I’m sitting in a meeting room at work. The minutes are passing by so slowly it feels like time has almost stopped completely. My heart is pounding, yet it seems to be going in slow motion too.
This afternoon I am going to hospital for a scan to discover what’s growing inside me, and how dangerous it could be.
And then I’ll have to wait for God knows how long to find out for sure.
All I can think about is what I’m going to say to my kids, my mum and dad, and my sister. My husband Alan already knows and he’s worried sick. The prospect of what this could bring for them seems - at this moment - worse than any outcome I may face. Do I tell them now, or wait for the results? Do I dare to think about worst case scenario? I imagine their concerned faces and I have to stop. One thing at a time.
I try to bring myself back to the work I’m here to talk about. Val arrives. She knows right away there’s something seriously wrong. She used to be my manager, and she knows me well. She listens quietly and calmly as I tell her what’s on my mind and her compassion comforts me. She encourages me to go. I feel more composed as I head off for the bus. I’m glad my meeting was with her today.
Now I’m lying waiting to go into the machine that will soon know what is going on. As the camera begins to rotate noisily, one of my favourite Foo Fighters songs comes on with a heavy beat, accompanied by the vibrations which grind through every bone in my body. I follow every word of the song in the hope it will distract me but it doesn’t. What if I’m one of the unlucky ones? Is it selfish to hope that I’ll be ok?
This was four years ago almost to the day.
It turned out that I was one of the lucky ones. I am eternally grateful.
It took a bloody long time to find out, and the time was an unexpected gift which has been a turning point in my life.
I had a growth the size of an orange in my belly. The surgery was scheduled for after our holiday in Cornwall, which was just a few days away, and only then would I know what we were dealing with.
When we arrived in beautiful Charlestown in a cosy holiday cottage overlooking the tall ships (in the harbour where Poldark is filmed), I felt myself letting go and was overcome with a sense of peace and being in the moment like I’d never felt before. Of course, the impending surgery was on my mind but there was absolutely nothing I could do about it, so I somehow felt able to ‘just be’ on holiday.
Most mornings I walked along the coast, climbing out of the stony harbour up through the sweet-scented summery hedges to a leafy green world of nature, vibrant summer blooms, hidden benches to enjoy a moment of solitude, and then the excited descent back into the village anticipating the day ahead and wondering if Alan and the kids would be up yet. Sneaking some scones back from Wreckers café and hoping we had some clotted cream and home-made jam left in the fridge.
There were many highlights and happy memories from that holiday, most of them with the four of us roaming around the coast in one of my favourite places on earth.
A particular experience that sticks in my mind, because it was different and special, was going to see Elbow live outdoors at the Eden project. I’ve never been to a gig on my own before, and I usually wouldn’t want to. But this was a moment-in-time thing. I was really taken with their song ‘One Day Like This’, and it kept popping up at significant moments. I felt that I wanted to stand under the stars and listen to this powerful piece of music, and soak up every sound and sensation.
It was breathtaking. The music was incredibly moving, stirring intense emotions that I’d been holding for almost a month now, and uplifting in the way it was performed. I felt totally alive, vibrant, grateful, present.
Seeing the biomes lit up in multicolour, the swallows and swifts swishing around the summer sky as the sun went down, enjoying laughter and singing around me, and a hint of stale beer amongst the aroma of tropical plants. Feeling every note moving through my body and singing at the top of my voice as if sending the words high into the sky.
When it was over and time to go home, I let out a deep breath and a voice inside me said “I’m going to be ok, whatever happens”.
When we came home, the surgery was delayed due to me having a temperature. Gowned up and everything – I was sent home. And in that time there was rapid growth which was a concern.
So I waited again, still not knowing the prognosis.
I will never forget the conversation with the surgeon the following morning, telling me the lump was benign, even though it had grown to twice the size it was before.
It was like the life I’d led before all this flashed before me. My outlook had changed forever, and this was a new beginning.
The feeling of elation as I told my family and friends, and immense gratitude for the love and care in the months that followed.
Most of all my husband Alan…a role reversal as I am more used to looking after him. He lifted me out of bed when I couldn’t do it by myself, and even washed my hair with such tenderness it was heavenly. And being able to express how much his love and support meant to me.
So my darkest days became my most enlightening…which is why I go back there for a reminder now and again.