I have lived with cancer for as long as I can remember. I was eight years old when it finally took my mother from me completely.
Cancer continued to pick away at my wider family, laying an aunt low to treatment here, killing an uncle there. It left my widowed father struggling to raise 3 daughters on his own and with an unhealthy paranoia over every lump and bump and skin discolouration that should rear its ugly head on his body.
Cancer also buried itself deep into my consciousness. It became part of my story. Perhaps the biggest part. A motherless little girl attracts a certain kind of pitying attention from friends and adults alike. I could never bear pity.
I remember one particular lunchtime at school – it must have been soon after my mother died, because I was still at my first school and I was only there for 6 more months – and my classmates were testing my grief. Some bright spark had come up with the theory that I welled up whenever the word ‘mother’ or ‘mum’ was mentioned. So our time in the dinner queue was spent with my 8 year old tormenters getting me to spin around to face them as they hurled the words at me repeatedly and inspected my face closely for signs of impending tears.
I bit those tears down and spun on my heels with a grin as wide and bright as a showgirl. Now my heart breaks for that little girl but back then my only thought was suppression for survival.
Being treated to such a masterclass in cruelty so early on made me learn quickly and really well. I became a world-class represser of untidy emotions. By the time I was an adult I had become so skilled at beating them into submission that even I didn’t really know what I was feeling any more. On the upside, no-one else did either and so no-one could hurt me. Or so the unexpressed but deeply-felt theory went.
Having had cancer shove its big, scary face right up and close into mine at such a young and formative age also made me react in a way opposite to my father. While he dogged his doctor with requests for ever-more checks, tests, scans and biopsies, I developed a deep distrust of the medical profession and a desire never to look cancer in the eyes again. So I retreated from their orbit.
Ask no questions and you’ll hear no bad news went this second, unexpressed mantra to live by.
Only it turns out that’s not actually true. It just means that you’ll hear the news later and that it will inevitably be worse.
Let’s just hope that I have copped on to myself in time and raised my questions before it was too late.
Results day minus 6.