Altered perceptions

As I walked to work this morning, I looked by my left shoulder at the low winter sun haloed behind a solid wall of pearly cloud. My gaze lingered on it. It was a pretty sight, and there was something almost classically symmetrical about it. It was cold. Glove weather, I thought as I pulled a pair of cotton gloves on. The cold stung my face, and it seemed the coldest it had been yet this year. I pulled my coat close to me and went the same way as I did every day. I listened to my iPhone and cast sleepy looks at the familiar pedestrians heading towards the train or tram or school. I said my hellos at work, booted up my PC, checked my email, and then went across the road to get my coffee. For all the small variations, this has been the pattern for months on end. Everyone has a pattern.

Sometimes the pattern becomes disrupted. It needn’t necessarily be something within it that changes – the way to work, a different coffee shop, etc. Sometimes the change is within you so that you find yourself perhaps seeing things differently or perhaps seeing what your eyes had previously slipped by. It’s not that there is a sudden fascination in these things; rather, something has been shifted – been given cause to shift – by other things. For me, those other things right now relate to my mother. Late yesterday afternoon, she saw her specialist to get the results of the tests she had last week. It was meant to become a lot clearer. This was the drum-roll moment, so we thought when we would discover how serious the cancer was and what the prognosis is.

We got little of that. I wasn’t there, unfortunately, and so I only have second-hand reports from those who were. Most of the information was relayed in dribs and drabs, and much of what has been reported to me seems puzzling and sometimes contradictory. Right now, we have no clear idea of what the situation is.

I don’t know if Mum forgot the important stuff or didn’t ask the right questions; or if the doctor was deliberately opaque, as they are apt to be, in matters of life and death. It is frustrating and inconclusive when we hoped to get something more definite, even if it was to be bad. It’s the unknowns that drag you down ultimately, but then I guess for all of modern science, there are still variables and contingencies that add up to a lot of scientific unknowns. Something like this, a doctor doesn’t want to commit too much lest he raises hopes falsely or dashes them. It isn’t an exact science, we know that, but I would like to have the boundaries marked: best case, worst case, most likely.

In all of this is a personal experience. Over the journey, I know of seven family members who have had cancer. That history informs your thinking and your expectations. I try to guard against that: every case is different, after all. Still, in my experience, the score-line reads 7 zip to cancer. In every instance, it has been relatively quick, if rarely pretty. And so potentially, I believe the worst because that is my experience. It’ll get you every time.

I’ve read a lot online, and whilst it has been informative, it has also been frustrating. There are clear questions I would like to ask so that I could make my own assessment at the very least. I regret now not having joined mum yesterday, but she said she had it covered. I’ll be there next week when she visits the oncologist.

So, what do we know? When asked, the doctor said her cancer was ‘advanced’ – what stage that is, I don’t know. There are two tumours. A smaller one in her bowel and another about the size of a golf ball in the lining of her stomach. That poses the question as to what the primary cancer is. And whether that means her cancer has metastasised, which would be bad news. According to mum, he wants to treat her with 3 months of daily radiotherapy and weekly lots of chemo. It doesn’t sound fun, but he told mum that it won’t be too intrusive. At the end of 3 months, they’ll make a call on surgery, which is the last resort given the invasive nature of it and the consequences. When asked for a prognosis, he said it depended on the person: that one person might die next week and another go on indefinitely. It was a frustratingly enigmatic response. Most tellingly, perhaps he said on parting that she should get her affairs in order. That’s sensible advice and maybe no more than that; it may also be an indication of things to come.

We’ll know more when we meet with the oncologist next week. I’ll be asking all these questions then and hoping for something more definite. I expect he’ll be more forthcoming as he’ll be running the show from here on in. For now, after the initial shock, you settle into a kind of accepting nether land. You wonder, you hope, but in the absence of anything definite, you try and keep an open mind. Still, the mind shuttles backwards and forwards of its own accord and alters ever so subtly your perception of the world around you.

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