An Extraordinary Essay
Every now and then, I read something that pulls me up short. This essay, sent by Barbara, is a beautiful example of that experience. Written by Clare Vaughan, an English physician who died in July, it is about her experience with advanced breast cancer. The "pulling up short" parts for me are related to her decision not to have treatment (apparently; she says only a sentence or two about this, so there may well be more to the story) after learning of the recurrence and the beauty and growth and wisdom that she finds in the remaining months of her life.
I have been blessed, so blessed, to know and love many women with advanced breast cancer. Almost without exception, they have found ways to make meaning, to love, to experience beauty and joy in companionship with the anxiety and grief. Dr. Vaughan seems to have found a way to obliterate most of the sadness, and how I wish I could understand how she did it.
Here is the start and a link. Please read it.
Teach me to hear mermaids singing
Five months ago I developed a chest infection which would not clear up. I had been overworking: four part time jobs, three children, Christmas with its expectations, and a winter of coughs and colds. My general practitioner suggested a chest x ray examination. I went with my 5 year old daughter in tow. The result was extraordinary and the radiologist looked suitably impressed. My daughter turned to me, “Mummy, has your cancer come back?” “I am afraid it has, my love,” I replied.
At first I crept into my bed and withdrew from the world and howled. How preposterous not to see my lovely children grow up. How unbearable to have had only half my life with my love. How disappointing to leave all my exciting work plans at such a vulnerable but optimistic stage.
So, four years after the first diagnosis, I have a tumour like an avocado pear in my right lung and a small crescent of functioning liver remaining. I am probably dying: the biggest adventure of all. The past five months have appalled, surprised, and exhilarated me and given me insights into my life in a totally unexpected way. I would like to share some of this richness.
Breast cancer is a roller coaster of an illness with windows of complete wellbeing, the last of which lasted two and a half years. I was more than well. I was fired with energy and vigour. I focused on my family with an intensity that sometimes bewildered them. This holiday must be the best yet; that school must offer my child the most; I must have all the good things now. It was my abiding luck to have had a partner who could love me and give me ease during this turbulent time. I decided not to get involved in medicalising my remission. I took only a passing interest in oncology literature, had an open mind on tamoxifen, which I eventually took for 18 months,
and had regular check ups.