Love is the one delusion man refuses to deny, death is the one truth man refuses to accept – Arab proverb
There’s nothing quite like a cancer scare to remind you of your mortality, to put you back in your place, to highlight your fragility and smallness, to emphasize what you’ve been denying to yourself; that death can strike at any moment regardless of age, physical health and well being. Cancer likes to laugh at your naive wishful thinking when you convince yourself that cancer is something that only happens to other people.
I went for my cervical screening every three years since I turned twenty five, turning thirty four in October 2014 I was due but kept putting it off for months, sheer laziness and tired old excuses: “there’s never enough time”, but something inside me nagged, so I went and got it over with, I hated it, feeling so exposed and invaded like that, the mere thought made my whole being shrink and shudder, but my mind told me that it had to be done. The nurse told me what I already know “if you don’t hear anything within two weeks you’re fine, if we do find anything we’ll contact you”. Two weeks later, there it was, the envelope shoved recklessly through the letterbox as if it was nothing, as if it was just another commercial letter from a utility company or state agent full of false and misleading promises. I held it up in my hands, deceivingly light, deceivingly white and innocent, marked private, confidential and containing important information by the NHS. My heart sunk, my mind panic-stricken and hysterical managed in a fraction of a second to produce the most dramatic ending of my life, how I will be extremely sick and bed-ridden from now on, how I will lose all my hair and die, how my daughter who has no one else but me will have no one. My heart tried to calm me down, wait, it whispered, we haven’t read what the letter says yet, don’t panic yet, not yet. There were so many ‘not yets’ whirling in my mind, I haven’t seen her all grownup yet, I haven’t seen her graduate yet, I haven’t been there for her through her dramatic teen years yet, her college graduation, her driving license, her wedding, her first baby… and me.. I didn’t travel to all the countries I always planned to see yet, I haven’t read all the books I want to read yet.. there were so many not yets!
I tore the envelop and read, my hands shaking, they found some abnormal cells, but this doesn’t mean I have cancer, it only means they need to do more advanced tests to see whether there was potential that such abnormal cells can be cancerous, the letter said “try not to worry” and provided me with a date for further tests at the hospital two weeks from this day. Two weeks! For two week I will live in this fear, in this turmoil, not knowing, imagining the worst, and waiting, just waiting… my mind wallowed in its pathetic self-pity and victim-hood “I’m going to die, I have no one to talk to, to run to, no one to comfort me and stand by me, I’m no one’s priority… and my child, my child will be lost without me” it cried and wailed day and night. My heart was strong, it kept repeating “not yet, it’s not time to panic yet, not yet.. it might not be cancer, and if it was, they’ve detected it early that’s a good thing, most cases detected early have very high success rates… it’s not time to panic yet, not yet”. The day came, I drove myself to the hospital alone, my child at school clueless. I wait, I get called in, the doctor is a man! “this is going to be awful, I thought”, I am so stiff and terrified while he examines me, he tells me to try to relax, the two nurses try to help me relax but it’s no use, it’s painful and awkward and everything is spinning, the room, my had, my heart is thumping with pain and compassion for me, I think of my daughter, my life, my divorce, my depression, my horrible unloving parents, my loneliness expands, it inflates into an ugly violent ogre and swallows me whole. After the doctor took some cells, I am told that I can dress and have a seat in the waiting room while the tests are run, my legs are shaking, my whole body is cold, stiff, the pain between my legs. I sit silently in the waiting room, head down, I feel the tears welling up in my eyes, the lump in my throat, I feel exposed and invaded, I want to cry but I try to push it back, “at least they will tell me now, at least I won’t have to wait for the results” was my only solace to myself, my mind kept on showing me more gruesome, terrifying pictures of how I will die, my heart kept repeating its mantra “not yet, not yet, not yet”. I was called by the doctor again, I went in, my legs painful and tired, he asks me to sit down “you’re fine, there’s nothing to worry about, the cells are not cancerous, I will send my report to your GP, you don’t need to do anything, but please keep going for your screening every three years”, I nod, exhale in relief, my tears welling up again, I thank the doctor with so much appreciation and gratitude. He asks me if my husband or partner is here to drive me home as he can see that I am a bit shaky, I sigh and tell him that I’m fine and leave. I drive to Jori’s school it’s already time to pick her up, my heart beating “not yet, not yet, not yet”