Someone asked me recently what it felt like. She meant to have cancer. I said a few words – terrifying, devastating, frightening – but I don’t think she really got it.
I’ve been thinking about how to describe it. Maybe this helps.
Imagine your life as like a long, wide, gently flowing river. Sometimes it flows slowly and smoothly. Other times the flow gathers apace and life gets quite exciting. At times the river gets a bit choppy and you bump along for a while. It may be uncomfortable, or scary or even dangerous but the river generally becomes calm again.
Then you have to go to the doctor, so you paddle over to the riverbank, feeling a bit apprehensive. But it will be ok, you think, you’ve been here before. He’ll say it’s nothing.
But then he doesn’t, and you have to paddle over to the far shore, against the current, for tests. But it will be ok, you think, because you’ve been there before as well. And even if it’s bad news, well, you’ll deal with it.
But then you get the news and it’s so much worse than you could possibly have imagined and the river takes your kayak and smashes it into rocks and splits it in two.
You are thrown into the rapids, hitting rocks and tree branches. Your foot gets caught in something under the water, but you make it back to the surface.
The river takes you and you can only just keep your head above the water. You keep hitting rocks and you’re getting so, so tired. Your foot gets caught on something under the water again and you think, maybe I’ll just stay down here, and not fight to get back to the surface for air, because this is too hard.
But somehow you make it back to the surface and you swim and swim, against the current, but you seem to get nowhere and you’re fucking exhausted. But now you know you just have to keep swimming.
That’s a bit what it’s like. But also nothing like it.