I have been told I have Cancer twice in my life and spoken to many people who also have.
You are sitting across from a Doctor who doesn't know you very well, has lots of other patients, so probably by necessity has to distance themselves, and they just say those 4 little words "Sorry you have cancer" .
There a lots of terrible health conditions but for most people the word Cancer has always had connotations of Death, Painful Treatments like chemotherapy, radiation and surgery and Fear. This is still in spite of the fact that so many cancers today are survivable and the doctor is in the midst of telling you this, but you are not simply not listening.
You have a million questions but all of a sudden you can hardly speak (for anyone who knows me that is almost an impossibility 🙂 ), and in my case the Doctor had pretty much lost interest, as in most cases he is writing out a referral to an Oncologist and you are no longer a source of revenue for him.
Like Alice in Wonderland you have just fallen through a hole into an alternate universe. You go into a form of shock and your mind starts racing with OMG I am going to die, how I am I going to tell my loved ones, how long do I have to live, how much is it going to cost, who am I going to tell first, Mum is going to cry ,am I going to lose my hair, and on and on. In the mean time the Doctor, matter of factly and very impersonally, starts to tell you about your prognosis, treatment options, referrals to other doctors etc. But you are not really listening because your heart is racing and you think you are going to be sick and you have just lost something, that no matter what happens next, you are NEVER going to get back.
What you have lost is what I call PEACE of MIND. You have obviously been ill or had symptoms, which has lead you to this place in time. You have either had surgery or already many intrusive tests to determine this prognosis, but from the moment those words are uttered, no matter what the results of your treatments might eventually be, either remission, the prognosis is incurable etc, you have lost this forever, no matter how well you deal with things or how brave you are. It's like the very utterance of those words has switched on some tiny molecule in your brain that can never be switched off.
One minute, although you were already either secretly or openly afraid, you go from having a future filled with hope, love, family etc., to one that will again, no matter what the outcome always include Fear of some kind. I liken this Fear to Grief. In fact, the initial feelings are very similar to what you feel when you are told someone you love has died suddenly. You can learn to deal with it, manage it, get counselling for it, certainly try not to let it rule your life,but there are certain triggers like getting any kind of symptom or hearing about someone else with the disease, that somehow, somewhere in the back of your mind that tiny molecule sets off the thought "is it back" or as Arnie puts it "I'll be back" 🙂 and there you are again back to that place where you first heard those 4 little words "Sorry you have cancer". The Good News is that like with grief, you have hopefully learned to get out of that bad headspace quicker.
I am not someone particularly afraid of death and I have lived a fairly fearless life. I have taken lot's of risks in life but they were under my control and from that moment forward your life is not in your control, for awhile at least, it is in the hands of Doctors and this dreadful word Cancer and you are about to start a very hard journey.
I will blog some more about my Cancer Journey so please stay tuned.
Cancer Council NSW would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we live and work.We would also like to pay respect to elders past and present and extend that respect to all other Aboriginal people.