Once again it’s time for my scans, bloods and mole check.
And once again they are clear.
I go down to the sea and shout a thanks to the sea birds, seals, dolphins and whoever wishes to listen and rejoice with me.
You are probably wondering why I want to keep reminding myself of my illness, after all it is eight years ago since my diagnosis and probably high time to put it behind me.
But having to face these scans every year won’t allow me to forget and anyway sometimes it’s good to feel that panic and fear again followed by the relief.
It reminds me of those promises I made to myself if I survived……
To stay healthy,
To lose weight,
To not stress so much.
And to dare!
”Two pots of homemade jam.
a cup of tea and a hug”
Maybe he said a cup of tea in a mug
Yes! that must have been it.
She must have misheard.
”To dare is to lose your footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose your whole life”
I have ‘dared’ many times but getting cancer wasn’t one of them.
And even though some people consider my journey with cancer daring.
I don’t consider it so at all.
Daring is when you open up to someone knowing you may be rejected.
Daring is to allow yourself be vulnerable.
Daring is when no matter how many times you have failed you are prepared to try again.
With cancer I dared to take on the journey only because I had no other option.
But maybe I was too daring with the other things that were going on in my life at the time.
Maybe I kept too much of the stress and pain of that time to myself.
Maybe it was my daring that gave me cancer in the first place.
The signs (a true story)
Mary and I are sitting on the grass under a large chestnut tree behind the hospital.
We are (two nurses) on our lunch break.
Mary is picking daisies and I start making a daisy chain from them, piercing each stem and threading a flower through.
As she hands one over she says
‘This is when you were born’
Handing another one she continues,
‘and this is when you fell in love’.
‘This is when you got married and this is when your daughters were born’
I correct her
‘I had my daughters first THEN I got married’
‘Whatever’ (she is not interested in the details of my personal life)
‘This is when you got divorced.
This is when you started working here’
There is one daisy left….
‘and this is when I die’ I say taking it from her.
I am joking of course….
A week later I am diagnosed with a life threatening illness.
The rest of the story.
Its early April 2009 and a beautiful sunny spring morning.
I am pushing my new yellow bicycle along the Merrion road towards Blackrock.
There are two reasons why I am pushing it (as opposed to cycling it)
One, I’m crying so much I can’t see where I am going.
And two, the radiologist I have just attended has warned me against cycling.
(In fact he is not one bit happy that I haven’t organised someone collect me.)
There is good reason for my tears too.
I have just had a suspicious lump in my groin biopsied.
But even without results, the outcome is already fairly certain.
A metastatic melanoma.
Having a fair idea of my diagnosis I want to grieve alone, to wail as loud as can.
To shout ‘Noooo, not me’.
I want to throw myself on the rocks beside the sea and graze my skin on the small innocent barnacles.
To draw blood.
To feel totally and utterly sorry for myself.
And I don’t want any of my family or friends witnessing my grief.
So ignoring the anxious faces looking at me from passing car windows and with much snivelling I wipe my dripping nose and eyes alternatively on my sleeve and the hem of my dress and push along.
Now there is only so much crying you can do and eventually I have no more tears to shed.
At this stage the local anaesthetic is beginning to wear off and I am developing a dull nagging ache.
Good! I want pain.
I am also fed up walking and even though I don’t care about strangers seeing me crying, I do care about the fact that they might think my newly acquired bike is just for show and that I’m not able to ride a bicycle at all or worse still that I don’t dare to cycle it on such a busy road.
So looking furtively behind me (I am still close to the hospital) I put my left foot on the left pedal and scoot off with my right one.
But it isn’t the sharp pain that stops me threading my right foot over the bar and onto the other pedal.
There may be butterflies!
Something catches my eye.
Something fluttering in the nearby Hebe bush.
I hop off the bike mid mount and hobble over for a closer look through bleary red and swollen eyes.
A dozen or more blue butterflies are feeding on the purple Hebe flowers of a large bush growing on the side of the road.
I stand and watch them, amazed not only at their fragile beauty but that I cycle this route at least three times a week and have never noticed them before.
