Well, I should have heard it but there I was, completely oblivious and sitting alone in the middle of the tracks. The station slowly emptied and that strange sound was becoming louder. There was no way it was a whistle. It must be somebody singing. After all, only last week I had been told with a smile, "There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it's not an oncoming train." Irony is really funny sometimes. Suddenly the station was empty, the tracks were rumbling, and that damn whistle was now completely deafening. Yet, there I still sat, all alone in the middle of the tracks with a stupid smile on my face.
The last few years have been hectic, stressful, insane and physically exhausting. Working on my computer science degree once both kids were in school full time seemed like a good idea at the time. I naively assumed that my time would belong to me. What a silly thought.
We were told when our son was three that he "just dipped into the autistic spectrum." In hindsight, I see that the specialist was being kind and was breaking the news to us in such a way that meant she wouldn't have to admit us to the psychiatric ward at the same time. Other people might look back and be resentful but I remember her fondly and appreciate her perceptiveness of human nature as well as her kindness.
If autism had to become a part of our lives, I'm grateful that we didn't know until after our daughter was born. We might have thought twice about having another child and a world without Lizzy would be a dull place indeed! She is beautiful, endearingly affectionate, and has a capacity for compassion that exceeds Ghandi. Above all, she is an absolute scream and keeps us in stitches a lot of the time.
Fast forward through the years and the 'me' time has been filled to the brim with appointments for my son. Despite our best efforts, his autism became more and more severe and there were never enough hours in the day.
The most difficult thing to explain to anyone who doesn't live our lives is the heart-breaking decision to send our son to a residential school. The deciding factor for us was the painful realisation that he simply was not and never would be happy in our home, despite our best efforts to change it into something that would bring him the happiness he should have.
After much scrutiny, a school was found. We would have him until September by which time I would be finished with my degree. Yes! I was on my final term!! (Time to step up and take over Microsoft!!) Although the remainder of the year would be difficult, it looked as if things were finally going to settle.
And so I went to the last meeting with my son's psychiatrist. He praised our dedication and love for my son. He told me that we had gone many years beyond the point where most other parents would have "thrown in the towel." (No matter, the guilt still remained.) And then, there it was, those final damning words: "Don't worry, Mrs. Barclay. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and it's not an oncoming train."
Fast forward another few days as I sank down into a bubble filled bath tub. It was here that I met another bump in the road. Well, actually a lump in the road but I prefer to call him 'Mr. Lumpy.' I rang the doctor's office the next day figuring it would be a waste of my time and hers. The doctor assured me that Mr. Lumpy was most likely a side effect of the anti-depressants which I have been on for years. (No surprises there really!) This meant Mr. Lumpy was harmless but a trip to the breast clinic was in order.
Fast forward another week where I walked into the new 'fast-track' breast clinic on my own. I didn't bring anyone with me except Mr. Lumpy. The waiting room was crowded with women. After a while, I realised that only half of them had appointments. The other half were supportive friends and relatives. An overwhelming sense of compassion came over me for these women who surely must have breast cancer. Why else would they have brought their friends? I had only brought Mr. Lumpy for company and he was completely harmless.
When it was my turn, the breast surgeon agreed that Mr. Lumpy looked harmless but took a needle biopsy to be certain. Being a 'fast-track' clinic, I was told to return in 30 minutes to get the results. I returned in less than 30 minutes and waited.
Patients who had had appointments after mine were being called in for their results. The waiting room was thinning out. The Great British Menu was on the TV and one of the chefs was preparing a chicken with a can of beans in the middle. An actual can of beans. I mean, not just beans, but the whole damn can! Sorry, but that's just lazy. Someone else was cooking lamb on a bed of hay. I remember laughing with another lady in the waiting room about the hay. Where did they get the hay from anyway? I mean, how did they know it was clean hay? Surely it didn't come from a barn?? Well, you never know. Some of these artsy-fartsy types might think it gave it 'authentic' flavour. Silly stuff really but we were all having a giggle.
And there I was, the only person left. It crossed my mind once or twice that this probably wasn't a good sign but it was more likely that they'd forgotten me. Right?? Train tracks anyone?? Whistle?? Yeah, cue the whistle. Dammit....Five minutes later my name was called.
