could be extremely unlucky. You could come back in three months time, when you’re young the cancer grows fast, and we can monitor. My wife, she had the same thing, and she’s a doctor so she really didn’t want the biopsy. She waited the six months and then she still had it done because the level of anxiety never went down.’ ‘It’s quick,’ I said, swallowing hard, ‘right?’ They both nodded vigorously. ‘Very quick.’ At this point I was tested again, with a new piece of kit the doctor was very pleased with (‘you’re only the fourth person to have this done!’); it produced a three-dimensional image of the lump to help doctors check for the tell-tale hooks of malignancy. ‘It looks fine. It’s a tiny chance for you,’ the doctor said. ‘But if you have the biopsy you wait a week, get the results, it’s fibroadenoma, happy, happy, you go home.’ I tell you, I almost left again, but I couldn’t bear the thought of having to go back. Saying ‘yes’ was incredibly hard, I could barely get the word out. But I did.

There was a move to change rooms, but something in my eye, some spark of pure fear that must have hinted I might make a break for it if I saw an exit made the radiologist suggest we could go ahead in our current location. ‘This is our new wing,’ she said proudly. ‘You’ll be the first person to be biopsied here.’ I tried to feel suitably thrilled. In the event, of course, the procedure itself was not so bad. The doctor told me afterwards he’d doubled the anesthetic and I certainly didn’t feel any pain. But it wasn’t exactly pain I was afraid of; it was the symbolic dimension to the act that had dominated my thinking about it. Over the past few weeks I’d been obliged to recognize how much I live in my imagination, how much meaning I layer onto every event. My mind embroiders so thickly over the material world that it is quite hard for me to experience reality in an immediate way. The event itself was not much, but the thought of a doctor piercing my breast, directly above my heart and extracting my flesh while I lay passive and conscious had seemed intolerable. After all, the word ‘trauma’ means, originally, the breaching of the skin. As it was I lay with my eyes screwed shut and my MP3 players clamped to my ears, gripping the radiologist’s hand and trying to be elsewhere, I felt very little, except a trickle of blood running down my ribs, once, which I had anticipated with awful trepidation might tip me over the edge but was not so very terrible. Then I had the doctor’s face leaning over me ‘It’s over,’ he said. ‘All over.’

Well, it sort of was. The doctor left, the radiologist explained about the dressing, and when I went to get up, I realized I couldn’t. I felt absolutely awful, dizzy and sick and completely unable to get onto my feet. ‘You stay where you are,’ the radiologist commanded gently. ‘I don’t want to have to pick you up off the floor.’ I tell you, that woman was a star. She then sat with me for the best part of half an hour while I tried to pull myself together; she chatted to me in a calming, soothing sort of way, fetched me water, lifted up the head of the couch a few notches at a time to get me accustomed to the horizontal, found my husband who was not particularly surprised by my state of collapse, sent him off for the car and helped me on my still unsteady legs to the main doors. I looked about ninety years old, which evidently made me a great curiosity to the waiting room full of elderly folk we had to pass through on the way out. ‘I’ll never forget you,’ I said to her as we inched towards the doors. ‘I was lucky to have you there today.’ She looked at me with a truly lovely smile. ‘Latch,’ she said, ‘my name is Latch. You won’t forget that.’ And tenderly she helped me into the car, as if I were recovering from open heart surgery rather than the tiniest nick in my chest.