It struck me then that no matter what is happening in my life, other lives would continue on around me as usual.
I am not so important after all.
With a small glimmer of hope I hop on my bicycle and cycle down through Blackrock village towards the sea.
Dolphins in the bay.
The road through Blackrock is a busy one but I am fearless.
After all I am probably going to die shortly anyway.
I remember a fisherman in the west once told me that even though he couldn’t swim he wouldn’t wear a life jacket.
If his boat went down he wanted to go with it!
So I think if i’m going to die, what better way than off my bicycle.
But I get through the village without mishap and after turning left I follow the road as it runs parallel to the sea.
An RTE van passes, giving wide berth to the crazy woman wobbling along (it is hard to pedal evenly with a thick dressing in the way)
‘I hope he realises how lucky he is to be alive and well and going about his daily business with no concerns’ I think crossly.
I pass two girls chatting. One stops and throwing back her head gives a bellow of laughter at something the other has said.
I am incensed.
How dare they take life so frivolously.
I cycle faster, pushing against the increasing pain.
I turn left again over the railway bridge, past the martello tower and am down at the sea at last.
I see the van parked beside the green.
The RTE camera man is setting up a camera on a tripod and and pointing it out to sea
I follow the line of the camera and that’s when I see them.
A pod of dolphins.
Many many of them.
They are swimming in wide circles, leaping out of the water every now and again, the sun flashing blindingly off their wet backs.
I lean the yellow bike on its stand and limp across the grass for a closer look and somewhere to sit (my thigh is now throbbing painfully)
The only seat is already occupied by an elderly man but there are plenty of large rocks so I aim for them.
But as I pass he turns towards me and sliding over pats the space beside him.
I sit beside him nodding my thanks and hoping he wont try to strike up a conversation.
I can feel him looking at me curiously but he says nothing.
The camera man, focusing on his leaping jumping target, has not given any indication of our presence.
The fact that we three strangers are in such close proximity without a word between us would normally make me feel uncomfortable and I would have to make some remark to break the silence.
But I feel no need today in fact I feel extremely calm.
The rhythmic sound of the waves drowns out the distance noise of traffic and I am only aware of that and the sounds of our breathing as we focus on the those leaping splashing forms in the bay
“I’ve lived here all my life and I’ll be 90 next week”
The elderly man is speaking as though to himself.
He doesn’t wait for my reply but continues, shaking his head as though in disbelief. “but in all my years I have never seen dolphins this early in the bay nor so many”
He turns to me
‘Did you know that dolphins symbolise protection, hope, some would even say rebirth?’ He takes my look of amazement for a smirk.
‘Ha’ he smiles ‘Bet you didn’t think I would be into that sort of malarkey. My wife used to laugh at me. ‘Arty farty” She called it.
Before I can reply that I am not laughing at him but am so grateful for his words, the camera man turns to invite us to watch the dolphins through the lens.
If he recognises the wild women wobbling dangerously he has passed a few moments before he is polite enough not to mention it.
I turn to the elderly man. He was here first.
‘Ah no you go on love’ He stays sitting
So I stand beside the camera man and look through camera as he zooms the lens in on them.
They are swimming in tighter circles now moving nearer our side of the bay.
As I watch one leaps with a mighty push clearing the water and as though in slow motion its body twists and spirals upwards.
Then it straightens and appears to be suspended for a few seconds before slapping back into the water.
I suddenly remember the blue butterflies so when I return to the seat I ask my new friend about them.
‘Blue butterflies’ he replies without hesitating or looking surprised at my question ‘are a sign of healing!’
He looks at me with sudden concern “are you all right? You look very pale”.
‘I’m fine’ I say ‘In fact I have rarely felt better’.
He doesn’t look convinced so to prove it I leap onto the yellow bike and waving a goodbye to him and the RTE man I cycle up the hill and home.
Though this is a true story without embellishment when I read back over it I can’t think why anyone would believe it.
It was almost fairy-tale-like in its happening.
But happen it did and it was the moment that I knew everything was going to be ok and that I was going to survive.