Friday, 18 November 2016

Seeing is believing. A desire to personify my cancer

As a ‘visual’ person I like to see things. Ideally I like to touch them. It makes things real to me, and the more my senses are stimulated through colour, touch, smell, taste, etc the better my understanding and memory is of any experience or fact. I suspect I’m not alone in feeling like this.

One of my issues with cancer is that is doesn’t feel real. Sensory evidence has been scarce. There were fleeting, intense abdominal pains that fateful weekend in October. I now have a laparoscopic scar and stoma bag as evidence of an operation…but what of the cancer itself?

Clearly those in the medical profession, those ‘in the club’ have seen it; I had an X-ray, CT scans, a physical tumour. There are now physical slides buried in a pathology lab somewhere, slivers of my cancer dissected and prepared for microscopic review by the experts.

Only none of this has been shared with me, other than orally, and there seems to be a reluctance to do so.

So cancer feels to me like a faceless foe. People talk of fighting, and beating cancer, but how can you fight what you cannot comprehend or see? At some point soon my fight will involve chemo; transparent, toxic and potent fluids committed to fighting for me. It is likely there will then be some physical symptoms and signs of the fight within; exhaustion, nausea, etc to name some of the milder side effects as these invisible fluids wage war on cells, healthy or otherwise, that I cannot conceive, see or comprehend. A truly bizarre scenario.

All of this ‘invisibility’ is beginning to nag at me psychologically. At some point I will perhaps get pushy and demands sight of my own results, but for now I’m trying to be likeable and to ‘play the game.’

Those suffering depression often speak of the ‘black dog.’ Sometimes it’s not a dog but another animal. Some give their animal a name, they draw it, they personify it. This is a known technique to help some people deal with and manage their depression. Another condition that you can neither touch nor see.

I have therefore decided to give my cancer its own physical face.


I haven’t quite settled on a name yet, but this creature is now (in my world) the physical embodiment of my cancer and my fight against it. Huge disclaimer. This is in fact a jellyfish hat, probably best suited to my ever-expanding fancy-dress collection. He looks nothing like a cancer cell or indeed anything medical, but I was drawn to him. In my head is it definitely a ‘him.’ (Channelling my inner feminist)

Until named (very open to suggestions here?) I’m going to call him, Grim.

Grim is not a proper name, but it’s a good description of how I feel about cancer. I don’t like having cancer, therefore I don’t like Grim. The good thing about Grim is that I can see him, I can feel him. If I want to I can shout at him, punch him, kick him across the room, throw him out the window, cry at him…and maybe, just maybe, one day I will be able to escort him to the bonfire and say goodbye to him forever. But that day exists only a shimmering mirage at the moment.

For now, Grim is going to be living in my house. Owing to the nature of toddlers and their curiousity I suspect Grim is going to go walkabouts and surprise me by appearing in random places. But that’s ok. The nature of cancer is that the emotions and awareness of this often unseen condition leap up to ambush you at unexpected moments. You think you’re doing fine, you’re functioning semi-normally, you’re distracted putting the kids coats and shoes on then ‘Wham.’ A Macmillan book on the hall table is an unwelcome reminder of my diagnosis.

So it will be with Grim. Perhaps he’ll emerge from under the kitchen table one morning at breakfast perched on my son’s head? Maybe he’ll pop up in the bathroom during my morning shower as a hand puppet? Or perhaps he’ll be brought to the front door by my faithful, present-bringing spaniel when I return from a shopping trip. For now, he’s going to be an omnipresent character in my household, the physical embodiment of my cancer.

Oddly the fact that I can see him and touch him makes me happier. Grim makes me more at peace with my cancer and the (currently) verbal-only fight which has yet to begin physically.


So I say, welcome Grim. Let the battle commence.

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