When you're well, it seems like forever. You feel invincible, belonging to a favoured group who are not old, sick, disabled or confused. Like the young, you believe “it can't happen to me.” Though tucked away in a corner is the fear that it might.
So when I got a cancer diagnosis, I passed through the portals not only of the cancer clinic (with an astonished “I can't believe this is me” disbelief), I also crossed the rubicon between the world of the well and the strange country of the long term sick.
And what a rich country it is! I am humbled at the courage, kindness and generosity that abounds. Unlike the busy, every day world, we have time, sometimes stretching endlessly – yet precious because it may not be here next year.
The nurses and technicians shed their outside selves and show us warmth and kindness. I have WM (Waldenstrom's Macroglobulinemia) which is indolent, incurable, but treatable. It is also very rare: 5 in a million. It came without warning from a routine blood test. This is my new normal.
What I hadn't expected was the friendship extended by the WM forum. Strangers reached out to help me. Linda, my first time on line, emailed that she would walk the walk with me. And she has, tirelessly. I am learning to take with grace – really difficult when my instinct is to help. It's so much easier to give than receive.
There's an unspoken acknowledgement by the members of this new country – like a Mason's handshake. It's very similar to being an immigrant. You are changed forever, indefinably. You can't go back – and you recognize at a glance someone who is a fellow traveller.
I don't want to be here, but I also know that I am deepened and enriched by the company I am forcibly keeping. And in a strange way, I am blessed.