Besides myself, there were three people in the room; the surgeon, the surgical nurse, and a breast cancer nurse. Not a good sign. The surgeon got straight to the point. "Much to my surprise, Mrs. Barclay, the biopsy revealed cancer."
Now you might think that most people would crumple to a hysterical heap on the floor at this point but I know how much treatment has improved over the years. The advertisements on television are constantly going on about an 80% survival rate. Although my grandmother died from breast cancer, she was diagnosed in 1975, medieval medicine in the world of cancer, so I wasn't scared yet. My thoughts at this point were that I would say goodbye to Mr. Lumpy via surgery, have some radiotherapy and be sent on my merry way.
Silly, silly me. In spite of the fact that the obstetricians referred to me as a senior mother when my first child was born (I was 34!)), I was suddenly young again. Well, too young for cancer anyway. And since I'm a spring chicken of 43, the treatment will be to remove Mr. Lumpy, followed by 6 months of chemotherapy, followed by radiation therapy, and possibly finished off by 5 years of pills. Well, yippee!!
If the word 'cancer' doesn't stop you in your tracks, the word 'chemotherapy' will. That's what stopped me. The thought of losing my hair (not my life, mind you) turned me stone cold sober. Silly really, but sometimes it's the small things that are the hardest to face.
"Are you sure about the chemotherapy?"
"Am I going to lose my hair???"
This conversation was followed by a few tears and some pathetic sniffling on my part. I then asked for a piece of paper and a pen to write everything down. Although you just know that there is no way you will ever forget this moment, there is no way you will remember all the details. Ah, the brain is a lovely thing, isn't it?
Calm discussion and explanation followed as I furiously scribbled down every word that was said. I did find time in the midst of all this to grill him about his surgical skills. Something along the lines of: "How long have you been doing this? How many of these procedures do you do a year?" Sorry but I'm not having some newbie surgeon use me for practice.
The breast cancer nurse brought me a library's worth of information and then went out to get a book for me to take home and read to my daughter. It was at this point that it occured to me again that I was going to lose my hair and hey, chemotherapy makes you vomit. (I don't know why but throwing up really upsets me and makes me cry like a big baby. Sheesh!!)
After few more tears and pitiful sniffling, the surgeon's nurse assured me how fantastic he was. She said he was the head of the department and he had treated her best friend the year before. Believe me when I say that was a valuable reference. Most of my working life was spent with doctors and there were a few that I would want working on me even if it wasn't their specialty. There were also a few who I wouldn't have let near me with Q-tip!
Life is about to change in a HUGE way but I have so much in my favour that it is unbelieveable. There are a few things that I would like to point out before anyone thinks I am feeling sorry for myself or that I expect sympathy:
1. If you think things can't get any worse, think again. If you've hit rock bottom, don't forget there is also six feet under! Even in my current situation, I have things in my life that I wouldn't trade for anything. Throughout my life, any time that I ever started to feel too sorry for myself, I always seemed to come across someone whose situation made mine look like Sesame Street.
2. I am still happy, no matter what. Sympathy doesn't help but empathy does. My husband is an unbelieveably fantastic man and I couldn't have dreamed of better children. Friends who care and are laughing with me are worth their weight in platinum.
3. There is still no God. I have had any number of people (mostly friends of my parents) saying that they are praying for me and putting me on prayer lists. I haven't said anything about my atheism because I know they are well meaning and it gives them comfort. But all credit to my survival is down to myself, my surgeon and modern medicine. If science ever finds evidence for God, I would definitely want to meet him so I could bitch slap him right up and down the street! ;-)
4. This whole thing is really, really kind of funny. I do have a fantastic sense of humour and you just couldn't write this stuff. Hey, chemo will make me skinny and maybe I'll get a new set of perky breasts out of the whole ordeal.
5. While I do have a great sense of humour, I will NOT be laughing about the baldness, DAMMIT!!!
I'm not sure why I've decided to blog on this other than it feels pretty good to get it all down on paper (well ok, pixels). Oh yeah, and I know that no one here is gonna be putting me on a prayer list!! If you've managed to read this far, do you think you could answer one question for me??
Why oh why couldn't I have had ass cancer instead? I mean, really! I've got two gargantuan tumors on my ass (probably 20 pounds each) which I would have been thrilled to say goodbye to.