The weeks leading up to my post op appointment were a little strange for me. I had the physical discomfort of feeling the sharp dissolvable stitches in my eye, the exhaustion from the whole experience and the sadness and fear that was part of the incredible cancer experience (not!). Writing this post I am glad I am writing it in hindsight, because at the time if I had had to describe my feelings I would have just shouted that everyone is incredibly insensitive and I hate the lot of you! Unreasonable? Absolutely! People asking how I am? How bloody outrageous! Wanting to check I’m O.K? Inconsiderate cow! Yes I was entering the angry phase and no one was immune from it. Deep down I knew it was incredibly unreasonable so I started to avoid people. I didn’t want to upset people who only wanted to show they cared, so I hid as otherwise I would have offended everyone. My husband says I have a fiery Irish temper (my family are all Irish) and is pretty used to my outbursts. An old work colleague was used to me writing a scathing e-mail (not to her!) that would sit there for at least an hour, by which time I would return and reword it in a far kinder more diplomatic way. There is something very de-stressing about writing “Bitch! Bitch! Bitch!! Bloody idiot!” and then returning to say “Thank you for your response, very kind of you but unfortunately …..” You should try it. Just don’t accidentally hit send!
At around this time I happened upon Sheryl Sandburg writing after the first 30 days after the loss of her husband, the end of sheloshim. I wasn’t grieving a death of a loved one but I received so much comfort from her post. Where I would angrily shout “stop asking how I bloody am!” She wrote far more eloquently:
‘Even a simple “How are you?”—almost always asked with the best of intentions—is better replaced with “How are you today?” ….. When I hear “How are you today?” I realize the person knows that the best I can do right now is to get through each day.’
I would never had got it right either before experiencing it first hand. I wouldn’t have understood the fear that creeps into every pore of your body. You can’t until you experience it for yourself. I had some people ignore me, I know they felt uncomfortable, I had people come over and demand to know the symptoms, just so they could confirm to themselves they didn’t have the hideous disease. I had lots of cancer stories. I strangely met two people who had had loved ones with eye cancer. One had survived, one had died which just confirmed the 50/50 statistics.
But with all of this I was starting to feel like a zoo exhibit. The more people wanted to see me to comfort themselves that I was doing well, the more I wanted to hide. I felt anxious because I couldn’t answer their questions. The answers frightened me so discussions would be kept to a minimum. I opened up to three people, my husband, my sister and a close friend. I didn’t want to talk about it all the time. I learnt quickly to smile and avoid. I became an expert at spotting people and putting my phone to my ear. I’d pray it didn’t ring as I was pretending to speak. I’d hide in my car, I missed hockey matches, social gatherings, assemblies because my confidence had hit rock bottom. I apologise to all the people I avoided. You did nothing wrong. I wasn’t coping and it has taking me almost a year to realise that. My husband realised how hard I was finding it after I had told him that a decorator we had in, who kept getting colours wrong, thought I was concerned about what was being slapped on the walls. I obviously didn’t care if he had painted it bright orange with polka dots, I had more pressing concerns. He made the mistake of telling me to not look so worried all the time! “Come on love, smile!” I exhaled as I slowly walked out of the room. I wanted to pick up a hammer and batter him.
I was soon making the familiar journey from Hampton to Waterloo. To find out that my tumour had been burnt to smithereens I hoped. I obviously hadn’t read that far into what to expect as it can actually take six months to show signs of improvement. So I was a little disappointed with a “no change,” but did what any normal person would do in similar situations. I raced onto my eye cancer group to check with them that my surgeon was telling the truth and not just fobbing me off. They all confirmed it to be true, and actually a quick shrinkage can be a bad sign as it can show an active tumour. If it can shrink quickly, it can also grow quickly. So slow improvements are best, no change next on the wish list, with fast shrinkage or growing not wanted. I was to go back again in another two weeks to see which path my tumour would take.