It finally sunk in and I assumed the identity of a cancer patient. It was kind of hard to deny after I’d read my chart, watched the reactions of all of those around me, visited an oncology office, opened and read all of the cards, and had seen my name listed on church bulletins as one of the afflicted. I knew now it was real, no mistake had been made.
I started to do research on my disease. I knew it was very rare. I spent hours and hours looking for medical information on the internet. I finally found and read all of the horrible statistics and predictions related to my diagnosis. I was a nurse. If I’d read all of that on behalf of a patient, I’d have assumed the patient was a goner. It was emotionally devastating. I tried to contemplate not being here to raise my kids, to contemplate not spending my old age with my husband. The bottom had truly fallen out of my life. I was afraid now to even contemplate a future. I’d always said that I could die anytime in a car accident, but this was different. Before when I’d said that, it was an intellectual reality. Now it was an emotional reality as well. It was like comparing the intellectual reality of potentially dying in a car wreck to being in a speeding car with the accelerator jammed, anticipating impact while watching the world fly by outside of my window.
It’s funny now, but at the time I found myself suddenly unable to purchase clothing or any durable goods for myself. I was always frugal, and it seemed, based on the medical literature I was reading, that I might not live long enough to wear out the shoes I contemplated buying. I was suddenly a bad investment.
I had a similar experience with a twist.
While surviving the diagnosis I felt that everyone throughout the cancer experience was observing me as a new survivor, a form of out of body experience where I was aware of my reaction to their reaction at every level.
Sixteen months later I have gone back through the very same medical offices, more than once, and now when I sit and wait for my followup checkup, blood workups, CAT scans and xRays the survivor sense of the present vs. past experience seems very different.
Even though I am sitting with and waiting with new patients, first time survivors, those still in shock with that initial diagnosis and survivor moment in time, I see the journey as a process that is possible to complete.
For up to four months after my operation I stopped buying new things for myself, on the grounds that I might not get the wear out of them. Finally, I decided that thinking permanently short-term was not good for me, and I bought myself a really expensive pair of spectacles and a set of new clothes. I also bought a state-of-the-art satnav system for my car. Two months later I was able to use the satnav system on a two-week driving holiday with my wife, visiting some beautiful places in France, Germany and Switzerland. Now I just think long-term.