The Unwelcome Guest again

The Unwelcome Guest seems to have been taking up far too much of our time and attention recently what with hospital visits and appointments for this and pills and injections for that. Much as you’d like to, you can’t avoid it, though cancer’s not a subject you’d ever chose to become an expert on. But I know for many people it’s difficult to broach – is it rude to talk about it, or ruder to pretend it isn’t there? ‘I wanted to ask, but I didn’t like to,’ people say, and I guess you can’t blame them for feeling awkward.
Well, I suppose everyone’s different – some people don’t mind talking, some people just want to go away into a hole. But I think that most want to stay attached to reality during the process of treatment and that means being quite happy to talk. I don’t need anyone to put on one of those special serious voices: ‘Do tell me, my dear, how are you?’ I don’t want people to give me advice on what medication I should or shouldn’t be taking, or which alternate treatment will make me feel so much better. But there are all sorts of light neutral questions that you can use to broach the subject; How’s the chemo going? How much longer will it go on for? Have you got a nice consultant? What’s the worst thing about the treatment? What are you looking forward to doing most when it’s all over? How do you pass your time? If someone doesn’t want to talk, you’ll soon get the hint and change the subject. Otherwise, it’s just a very big elephant in the room.
People will tell you you’re ‘brave’ and that you’re ‘fighting’ cancer. But you have the treatment, and it’s probably better for everyone around if you can be upbeat about it, but bravery is something different and special, and doesn’t really come into it. Likewise there’s no ‘fight’ involved. It’s a fairly passive process. You have the treatment, and wait for the results. If they’re good you’re pleased, if they aren’t, you’re despondent, but ‘fighting’ involves something a bit more proactive. People talk of ‘winning’ or losing’ the fight against cancer, but really you just take what you’re given. Of course, if eating organic vegetables, or having alternate medicines, or praying, makes you feel a bit better, or more in control, that’s fine, but it’s the poisons coursing through your body that are actually doing the business.
I guess the worst thing is the boredom of not being yourself during the treatment. In my case I have a bad back, so I’m hobbling around weakly everywhere. Your brain sort of works – just enough to remind you that you still have one – but concentrated effort is a bit beyond you. But, I’m looking forward to a bit of normal life again – believe me, I shan’t take it for granted. At any rate, I might not be brave and I might not be fighting, but I’ll try to keep the door shut on the Unwelcome Guest for just as long as I possibly can.

11 thoughts on “The Unwelcome Guest again”

  1. Frances, thank you for the very useful guidance on suitable conversation openers. I will try to remember at least one of them when we next meet!!

  2. Thanks Frances. I know you and Richard love a good TV series. I think we’ve mentioned to you before Friday Night Lights. It doesn’t take much concentration and it will make you (oddly) fall in love with Texas. It might be some enjoyable relief between the horrid appointments, x

  3. Thank you for your thoughts so brilliantly expressed. I am sure that being able to acknowledge the accompanying feelings such as boredom is a good thing. Praying for you both.

  4. I don’t know when next we will meet, but thanks for the guidelines. You are much in my mind at the moment as I’m preparing a vignette on Christina Rossetti for a class I run at the Université du Temps Libre (a much nicer name than University of the Third Age!) in Orléans. I freely acknowledge plagiarism, and consulting Wikepedia.


  5. It was so good to have you and Richard at our house last week (the crowded table left little space for the unwelcome guest…). I thought it would amuse you to know that when I opened your “thank you” card it seemed as if the artist (I forget who it was, and have forgotten where I put the card for safe keeping!) might well have been inspired by that painting of an Italian street scene by your 12-year-old self, which appeared on an earlier blog. Love to you both, Sarah

  6. Oh I do know what you mean! One is the battleground, not the warrior…. and the return of something approaching ‘normal’ to be seriously anticipated – for me it was getting the bus into town… tiny- but I hadn’t been on public transport for 9 months… all them germs, pet! And I did take a box at the Theatre Royal, and sat there with a bag on my head, with three friends, and we drank wine – which tasted like guano – and watched ‘Noises Off’ – not a very good production (Old Vic) but you can’t really miss with Michael Frayn…

    Hope you’re still getting some amusment from daytime telly…!
    Lots of love

  7. You’re definitely still you, whether you feel like it or not. And you are being brave, whether you believe it or not.

    Love you and miss you loads and can’t wait to see you both soon.

    Oh and stop making me bloody cry. I’m going to be calling the NSPCC at this rate.

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