Recently, I found out someone very dear to me has battled and conquered cancer, right under my nose, over the last 18 weeks. The constitution of this person does not go without mention.
This person chose not to assume any platform in breaking news about their illness because she feared more so for those that her ordeal might affect. Her ordeal. She told me because I asked.
Effin’ C does not come without awkward baggage. In fact, I imagine that if the effin’ c was baggage, it would be the bag that the busting terrorist asks you to mind right before the feds rock up in your airport lounge right before you take your adjoining flight. It would be bulky, heavy, unmissable, unmanageable, every wheel would go in the very direction you did not ask to venture. From the heartdropping second you realise you’re fucked, you actually really might be. And you have to get help, even if you’re not the type to ask.
The effin’ c word does not mesh with my friend. She is surly, outrageous, brash, revoltingly honest and her laughter alone splits sides once it eclipses her toothy, wonderful face. Her creative skills are grossly understated because she does not fit snugly with a typical artists profile. Humble people give the impression of a quiet politeness regarding their skill. Not my friend. She just creates, and doesn’t give a shit if anyone notices. And for that reason, they often don’t. She has an internal library of limericks fit to conceed the king. She shaved her head for cancer last year, which now makes her furious.
I had little experience with effin’ c before this year. Earlier this year an inspiring, youthful and endlessly talented friend was lost to it. It reduced my glorious, wise and gracious aunt, and then it took my partners so very loved, good friend. Next, my sister recieved a diagnosis that the makings of effin’ c lurked deep, stationed solemnly within her breast. And now, my friend, and we struggle with that word so much. It seems pretend, unreal- and SO UNLIKELY. Did she really actually have it? She doesn’t look like she had it? All this makes me question my preconcieved idea of what real illness means. Does it have to look like Hilary in Beaches? Perhaps it can stand up tall and straight, pierce you with blue eyes and lie to your face and nod understandingly while you bitch about absolutely mendable niggles.
As a new mum, my morbid mind can’t help but foray into the imaginings of what it would be like to know you would never see your kids grow up. To spend spring and summer underneath a bedsheet as opposed to underneath the sun. The gnawing feeling that someone might replace you, or insist your baby should call her “mama” when you are gone. My mind goes to the most undesirable locations with this kind of scenario, it takes an extraordinary amount of ego-obliterating meditation to coax it back from the edge.
For my friend to keep to herself the waiting, the questioning, the ongoing devastation of it all makes me shudder with regret for her loneliness during those long and frightening weeks. I try to understand that she didn’t want to tell her parents because she loves them so much and refuses to put them through the wringer with stress they don’t need, after a year already so overstuffed with drama and heartbreak, and thought the better of contributing to it. She stresses the need to keep going, to plough through, to get through it- the situation as though someone gave her a knife and fork when she stood at the foot of an insurmountable precipice.
But dammit, she doesnt have effin’ c anymore. The combination of timing, the first world health care services we have in our country, the support of those she chose to keep close all helped immenseley. But I can’t help but think of the alternative endings to this story. The one where you wait. The one where you shuck off insistent doubt that the lump, spot or niggling feeling is nothing.
Because effin’ C doesn’t care who you love, or who loves you, I am so lucky to know my friend, and to get to keep her. This life, the chance that we get to live it comes with the unexchangeable condition of impermanence, and if that doesn’t suit you, you’ve got everything to learn. The unpredictability of who cancer takes highlights the context beautifully. We don’t know, we don’t get to choose. We don’t get to be comfortable with that.
Look at the people you hold close or take for granted that you can keep them that way. And for the sake of appreciation, shuck morbidity and imagine effin’c playing a starring role in their life. What do you have to offer that person right now? Give it to them, limitlessly, lovingly and unconditionally, immediately.
In my experience, these are all the things you want to give to someone when it is too late, or when there is nothing you can do to throw the inevitable off course.