I am not immune to The Fear, unfortunately. I had hoped I might be. Forget piano certificates, gymnastics badges and swimming awards - actually, scrap the swimming awards, I failed the level below my Bronze Survival and had to do the launch of shame from the pool after only the first discipline. I should add that I had told my teacher I couldn’t tread water but she hadn't believed me - never do I feel more proud than when hospital staff praise my apparent bravery, my 'high pain threshold'.
I like to test it from time to time – with the odd break of a foot or a knee or the smashing of too many bones in my forearm and wrist to count or a chance burst artery following a fairly routine operation. How's the pain? the nurse asked, as the blood spewed so fast into my chest cavity that, mercifully, the vessels carrying blood from the miscreant area couldn't cope and thus blocked, saving my life (thank you blood vessels) but oh, at a painful price.
Out of how many? I asked, or rather, wheezed. 10, she said. It's 10, I answered. It couldn't have got any worse than it was and I had to wait three desperately long hours until I could have any form of pain relief. The 'ten' conversation was useful however, as it meant that as the big hand struck 7.05am, the nurse was there, at my side, pouring in the first dose of morphine which she'd set up a few minutes before.
Is this a good point to mention my love for nurses everywhere?
So, with this so-called high pain threshold I'd hoped I'd have Nerves Of Steel and The Fear wouldn't consume me.
And it doesn't consume me. But it does visit often.
Provided The Fear proves unfounded, the further away from initial cancer diagnosis you can step, the more it retreats, I'm told. But for the moment, The Fear of recurrence of cancer is loud; concert pitch on occasion. And although I stuff my fists into my ears, shake my head to disperse the debilitating thoughts, fill my life with family, friends, chocolate and busyness, The Fear is sometimes just too powerful.
My hearing has always been my bug bear. I wear hearing aids. They are wonderful. My tiny friends discretely do their job and I can go about my daily life barely affected, save for the odd mishear, just to keep my interlocutors amused. My hearing is going through a bad phase. I'm constantly reaching for the remote control to turn up the volume of my aids only to realise it's already on maximum. BC – before cancer – I'd have said that my ears must be blocked (I have tiny ear canals, they're easily blocked). BC, my hearing would have sorted itself. Post cancer, when I can't hear well, I fear I have a brain tumour. The most likely cause is actually a side effect of Tamoxifen, the hateful drug we truly love because it may be keeping us alive.
Last week I felt sick and wondered if the cancer had gone to my stomach. In reality, it was simply that-type-of-cold. I could go on.
It's The Fear of those evil little cancer cells dodging the medication, laughing in the face of the operations and lodging themselves into a new area of the body, one not being routinely checked. We tell ourselves that the medication is advanced, clever and designed exactly to deal with the evil little blighters but The Fear reminds us that they are clever, too.
It can be paralysing when The Fear muscles its way into our lives, lodging itself into our psyche and, as we try to ignore it, tell it to be quiet, to leave us alone, on the battle axe goes, beating us pitilessly with its rolling pin.
But I will not be beaten.
I will not let The Fear win. I ring my doctor. I apologise for my post cancer paranoid hypochondria and she understands. They all understand. That's the lovely truth of the Cancer World. They expect it. They expect those of us who are lucky enough to have survived and feel guilty that we let The Fear strike when we should be shouting hallelujah for our fortune, to be sitting in their surgeries. And they don't mind; they really don't mind and that does make us feel better.
And each time The Fear comes knocking and the door is answered with a reassurance that all is well, each time that The Fear proves unfounded, then another chip is shaved from the lump lodged in my consciousness, another stone ricochets off the side of Goliath's head, The Fear gets pushed a little closer to the back of my mind and normality is dragged a little closer to the front.
I do not feel the same as I did BC. I do feel a little on my own fighting what sometimes feels like inevitable recurrence now that the heavies of operations, chemo and radiotherapy have done their bit and the only remaining super power, Herceptin, is drawing to a close. I have two more due before I finish my year of three weekly dosages. I shan't miss the time out of my Tuesday or the water retention (otherwise known in my house as Herceptin Bum) and general grogginess which follows for a few days, but I shall miss the reassurance and friendliness of the nurses and the partial piece of mind this powerful drug gives, when it's just me and Tamoxifen fighting the good fight.
The Fear will keep attacking me but I will win eventually because I will not let it affect my here and now. It's madness, isn't it, to waste the glorious present worrying about the unknown future.
Madness, yes, human, also, but helpful, no.