And so it was back to waiting again. ‘If you were my wife,’ the jolly doctor had said, ‘I’d say forget it! Let’s go to Paris!’ I did forget it for about 48 hours, while I calmed down and allowed myself the sheer relief of having got through the procedure. Without much grace, it had to be admitted, but I’d got through. I managed not to worry too much, not even the day before. But the morning of the results, surprise, surprise, my adrenaline levels were into the red and it was difficult once again to breathe. I kept repeating to myself that I was being unreasonable, perverse. Everything was on my side, all the tests I’d had, my diet, my family history, my age… but it seemed as if I wasn’t on my own side. Perhaps I couldn’t believe I could pass a test I hadn’t studied for, perhaps I couldn’t shake off that narrative sense of a twist in the tale, perhaps I just didn’t trust in the possibility of a happy ending for me. But I couldn’t shake off the sense that I still didn’t know and that uncertainty was equal to dread. And I was so tired of anxiety, so very weary of manning the barricades in my mind and battling negativity day after day. I wasn’t sure that I could face any more ordeals. Back in the waiting room of the clinic for the third time, I struggled to keep a hold on myself. A few rows of seats away a white-haired lady sat reading a Wordsworth classic edition. I don’t know what the novel was but she read it so serenely, with a constant smile on her lips and I concentrated hard on her, mirroring her posture, trying to soak up her calm. My name was called and I went into another of those multi-purpose rooms. A nurse came in and sat up on the bed and it felt like a bizarre sleepover rather than a serious interview. You know the answer by now, don’t you? Even though I didn’t until I finally heard it. ‘You’re fine,’ she said, ‘let’s get that out the way quickly.’ At that point I really astonished myself by bursting into tears; I never cry before strangers. Instantly the woman abandoned the bed and came to sit beside me and pat my hand. She gave me a leaflet on fibroadenomas because ‘you’ll be trying to remember what I’m saying and knowing that you’ll forget it all!’ I had the same sensation as I’d had before after the biopsy, my head reeling and my knees weak, but no way was I staying another half hour in the clinic. I walked out into the fierce sunshine, a free woman. My husband was waiting in the car and I got in and burst into tears again. Another surprise because I don’t normally cry before him if I can help it; as a good Englishman he finds emotional women very scary. But later on he said he though it was sweet because he knew it meant I had finally found closure.

Although of course I still carry the lump in my breast, a material reminder of how life sullies us, of how we become more and more impure as the years pass, how our bodies begin to fail and our minds are cluttered with disquieting experiences we don’t know how to assimilate. I wonder a great deal at the moment how to label this story, which drawer of which mental filing cabinet I ought to place it in. Is it a tale of survival, or is it a story about excessive anxiety? Is it a moral lesson in which I learn that the reality of experience must be distinguished from the fantasies that surround it? Or is it a practical lesson in containing fear, a task at which I have never been skilled? All I know is that I need to extract some sort of positive kernel from the mess of feelings and emotions, because this, or other events like it, could easily happen again, and if I have been through it once it must be to ameliorate and inform the future, not to fill it with nameless dread. But I’m not sure how to do that just yet. After the tsunami of relief I see just a lot of floodwater and a great deal of rebuilding to be undertaken. One thoughtful friend suggested a book to me, a recent release by Dr David Servan-Schreiber entitled Anticancer, which is a plan for lowering your risks of cancer written by a doctor who survived a brain tumour. Diet and exercise are the main ways we increase our chances of staying healthy, but there are other, more nebulous if powerful factors. He describes how, extraordinarily, some cancers were healed when their owners sorted out the conflicts in their lives, when they removed their unnecessary stresses and found peace. These are the guidelines that I take with me as I look uncertainly ahead and wonder what to do for the best. I feel as if this whole episode flung open a Pandora’s box inside my mind and for six long weeks now I have been struggling against the horrors that were unleashed. But like the myth, when all the ugliness and pain and misery have long dispersed, there may still be one small voice left that will crawl, blinking, into the light, and it will be called hope.


38 thoughts on “Away, Part Three

  1. I read through these three entries at full tilt, hoping to get to the part where it wasn’t cancer. I am so relieved for you. You have been very brave…and to try to unravel all the layers of meaning that go along with it, to try to make sense of everything — well, that is another manifestation of bravery.

    Much much love to you,

  2. First of all, thank heavens you’re okay!

    Perhaps something to draw from this wretched experience, a reminder really, as you’ve referred to it in these posts and previously, is the danger of regarding life as narrative. Narratives can be helpful, giving us an illusion of control when such an illusion is what we need, but they can be also be harmful, conceptualising and hence solidifying our fears. I think though they are always reductionary, obscuring the detail of experience. Perhaps then you shouldn’t look to classify this experience as one thing or other, rather it was all the things that you mentioned.

