Late last year I went to my GP and discussed with him how I could go about being screened for any possibilities of having cancer in the future. You've heard of the forms you can fill in which then get sent back to genetic research experts who calculate your chances? Well, it was one of those. The people in the correct department obviously felt that I could be a risk as they agreed and sent a form out for me to fill in and return within two-three months.
It's still sat in my kitchen, not filled in.
You're probably thinking that it's daft isn't it? Just fill in the form and send it off; forewarned is forearmed of course. And I do like to be prepared for the unknown so it makes perfect sense to fill it all in and find out if I could be susceptible to developing cancer in the future.
Yet I can't fill it in. It is a ridiculously complicated form that I need to find out dates etc. for all incidences of cancer in my family, and there's been a lot of them. All of my grandparents died of cancer and my maternal grandparents' siblings have died of it. Pancreatic, breast, stomach, oesophageal; you name it, they've had.
My dad has had cancer three times in the past eight years; bowel, liver and lung. The most recent was in March.
My sister has spent the past eleven months battling an aggressive form of breast cancer.
Cancer is raw.
Cancer is debilitating.
Cancer reaches wide through a family, ripping at the hearts and guts of family members, the uncertainty, the fear of the unknown and unpredictable.
What's caused it?
Why him? Again?
Why her?! She's never put rubbish in her body, she is the picture of health. Why? When? How long? Will it go? Will it come back? Why didn't I treasure our times together more in the past? Did we need to have that argument? Does it matter now? What about that time when I said that thing?
The overwhelming and gutwrenching moments grasp you when you don't expect it. Singing in the shower and suddenly you realise that's not water, but tears streaming down your face and you can't breathe or stand up. Driving along in the car talking to your child who asks if his aunty is still having the nasty medicine which makes her tired and you have to fight the urge to pull over to the side of the road and vomit through the cold fear which has just gripped your heart. Holding your mum who is sobbing about the injustice of the situation. It is astonishingly powerful and all encompassing.
Yet you paint on a smile and keep your chin up. Take your sister to the supermarket and give her the trolley to lean on so she can stand upright. Invite your parents over for a meal so you can create a memory. Go into work and teach how to use adverbs. Mark thirty books. Put up a display. Smile in the staffroom. Weep in the toilet.
And now they've both had an all clear. No further treatment needed for my dad. Ten years of medication for my sister. They're both still here and every day is another day and another memory and a blessing. I am thankful for this.
That's why I can't fill that form in. Not at the moment.
Do I find out that yes, I may be in danger of developing cancer? And then I spend the rest of my life with that hanging over my head. Every cough or cold, every ache or pain, every lump or bump, every blood test; is this it? Is this the day when I find out I have cancer? Or do I find out that actually there's no chance of it, and then I ignore the tell-tale signs because it couldn't possibly be that! The form said I'd be fine!
I am not burying my head in the sand. I am living my life one day at a time, the best way that I know of at the moment. One foot in front of the other, smile when I can, breathe when my lungs remember to, engage my mouth to say the right things and nod sincerely at others. Take a note of any illness, weigh it up sensibly and visit the doctor if it's worrying me.