Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Seizing the day

As I walked down the drive this afternoon I could feel the acorns crunching beneath my feet. It was sunny and there was still some warmth but just a hint of chill air plus that unmistakable and indefinable smell of autumn.

It had been the same the previous night. I’m still not sleeping because of my skin (thankfully I see a dermatologist next week although I am a little cynical about holding out too much hope) and because of that I was conscious of the fog horns going on all night. They were not loud and not very near and it was mainly sea fog but nevertheless this was yet another sign of the change of season.

Lying awake in melancholic mood I could not help fingering the swollen gland in my neck. I can’t pretend I don’t worry about “the signs of activity” on my PET scan. Waiting until I have a CT scan and possibly a needle biopsy is very difficult. I have faced the prospect of death a few times in the last few years so I ran through the plans for looking after my mother and my own affairs but to be honest I did an awful lot of tidying up my life before I went into hospital so I got bored with too much angst.

In the morning Raymond said that the gland was swollen because of infection and I felt a little silly and over dramatic - unEnglish in fact. This is because being British, not too much emotion is allowed. In some ways that is good because it avoids self-obsession and worrying unnecessarily but in other ways it doesn’t help. Once you have had cancer you know it can return. You can’t be complacent about infections or the smallest change in your body. Gradually you learn to bear a weight of anxiety which would be impossible when one was younger. In other words, you learn to live with cancer knowing that no plans can be too concrete but that there still must be plans. We have to have some hope even if it will be dashed and to realise that there can be happiness in every day however dark.

When I was younger I lived with certainty, a certainty which was removed with the death of my father when I was 17. Now I have learned that life is more subtle. On one hand we take delight in our daughter’s new career and on the other we share the experience of all other parents in a certain sadness that an era is over. I used to teach adolescents about the themes in Elizabethan and Stuart poetry where life was so uncertain that to make the most of their lives they learned to seize the day. Carpe Diem – a theme for autumn.

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