    The other thing I wanted to suggest was that you allow yourself to be afraid: experience it, try to be inquisitive about it to weaken its hold. Of course, this is a meditative insight with which I know you’re familiar, the problem is applying it when it’s most needed. Now, this is definitely a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do thing, but I’m counting on you to do better than I do!

    As for extracting something positive from this, well I think the insightful way you have written about it is a huge positive.

    I was profoundly struck by the start of the first post of this trilogy (the paragraphs that came after weren’t exactly lacking in impact either but anyway …) What would be fitting now I think, after that cruel interruption, would be if a certain Mr.Barnes got in touch.

    Finally, what Hobgoblin said.

  3. What a marvelous conclusion and a happy ending to the story. How wonderfully compassionate is Latch, and what a gift she gave you! As Lokesh suggests, I don’t think you can classify this one neatly. And perhaps another positive from it is that you learned you are braver and stronger than you give yourself credit for. That is something to hold onto and keep handy for whatever future crisis life might throw your way.

  4. Thank heavens you’re fine! I’m so happy this saga had a positive ending. But having gone through this and survived it all – the anxiety, the procedure itself -is actually, I think, a valuable tool for you. As the old saying goes, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and there is truth in that. This is one more thing in the lexicon of your life that you’ve experienced and handled and finally come out on the other side.

    I recognized so many bits of myself in your story, it made it all the more real to me. Again, I’m so happy it worked out well and you’re alright.

    Perhaps you should take the doctor’s advice – a weekend in Paris might be nice?

  5. What a relief!

    I found what you said about how life sullies us especially interesting, as I have thought along similar lines many times. It is a neat trick to think about how we could take some sort of spiritual sandpaper to the rough spots and apply a few good coats of shiny paint and make everything pristine again. If only we didn’t carry those scars, both inside our heads and on our bodies.

    Stephen King said somewhere that if you strip a regular person and point to a scar, he or she will shrug and not remember how that got there. A writer, though, sees the scars as crucial stages of some big narrative. I know how every scar appeared on my skin, and I can bore you to tears with long-winded stories of bike crashes and other stupid tumbles.

    I’m not sure what my point is, exactly, but maybe I’m trying to say something that we bike racers (mad, all of us) say about the many, many scars we boastfully present. They are badges of honor. They are bookmarks highlighting the important points of your own story.

  6. Your post made me tear up … even though I knew the outcome, I felt relieved all over again as I read this. I’m so glad you wrote this story for the blog, and I hope it has helped you as you think through the experience. I was struck by what you said about real-life narratives and fictional narratives and how it’s hard not to see our lives as coming from a novel and expecting novelistic things to happen; I catch myself thinking in those terms now and then, trying to look into the future and get some comfort from a prediction, even if it’s a bad one. It’s much harder to recognize that we have no idea what storyline our lives will follow. You have been very brave through all this!

  7. To sum: 🙂

    As another Englishman, I can agree with your statement about emotions, but would, on a personal level, add that it’s a scary thing to see it displayed in woman AND men! 😛
    Anyways, glad it worked out ok.

  8. First, I am glad you are OK.

    Second, your reaction seems to me just about right throughout the whole thing. You were face to face with mortality and all those cliches, and that is an intense feeling. We go about our lives without thinking much about our bodies, and something like this makes your vulnerability very vivid. I think most people would have had the same kinds of feelings.

  9. How glad I am that all is well, and also that you have been surrounded by compassionate people: your husband, Latch and the jolly doctor. I hope that writing it out has helped you process the experience and that hope will take you forward.

    Much love, Charlotte

  10. This has been a most profoundly moving and brave series of posts — so valuable for anyone who may be faced with these issues. Thank goodness you are OK.

  11. I’m so relieved you’re all right – and sanguine enough about the experience to have written it up like this.

    What you say about your fictionalising outlook on events, about expecting a narrative arc, really made me think about the way I response to things in my life. Thanks.

