Saturday, May 14, 2011


So, every day, I look in the mirror, usually first thing in the morning before I've really got my brain on, and think the same thing: I've really got to do something about my hair. You see, I've not had a haircut since last August and though I like having longer hair, the split/dry ends situation has become acute, so much so that I have given up any attempts to use the curling iron. Dry split ends do not hold a curl.

(Boys, stick with me here, it gets less girly in a second.)

I also have the hair thought at random moments throughout the day. It's a kind of habit that indicates Normal Life. Kind of like, "Dang, I've got to get around to paying the electricity bill," and noting that the cat-hair tumbleweeds have become as big as my head and it's probably time to run the dustmop over the floors.

This automatic, unconscious default assumption of Normal Life is, I realise, perfectly sensible and a sign of sanity, but it makes me uncomfortable if for no other reason than for the daily, sometimes hourly shock of remembering, "Oh, wait. I have cancer. Normal Life is suspended."

It goes like this: "Good grief! look at my hair. I really do need to get something done about it, maybe today I'll go down to that hairdresser across from the farmacia...

...oh wait. I will be getting something done about it any day now: chemotherapy."

You might think it strange, but I've been more or less toodling along from day to day pretty much just trying to keep things normal. (Friends who have dealt with my randomly scheduled melt-down crazy-bursts can just shut up right now).

At any given moment, while I could be thinking about having cancer, I'm actually mostly thinking things like "What am I going to write about today?" and "Why doesn't this stupid superglue work on my glasses?" I mean, apart from the times I actually have to go to the hospital to get something done, which have so far been few, and which were now a fairly long time ago, I have mostly been able to not think about it. At least, I don't think about it constantly in a front-brain "OH MY FREAKING GOD I'VE GOT FREAKING CANCER!!!" sort of way.

Except for those moments when I'm looking in the mirror and thinking about my hair and suddenly it comes back to me like a slap in the face with a wet fish. (That is the point, I've discerned, at which I become vulnerable to the previously mentioned attacks of Crazy-Brain.)

That's been the coping paradigm so far, denial interspersed with unevenly distributed attacks of panicked hysteria and screaming. Oh, and the non-doing of housework.

But the other day, things moved forward.

It's one of the bad things about cervical cancer, and one of the reasons it can be such a big killer, that there aren't any symptoms. Which is why there are always these PSA sort of things in doctors' offices urging women to get examined regularly. Cervical cancer doesn't just start malignant. It starts as "displasia," abnormal cells that are fairly easily dealt with. It takes years to develop from displasia to cancer and years more to go through the stages to the point where it's a genuine death-threat from God.

This week I've learned that although cervical cancer is more or less asymptomatic in its early stages, there are two big give-aways: bleeding and pain. Bleeding happens with cancerous tumours (if this is getting too gross for you, go here) because cancer isn't very smart. It has enough genetic information to churn out new cells and structures, but it isn't very good at building things like blood vessels. It tends to build them with thin walls which tend to burst spontaneously. It is kind of like having those spontaneous nose-bleeds you used to get as a kid if you were nerdy, which I was. Not life-threatening unless it goes on for a long time.

Bleeding is probably the most alarming of the issues, as you would imagine, but once it's been explained, and once it's happened a couple of times, you get more or less casual about it.

Pain, however, is harder to ignore. Which I found out on Wednesday afternoon.

When you start getting little stabby/pokey pains where one does not normally experience them, and they come back every few minutes, you tend to think something new is up. As we have discovered, it takes quite a lot of prompting to get me to go to the Pronto Socorso but that really did it.

Of course, your first thought is along the lines of "OH MY FREAKING GOD THE FREAKING CANCER IS GROWING!!!" but when I got to the Gemelli on Thursday morning, the nice (and quite handsome) young doctor told me - without, to his credit, the slightest trace of irony - "This is normal". And gave me a prescription for Paracetomol.

For a moment, there was an instant of almost comic effect: Oh right. I have cancer. And cancer involves pain. Right. I forgot.

But then I remembered that this really isn't all happening to someone else, I'm not a character in a sitcom and I have cancer. And cancer involves pain. This little prescription for 1000 mg tablets of Tylenol, in other words, is just the beginning. From here we move on to bigger and better things.

He told me, "It should take care of it. One in the morning and one in the evening. If the pain persists, come back." He assured me several times that the pain does not mean that the tumour has suddenly woken up and decided to get on with things. It's just normal for cancer to involve pain.

This all means that I've got something new to think about nearly every moment of every day. Here I am, going along thinking my normal thoughts like, "Penny and Leonard really have nothing at all in common," and "I really need to get to Ikea and buy some shelves for all this arty stuff," but these thoughts are hardly allowed to get out of my subconscious before the tumour interrupts every couple of minutes by yelling, "HEY! YOU HAVE CANCER!! and your normal life doesn't count any more."

This is leading to all sorts of related thoughts. Thoughts about how certain things in my life are now coming to a close. Certain paths can no longer be reversed. Some things I'd been hoping for are now really, truly and definitively never going to happen.

Never really been too keen on thinking about the future.



Father John Boyle said...

Thanks for this. With prayers.

Trad Dad said...

Prayers & thoughts are cwith you every day .

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Hilary Jane!

I hope so much the course of treatment you chose succeeds. Will pray for you.

Sincerely, Sean

Audrey Amberg said...

Dear Hilary,

Thinking about you always puts a smile on our lips; now joined by a prayer in our hearts for your health.

Your picture in the diocesan (Lansing,MI) paper at a pub with Michael Voris, whom we know, tickled us!


Audrey and Ted