“You will certainly go mad in that house alone, my dear. You will see visions. We have all got to exert ourselves a little to keep sane, and call things by the same names as other people call them by. To be sure, for younger sons and women who have no money, it is a sort of provision to go mad: they are taken care of then. But you must not run into that.”
The indefatigable Mrs Cadwallader in Middlemarch. I love the fact that for her sanity is obviously something you have to work at, and seems to boil down to having the right vocabulary! As if insanity was a matter of having an unfortunate dialect.
Recovery has not been as easy as I imagined, and has not always gone in the right direction. I have discovered once again that patience is not so much a virtue as a necessary life skill. Good books help: I am glad I saved Middlemarch to my middle age, when I needed something to get me through these interminable afternoons (and when I was old enough to understand it).
However things are improving and I am looking forward to getting back to normal.
So I went to the clinic as planned and had a conversation about the biopsy results on my thyroid gland. Waiting for that conversation was by far the scariest part of the process: far worse than the conversation itself! I was spooked by the word cancer. And it really bugged me that they knew the results but wouldn’t post them to me or tell me over the phone: I felt at a disadvantage walking into that room, as the only person who didn’t yet know the test results. I wanted all the information as soon as it was available, not filtered and interpreted.
But the conversation itself was very straightforward and satisfactory. Nobody knows if I have cancer: the test didn’t give a simple yes or no. My thyroid is Schrodingers Cat: without further tests, I both do and don’t have cancer. The only way of finding out is to open the box: go ahead with the operation and remove part of the thyroid. (Which is exactly what I want to do anyway because it is so painful and uncomfortable.). The conversation passed the test: something will be done, I will probably feel better as a result, and I will not be left in limbo. As to the possibilities of cancer – openly discussed – I was given good answers to all my questions. The fear receded, the bogey man exposed in this case as a relatively weak opponent, known, named and oft defeated by medical science. If he is present at all, of course. (Such a weak opponent, in fact, that I will have to wait some months for the operation – which is a kind of reassurance, even though it is so hard to wait.)
This was the first of many conversations I must now have: with my husband, friends, colleagues, children, each of which will need their own version of the story. The conversation with Julie was one I particularly feared, knowing how raw she is after her illness, how easily something like this could feed into deep fears of abandonment. I felt that all this talk about cancer was unnecessary: if this word had spooked me, how much more it would spook her! So I left it firmly outside the door of the conversation: just said that I needed an operation to relieve my obvious pain and discomfort. Perfectly true, and probably the whole truth. But even the mere thought of me going into hospital did trouble her, and I had to agree to her telling her support team so that she can have extra support. Nothing can ever be private.
I went to the hospital and had a biopsy taken this morning. There is a small risk that there is cancer in my thyroid – a small risk. For years I have had a big rather friendly goitre on my neck, which is now becoming painful and intrusive, and the doctors want to check it out.
Do I talk to my children about this? Is it worth unsettling them, when in all probability nothing will come of it? I have decided that no, I will not tell them. No matter how I approach the subject, I think they might still give it too much significance. They are, after all, still young.
I am curious though about what we choose to discuss, and what we choose to hide from one another, and why we hide anything at all. Perhaps if I was open about my cancer scare with my kids and they watched it unfold, they would become more resilient about similar worries they might have to handle in later life. After all, if the only stories about cancer you ever hear are about those that cannot be hidden (i.e. prove fatal), you might not appreciate how many biopsies return negatives, or how often people survive cancer.
Sometimes we hide things because it’s clear they just find it too painful. I don’t always tell Joe when Julie has self-harmed, for example, because it upsets him so much. It’s only recently he’s been able to admit how he feels, but the distress shows clearly in his face and in his body language. Sometimes we hide things because it’s difficult to handle the other person’s reaction. This is probably why I am not telling my children about my tests: I don’t want to have to deal with their feelings of distress.