  12. Thank you for sharing this. I’m so glad you are fine. I endorse so much that others have said. And three things I want to add: firstly, me too; I react in all the ways you describe to hospitals, fear, uncertainty; secondly, pain and illness are equally bad for everyone, OF COURSE, but I don’t think fear is – that depends on how much imagination you have; and finally, of course the plethora of tests available today and the possibilities of early diagnosis are in some ways wonderful, but there is A LOT WRONG with a system that takes no account of the toll in fear of experiences like your recent one – and it really does take very little account; it’s just a matter of luck whether you encounter some compassionate medical staff like some of the ones you describe. And finally, lots of love and hugs.

  13. I’m just so relieved that everything is okay. I had to rush through the post to the end to make sure. But then I read through it again, and love how you have managed to capture your feelings so well. Proper Englishmen may find emotional people scary, but very few people, English or otherwise, are able to examine their own emotions so clearly. I always feel that that kind of examination helps us break free from the emotions, so they don’t have such a tight hold on us.

    Life does sully us, doesn’t it? I’m actually rather grateful for some of my scars. Your last paragraph has given me much to think about.

    I’m so glad you’re all right! Yea!

  14. I’m so happy for you that things turned out the way they did. I also appreciate your sharing such a personal struggle with us, your readers. Unfortunately, there may be one among us who will have to deal with a similar situation in the future, and hopefully, this will help her when the time comes. You really are a lovely writer. If it’s not too personal, you may want to think about submitting this for publication. It’s extremely moving and could be therapeutic for many people. Thanks again for sharing, and I’m so glad you’re well.

  15. Yes, thanks for sharing this. I could identify. I now have to have mammograms every six months and the best I ever get is, “Your situation looks stable.” Is what you describe a cyst? Anyway, your post was honest, and moving.

  16. Dear Yogamum – thank you from the bottom of my heart for that. It seemed to me that if I could make some sense of it all, I wouldn’t be overwhelmed by it. It sort of worked! And telling the story now to my blog friends IS therapeutic, particularly when they’re as kind as you. Lokesh – oh thank you. I think that is an excellent point you make about narrative tending to limit experience into the one meaning when in fact reality is rich and contradictory beyond the possibilities of representation. Now that is something I can think about. I also know you are quite right to suggest that demonizing fear only makes it ten times worse and to accept it as natural and in some sense reasonable is the way forward – I find that harder, but it certainly would be helpful if I could. I do like your remark about Mr Barnes, but I will be happy to be able (finally) to read his book! Stefanie – oh bless you, my friend. I think Lokesh’s point was good too, and when the ripples of this have died down, I do hope to look back over it and think at least that I managed to get through something I really feared might be too much for me. Becca – what lovely words from you! I must say there have been times lately when the thought of a few days away from it all with my menfolk has seemed very tempting! The solidarity from my friends here, the sense of shared responses to these things, has been of immense comfort to me, and I hope that over time it will sink in that getting through is all that counts – it doesn’t have to be pretty! Hobgoblin – that is such a good quote from King and I really like the way you reframe the scars. I have been thinking of this experience as a kind of wound to my confidence and I like the idea so much more of seeing it as a badge of courage. That bookmark concept is just beautiful. Dear Dorothy, you are a sweetheart. I do like what you say about gaining comfort from even a bad prediction – that was exactly what I was doing! Not knowing can be so awful. But I wrote it all out so that I could hold together the not knowing and the sense of an ending with the hope that in future times I might be a little closer to actually believing that everything passes. It may happen! Bluestocking – then you have been much, much braver than me. Having to watch others go through this kind of thing must be truly traumatic. But I can see that you do know exactly how I was feeling. Thank you so much for your comment. Andrew – LOL! Yes, I’m quite sure my husband would agree with you! I did try and shield him from the worst. 😉

