The cancer clinic is cheerful – if you can get over the name everywhere. I can see the point of euphemism. We wait till about 10.30 – sealed windows and stale air. I long for a breeze and birdsong.
In comes my “cancer team,” which seems the cart before the horse as I haven't yet had a diagnosis. “Tracy” takes my medical history and asks if I want counseling or a spiritual advisor. Have I got children – and where? On hearing South Africa, England and Vancouver Island, she renews counseling offers. Yet, I don't know how I feel as I don't yet know what is wrong – except obviously not good.
“Anxiety? Depression? PTSD?” Her pen hovers hopefully. No, just life. I feel fine. Surprisingly, I feel calm and coherent. Dr. M. comes in, looking weary. It can't be easy for him.
“We found something.” Waldenström macroglobulinemia, a type of lymphoma (blood cancer). He says it is “indolent”, lounging around, not getting on with it. So there is no hurry for treatment. The next step is a bone marrow biopsy, which he can do today or later. He explains the chemo, but says because of the indolence, watchful waiting is best now. He is going on holiday, so we set up a date in late June. Oddly, I feel numbly calm and able to both comprehend and remember what he said.
We stumble into fresh air and sunlight, walk back beside the lake to the car. George Duhamel's question I have been trying to answer since I was 15 and studying high school French, came back to me. “Is it better to be sad on a rainy day when the world weeps with you, or on a brilliant sunny day, that mocks your grief?” I asked it driving through sleepy English villages, basking in spring, driving my father to my mother's cremation. I ask it again now.
We head to Google when we get home. Waldenström macroglobulinemia is very rare: 5 in a million get it and then mainly white males. Only I would beat those odds to get a double-barrelled disease complete with umlaut. You don't get rid of it, just manage it. Chemo etc. will control not vanquish it. According to Dr. M., they will watch my haemoglobin. The cut off for action is 100; I am at 103, down from 108 a month ago; 120 last year.
Still feel calm, though my head is bursting with facts. Somehow, I still feel it will be OK. Not the usual OK meaning fine and well, but OK.
The kids are marvellous and the phone goes all afternoon – till my head buzzes. Bill is very quiet, wrapping me in kindness and hugging me. I tell my close girl friends by email as I feel too overwhelmed for more talking.
Strangely, I don't fault my body. If this had been a lump, perhaps I would see it as an enemy, want to expunge it. But lymphoma is everywhere, right through me. War and hostility is so against my nature that I can't see this as a battle. Rather, I am sorry for my red cells that have lost their way and their ability to turn themselves off. I feel gentle and kind – and see treatment as helping my immune system regain its power. I am sorry for my beleaguered body, that has been overworked and bullied by life – I want to extend kindness and hope.
Note: I am writing this in the hope it will help someone else. Not because I feel I am interesting, but I keep remembering how my doctor at the Pain Clinic thanked me for blogging my path through pain. She told me that it was very helpful to see the other side of the equation – and understand pain from the inside. Now, at the start of another journey, I can see clearly that what will get me through is morale, how I approach this and how I guide my underlying thoughts. Pain now turns out to gave been a blessing because it has forced me to do much of the work in advance.
Throughout this blog, I have referred to my husband as Bill – the name I gave him for privacy when I wrote a weekly column. Now, with his permission, I will give him his real name, Mike.