People kept saying I was brave.. I fought the desire to laugh each time it was said. I felt far from brave. I was scared. I was terrified. I was holding my breath to see if I could even survive the journey I was forced to walk……Zoe Clark-Coates
Don’t you hate that word journey, when it’s said in the context of a hardship you’re going through? You might not, but I do. A journey is something I CHOOSE to take. A journey is a holiday, or it’s a change of lifestyle. It’s setting out to understand yourself or to be a more spiritual or better person. It is not facing horrible, life changing events which leave you scarred, mentally and/or physically. It is not undertaking the fight against cancer. Not for me anyway.
Well, today IS the day I face surgery. Seven weeks and two days ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer (or the bleep as I prefer to call it). The diagnosis came on my angel daughter’s birthday which came with mixed feelings. I would swing between saying it was a sign from her that I’ve faced worse, so I knew I could go on and then thinking it was her way of saying it was time for me to be with her in heaven. I was terrified.
Brave is the other word I hate. All of my life I’ve heard people say “you are so brave, look at what you’ve been through”. I don’t believe for one moment that I’m brave. I had no choice to walk this path in life. Yes, I could have left and not done it, but where would that have left my sons? No, I had very few choices but to keep going on was not really one of them. When you have children, they matter more than you do yourself. That’s the life of a parent. I had no choice.
And today, I have no choice either, so here I am ready for surgery. Both of my breasts will be reduced right down. I’m coming down roughly 7 cup sizes. I am very large breasted so I will still be left with some breasts but compared to what I’ve had all my life, I will feel like there is nothing there. It’s a scary prospect. Not just facing surgery. That is of course scary, but knowing that when I leave hospital in a few days, my whole body shape is changed. My silhouette that I’ve walked around with since puberty hit, will be vastly different. Yes, I’ve put weight on over the years but my actual shape has stayed exactly the same, it’s just got bigger. It will change the way I dress, the way I walk, the way I stand and the way I look. I am terrified of both the surgery, the radiation therapy that will follow it and the way it will change me, both mentally and physically.
These last seven weeks have been downright terrifying and without the holistic care of all the people who are part of the medical and mental health team and the love of my children and a few incredible friends, I don’t think I would be quite as together as I currently am. I’ve been really shocked at how few people have actually offered any emotional support. I know I shouldn’t be shocked but I have been.
Very few family have even bothered to acknowledge this bleep in my life and I’ll tell you, I have felt very alone and unloved. I don’t want to hear the excuses that they don’t know what to say. That is the poorest excuse in the world. You don’t have to have the right thing to say, just say something. Even if it’s just “I’m thinking of you”. It’s better than pretending you knew nothing. That is hurtful.
Yes, I have chosen to live a quiet life but to feel so alone when you’re facing your mortality is not a nice place to be. And I’ve had to face up to whether people not caring is a reflection on me or on them. I guess I still don’t know the answer to that one. But I certainly won’t be making myself as available to people as I have in the past. Family and friendships are two way streets. And just because a person seems strong or “brave”, doesn’t mean they don’t need emotional support.
I can’t thank those few wonderful people who have been there throughout these last seven weeks. Those who have phoned for a chat every few days to make sure I’m okay and have seen through the bravado. Those who have said “come join us for lunch today”. Or have met me at the movies when I needed distraction. Those who have driven me to appointments when my nerves were too shot to drive myself. And those who offered to drop everything to come up 1000 km’s to make sure there is someone with me for the next few weeks when I’m recovering at home.
And of course, the loves of my life, my kids. My sons, daughters in law and my surrogate daughter Kirsty, have put aside their own fears and been there for me unconditionally. They’ve driven me to appointments, they’ve sat with me while specialists talked about what was happening and have taken it all in when I couldn’t. They’ve spent quiet time at home just to keep me company and sat in while procedures were being done so I didn’t have to face it all alone. All of them have stepped out of their comfort zone and in doing so have filled me with strength to keep going when I just really want to curl up in a ball and make the world go away.
And of course, my two gorgeous girls Amelia and Lucy who have made me laugh and filled me with visions of growing old and watching them grow up. There is so much to fight for. And fight I intend to do.
There is something everyone CAN do to make this fight easier for everyone who is unfortunate enough to have to face it. That is donate to a cancer foundation. The work they do in supporting patients is amazing let alone the technology and the research that is happening to beat this stinking bleep forever.
My son is raising funds for the National Breast Cancer Foundation by going pink for a week. If you saw my son you’d know why this is going to be funny. Stu is a bloke. A bloke’s bloke in fact. So to be wearing pink for a week and having his hair dyed (not just a temporary colour) pink is a big thing. He’s doing it because he’s grateful that a free mammogram picked this up and because I’m going to live as a result of getting some of the best treatment in the world for free. He’s doing it because he has a wife and a daughter who may never have to go through this if there is a cure finally found. He’s doing it because he knows that without funds, that cure may never be found. It’s vital that we continue doing the work needed to find it.
If you’d like to support the NBCF please go to Stuart’s Go Pink Page and make a donation. If everyone just donated $2, it would make a huge difference. To those that have already donated, thank you, thank you, thank you. You are helping rid this world of the insidious, evil homewrecker that is cancer.
I’ll be back writing and creating art the moment I’m able to but in the meantime, tell someone you love them. Trust me it matters. The “I love you’s” I’ve heard over the last few weeks have helped me face this with dignity, if not bravery.
Happy healing……Livvy xxxx