  17. Emily – thank you so much for your reassuring words. I tend to think I always ought to manage life events better than I do, and this one was well out of my zone of competence from the word go. It helps to think that everyone feels the same, even if I might wish that no one should have to go through it. Charlotte – oh thank you so much. I was desperate to get it all off my chest after so many weeks of clamming up and not telling anyone. I had some very good support – my husband was sterling in many ways, and I’m getting even more now for which I’m immensely grateful. Harriet – that is so lovely of you, thank you. I had no idea what I was headed into and was glad of what information I could find on the internet. I really hope that this might help any poor soul headed into the same series of events. Anne – thank you and big hugs to you! You know I’ve got everything crossed for you that your health worries will also be put to rest in a short time, and I’m sure they will. Nic – oh bless you, that is so kind. The sanguin-ness has improved as I’ve gone along! And it’s reassuring to me to think that other people find themselves drawn in the same way to seeing life as a narrative. It’s always good to know it’s not just me. Jean – what a lovely comment that is, so insightful. My husband heard a report on the radio that doctors are saying that too many women are put through unnecessary biopsies because lumps are so common. Some people are beginning to wonder whether the correlation between a lump and cancer is not really good enough to warrant this approach. I’d be all for a better way of testing, and, as you say, I certainly found it a bit of a lottery as to what kind of care was on offer. Gentle Reader – what a sweetie you are. I find the only comfort I have with really big emotions is to try to get some kind of intellectual grip on them. It doesn’t always help, of course, but it’s always better than going under. And I do like what you say about being grateful for scars. I like that way of thinking and will be pondering it as I make sense of all of this. Lisa – oh my goodness me, what a wonderful compliment! Thank you so much. I wrote this because I wanted to share my experience and would be happy to think it could help anyone facing the same terrors. I am so touched that you said that, thank you. Reb – oh you poor thing, what a situation to have to put up with! I had a fibroadenoma, which is effectively just a lump of hard fat, and I know it’s different to a cyst but I’m not sure how. However, if the doctors are happy to let you go for 6 months at a time, then my experience suggest that they are not really worried for you, but they recognise their responsibility to keep you monitored. And they do know about these things, even if they are not always willing to share that knowledge in the most helpful way with us. Ask as many questions as you can the next time you have to go through a check-up – I found it helped me. I really feel for you, and do hope that as time passes you’ll get the reassurance you need that all is well.

  18. Oh thank God I found this only on the third post otherwise, despite your assurances in the first post, I would have worried so much for you.
    I am so glad it worked out well for you. You have no doubt had enough of uncertainty and illness with your chronic fatigue, and then this! No wonder it affected you in the way it did…
    I know exactly what you mean about being an arts student, a reader, a writer, and living life at one remove. When real life steps in and dangles you over a precipice that no narrator is going to reassure you is not real, it is a frightening experience. That is why books are so comforting. Someone else has taken away the uncertainty, and wrapped it up between covers. A good author teases us with uncertainty which makes us guess at the outcome but it will end without any mishaps for us at least, whether or not it ends badly for the characters. The best books make us reflect on how we would react/feel but in a comfortable I’m not there yet/I’ve been there and got through it sort of way. What would we do without stories and books, helping us to make sense of things? And the ability to write them down, order them, pin them to the page so that we can say, yes that’s how it is, that’s how it was…It was, Litlove, it is no more, get out there and celebrate your life. My son comes home tomorrow, and I will think of you welcoming your son home when he does.


  19. I’m glad that everything turned out fine, litlove. Now, do give your mind and body some well-deserved rest. They have both been working (double) overtime. Paris, maybe 🙂 .

  20. You may find that in time the lump disperses, my last one has. I hadn’t heard of the Anticancer book but I must go and look it out. It’s always good, I think, to be reminded of the fact that there are people who walk out the other side. Did I ever tell you my mom beat ovarian cancer, which is almost unheard of? But then it would have taken a brave tumour to have wiped my mom out when she’d told it to vamoose! Have a good rest, you really need it after experiences like this, don’t underestimate what it will have taken out of you. And then, why not Paris for a couple of days?

  21. I was able to control my emotions only barely until the appearance of Latch, who broke me down completely. What profound gratitude I have for her! She took all our places, every one of us who wishes he could have been there for you when you needed reassurance. And in the funniest, wisest way: “I don’t want to have to pick you up off the floor.” Is there a surer way to make a compassionate person want to be strong, want not to fall? If Julian Barnes is stopping by, he will steal her for his next book. We all breathe easier today, Litlove, knowing you are well. Now, stand up straight. We don’t want to have to pick you up off the floor! Much love.

