Jane Ballot

Being me in the world

Saturday 11th July

It’s always quite a surprise when something you are anticipating and can even feel turn out to be quite different, or almost the opposite.

Like today. It’s the middle of July, so you can reasonably expect that the weather will be chilly to cold, especially when there is a wind. Well, not this wind. I went for a run this morning and it was quite windy, but barely chilly to actually warm. The rest of the day turned out to be almost as warm as a reasonably cool Summer’s day, wind and all.

I’ll never forget the first time I experienced a Berg wind. It was in East London, which is known for its big winds. I was going down to the beach and, hearing the big wind blowing, expected to feel it cold on my body. It was really quite a shock to go round a corner out of the house and feel it actually warm. Quite a bonus, too.

The unexpected is sometimes surprisingly advantageous like that. It can, of course, also be uncomfortable, or even quite horrible.

The cancer thing is, of course, full of surprises – not the least of which is the finding of the actual disease/condition the first time. It’s like someone having secreted themselves in your house and just sitting there, slowly taking over more and more space without you being able to notice, at least not in the beginning. It doesn’t have the courtesy to announce its arrival, but colonises ever so slightly more and more until it is discovered.

Then war breaks out.

The depth and length of the war depends on many factors. Whether it is ever over is the question.

I read an account of a breast cancer survivor the other day, who used the phrase ‘in remission’, which I have come across a number of times over the years. In fact, before having cancer myself, I easily understood that a person either has cancer or is ‘in remission’, meaning, for me, the state of the cancer having been kept in abeyance, but sitting there patiently like some nasty invader just waiting for the correct conditions to return.

Actually, this was possibly my impression until Dale’s cancer. When he had had his surgery and chemo and was declared all clear, I think I specifically confronted the idea of being cancer-free. It really had not had any closeness and relevance for me before. With me, of course, it is completely relevant.

I don’t think of myself as being ‘in remission’. I am clear of cancer. Although I do have this nagging sense of ‘what if it happens to me again’ somewhere in my brain, I don’t have a picture of the disease having been warded off and simply sitting there waiting to return. I have a very clear sense that the horrible invader has been ousted and, in fact, soundly been sent packing.

I suppose it’s one of those things that there is a phrase that most people can relate to and it is useful to describe a situation. Just like most of us think of ‘cancer-death’, I think it’s a case of ‘having cancer’ or being ‘in remission’ if you had cancer. The reality is quite different.

It’s one of those ‘I know when I’ve actually been there’ situations, I think. It is true that we can only truly understand when the journey has been ours.

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