It's interesting to look back on how I dealt with this little bit of a crisis, bearing in mind that I have an unbudgeable faith, and three years of really good Buddhist teaching under my belt.
"Oh my God! I'm going to die!" This was my, not totally together, response to my husband's casual request to 'phone the doctor about my test results. The routine is, you get tested, and you call back in a week for the results. That, I discovered, is for when the results require no further action.
"There's a very slight elevation of protein in your blood ... Further tests ... Mylenoma ... Yes it IS treatable ... Prognosis - good ..." By the time I was having this conversation with my doctor, I was supremely calm. I posed all the right questions, I said thank you. I put the 'phone down and remained calm and quite reassured. "Oh well." I told myself, cancer looks unlikely, doctor just being cautious." I started to make light of it.
"Now that I'm dying," I would say, lifting the back of my hand to my forehead in the manner of a nymph on a Greek urn, " I think another cup of tea wouldn't go amiss." For days. Ray was perfect. He'd roll his eyes and make the tea.
Next off, comes the appointment from the hospital for four days hence. On Christmas Eve. Straight back to,"Oh my God, I'm dying! NOBODY has an appointment on Christmas Eve!" The letter advises bring a close friend or relative with you. I went with my brother when he got his diagnosis. I know what THIS means. The 'now that I'm dying' act ceased immediately.
I have to know. So, after vowing not to, I go onto the Internet and check my disease out. Don't do it, no, really, don't. I read the survival stats. (So generalised to be meaningless, as they will always be.) I watched the video on 'Caring for a patient with ... ' Not a good idea. I then set about checking out wigs. And reminding myself that I haven't yet picked the readings and music for my Requiem Mass.
My friend Catherine, a breast cancer survivor, says this, the time between suspicion and diagnosis, is the worst time of all. So, having abandoned the Internet, made the best of it. I asked friends to pray with me, and for me. This was great, I was so surrounded by love and concern: it warmed and comforted me, it helped me to bear it. I don't ask my Creator for special favours, though, this is my prayer:
"What comes to me, comes, it is neither reward nor punishment, it just is. This is what faith is for. Walk with me. "
I chose not to tell my daughters until there was definite news. And if there was bad news, not to tell them until after Christmas. My youngest spotted me leaving the hospital: a coincidence so unlikely, it's staggering, but there you are, random things randomly happen. So I didn't entirely get away with this piece of subterfuge!
I held, "Walk with me." close, and this became the open invitation to be awake and aware of both the wonder and the cruelty that is everyone's life. I walked my garden, dwelling on every seed head, every mossy stone, every sign of emergent life ... I visited friends at the project for recovering addicts and listened with heightened intensity, I played with my grandchildren as if I was as young as they are. Sometimes, however, I remembered, and panic arose. I let it be, I let it pass.
The hospital visit couldn't have gone better. Seen before my appointment, bloods done, specialist gave the good news, booked an MRI to find out what's causing the pain... And I took up the threads of my life again.
I am inclined to be a little ashamed about making a big deal about something I didn't actually have wrong with me. It was a bit like a test for when I REALLY have to make friends with illness and death. If I had to rate myself, I'd give me a B- .
I might skip the 'Greek urn' phase next time, but I'm sticking with the wig I chose.