  22. I always hope that I will learn from these trying ordeals, but I’m not sure I ever really do. I AM trying to learn, however, to focus on statistical chances rather than the horrors my imagination loves to conjure up and pass onto the anxiety ward in my brain with each odd symptom or medical test. And I agree with David: I’m so glad Latch was there for you!

  23. Isn’t it terrible what our bodies can do to our minds? I always want it to be mind over matter, but it’s never quite that simple. I would have been a nervous wreck I’m sure. There’s no way I would have been able to take my mind off the situation and read or do anything else. I’m so glad you had some very good doctors and medical technicians to help you deal with this. There have been times I would have loved to do something like Latch did–that sort of job, but I know I could never have that sort of composure. I’m so glad this is all over with now and you really can get some closure and move on to better and happier things!!

  24. I’m so so glad you’re OK and so sorry you had to go through such an ordeal. I have similar fears and reactions. I’ve not been blogging much recently as my sister is very ill with lung cancer so I can understand a little of the terror you must have had. I’m interested in that book too. I hope that as I write this you are getting back to “normality” and enjoying a weekend in Paris.

  25. Dear Tricia – what a lovely comment from you. It was galling to have another medical issue so very soon after feeling that bit recovered from the chronic fatigue and oh how I wished I could have looked ahead and read the ending of this story as I was going through it. I’m recovering now, and processing, and talking it over with my blogging friends has been very therapeutic. I do hope you are having a wonderful time with your son! I was thrilled to get mine back and I’m sure you feel exactly the same. LK -yes, it’s quite a change from the book reviews, isn’t it! Thank you for your kind wishes. Polaris – I have been taking your words to heart and resting well. I must say I do feel a bit shattered by it all, but nothing a few peaceful days won’t cure. Ann – no you hadn’t told me that about your mother – my goodness! She did do well to beat that, and good for you, too, to be on the receiving end of such resilient genes. You are quite right that I have been feeling most feeble for a few days, and everything has been in uproar for some reason this week, so I am definitely taking things easy. Paris might be a bit hassle-y but I will settle for being able to enjoy peace of mind and a good book in my own home! Dear David – what a darling you are. You would have loved Latch without a doubt (and it would have been reciprocated). I cannot tell you how grateful I was for the untroubled care she showed me and I’m going to write a letter of thanks to the clinic in which I’ll lavish her with praise. It’s the least I can do – well, that and keep standing on my own two feet, of course! Much love to you, too. Emily – I do like that image of the anxiety ward – have you been inside my head, perchance? You said exactly the right thing when I told you my statistical chances and so you have a very good chance of being able to find the right thing to say to yourself. It’s oddly better coming from outside, though, isn’t it, so I am very much here for you with any worry you may have to repay the favor! Danielle – you have it exactly right. My body alarms me because I can’t make it do the things I want, unlike my mind, which…no, wait, that doesn’t work either. Oh dear. I can imagine you being a very good person indeed to have around if one had some ordeal to face, but I quite understand how you feel about composure. I can’t bear to witness people suffering physically (I start to feel what they feel – very unhelpful) although I don’t mind dealing with people who are emotionally upset at all. I tell you, it is just so nice to read a book now without my mind wandering off into some worry or other! Booksplease – oh I am so, so sorry to hear about your sister. How awful for your family. I will keep everything crossed for the best possible outcome for you all. It has taken a little time, but I am beginning to feel more normal now, and it might not be Paris, but home with peace of mind looks very good to me.

  26. Dear Litlove, I have come to all three of your posts in one and, as others have done, had to rush through to the end to see the outcome before starting slowly again at the beginning. I am so glad you are well. The peculiar thing about modern access to tests is that there is very little official thought attached to the waiting process, choices to be made en route, and decisions once results come in, and so we are so often floundering when the assumption is we should be happy that something is being done. Fear is the natural response. You are very brave to have shared yours with us, and I hope it has helped in the healing process of getting through this. All good wishes…

  27. What a relief that you’re ok. I know how scary this can be; I had a similar experience, although the “you’re fine” came much sooner than yours, with less invasive procedures. It’s so terrifying to be waiting and wondering, and I know the relief and true belief that you’re really ok doesn’t come all at once but in small, reassuring waves until you finally feel yourself again. I haven’t read all the comments, so apologies if I’m just saying what others have said. 🙂 But I am so relieved for you.

  28. Litlove– Thank you for your honest, vulnerable post. I had a biopsy several years ago and remember the color of the floor tile in the changing room, and how cold it was, and how I wondered if my life would ever be the same again. That biopsy was fine and life went on with a squiggle writ there forever. 10 years later I was diagnosed with colon cancer (no, this doesn’t have to be your story), which I am now past after surgery and chemo and time. I have also been with my best friend dying from AIDS and my father from Alzhiemer’s and my mother from a stroke that made her unable to swallow, so she starved to death. I lay these facts out so boldly because I think we are practicing. We watch others die and come close then veer away from our own deaths and each time we are changed a bit — moved just a tad from thinking we will live forever to knowing in fact that we will die. Cancer for me *was* a way to begin rewriting my story. Forced, really, to do so.

    I was struck by you saying that this experience damaged your confidence. Yes. I’ve had to face the fact that although story is all (I’m struggling now to find a new and better more comprehensive story to use to map my days), I am not my story’s author. Yipes.

    I am so glad you are well. I am so glad you are brave. I think you did everything just right. You showed up, you noticed, you did not go to sleep. I think that’s all we can do.

  29. Equiano – thank you so much, that’s so kind of you. I had no idea the whole process would drag on so long, although I was responsible for a fortnight of that, having needed time to come to terms with a biopsy. But there is so much I know now that might have been useful to know earlier, oh but it’s hard, isn’t it, because I might not have needed the knowledge. I do wish there were a simpler path to getting an answer on this issue. And yes, it has helped enormously to write it down and share it with my blogging friends. It was a signing off I promised myself from very early in the story. Dew – oh thank you for your lovely message. I am amazed how many women have to go through this and I’m so glad your experience ended in good health and with less waiting. But you don’t have to do too much of it to know exactly how awful it feels. What you say about relief is extremely astute. I’m still getting there! Openpalm – what an amazing message from you. You have been far, far braver than I fear I could ever be and triumphed over some terrible experiences. Well, I say triumphed, although I doubt it ever feels as uncontentious as that. But you have come through and I’m sitting here thinking about that because before I went into this process I wondered how anyone came out the other side. There comes a point when we have to reckon with mortality and I guess it’s just very sensible to make something out of tragic experience by using it to inform us on the journey ahead. I’m impressed and moved by the way you are doing so.

  30. Oh Litlove, what a roller coaster of emotions! I’ve been reading your posts and holding my breath and I found myself getting anxious. I’ve had some awful medical experiences and it’s all just so scary. I’m so happy you are well and sending you some cyber hugs!

  31. Pingback: Non-Fiction Frenzy… and Another Trip to the Library « Smithereens

  32. I told you everything was going to be fine, didn’t I? I have ESP. You must always listen to chartroose ( :

    I’m so glad you’re okay! Now you’ll have to do something extraordinary (or at least kind of cool) to celebrate your new lease on life.


  33. I never know what to say in response to such powerful writing. I admire your ability to negotiate the event through prose, through honest prose. I am extremely relieved that everything turned out okay. Although I’m sure your experience will not lose its power quickly enough for you, I do hope you will do something to celebrate, you deserve it.

  34. Dear iliana – what a sweetie you are. I am so sorry to hear you’ve had your share of horrible medical experiences. What are we to do with these bodies that let us down so badly? Oh to be young again. Big cyber hugs back to you! Chartroose – you know, my friend, you know. I will never doubt your word 🙂 You’re right I need to do something celebratory but I can’t think what. I did order some books – that’s a good start! Verbivore – I couldn’t write about it until it was done, but then I absolutely had to. It does help. I’m still mulling over the aftermath here but I hope some sort of celebration will appeal to me very soon! And thank you for your kind words – I do appreciate them very much.

  35. you are glorious.



    (that image of the women reading wordsworth is a gem – isn’t that the beginning of a short story in your head waiting to be written out? it felt like it……)

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