I never thought that I would say it. It goes against pretty much everything I hold dear. But, between a world turned upside down from the fallout of the COVID crisis, to my own journey through the treacle-paved and elephant-strewn path of cancer, I have begun to appreciate a single facet of life more than I have ever done so before.
Just being ‘normal’.
Where the virus is concerned, we are each feeling its effects in different ways… and whether it is the lack of freedom, contact with loved ones, fear of contagion or the practical problems of lost jobs and home-schooling, few, I think, will be able to say their lives have not been altered by this microscopic bug. The changes have crept in or been imposed, bit by bit… it seems as if there are new regulations being made every day. The uncertainties and questions keep on coming and all we can do is work with them.
With cancer, the uncertainties are also there, but they take other forms. From the moment of that first collapse, that first test result or conversation with a doctor… however you find out about that diagnosis… your whole world is altered in ways you may need time you no longer have in which to realise and understand.
The initial reaction is personal and will be different for everyone. My immediate emotion was utter relief. Now I knew what I was dealing with. Not some nebulous nightmare, but a concrete condition that could be faced and addressed, both as an ’entity’ in itself, in terms of its fallout on everyday life, and in how I, personally, could and would come to terms with the whole thing.
The first and worst thing is telling those you love. Watching their hearts break and knowing there is nothing you can do to help ease that pain… except stick around as long as possible for them, so they can live with the idea for a while. It won’t actually help… not really, not at the end… but it gives you time to be together, to share moments and say the things often left unsaid… and that is a gift.
…at least in years when you are not kept locked away from each other by a damnable virus.
Then it is borne in upon you that your life is no longer your own. It is held by the medics who make their decisions based on clinical and practical needs, rather than on how any of that impacts on your family, personality or any other facet of your life. And you go along with that, accepting these new terms of engagement. Because you need the time for those you love.
Little by little, so much of the control you have over aspects of your life is leached away. You may feel as if you have much choice in how your life is unfolding. So, when something does come your way over which you have a choice, you appreciate it.
For months, I’ve had to rely on help to do some of the most basic chores around the house. This goes completely against the grain with me; I have always been pretty self-sufficient in that respect. So, being able to get down on my knees and wash the floor the other day was a triumph. Changing the bedsheets becomes a victory of massive proportions, eating freshly baked goodies an act of reckless and rebellious independence. Having enough of a voice, after weeks without, to be able make a phone call…
It is in the smallest of things that I begin to see the major lessons of this particular, double-pronged journey. Because, when you think about it, life is made up of the small things… the little, everyday normalities and their quirks that we simply accept until they are challenged or come under threat.
Globally, we are sharing an uncertain journey because of the virus and there are parallels with those who are also dealing with serious illness. If we can find small ‘normalities’ in our days, familiar moments that remind us who we are, what we do and why, then we can reclaim a semblance of control in a world that seems to have lost the plot. Not only are we reclaiming bits of normality, by doing so, we are also standing up and saying ’no’ to changes we do not wish to see… and facing tomorrow in a way that upholds our belief in the future.
One thing is certain… this too shall pass, one way or another, and I would like to hope that those still standing at the end will have the strength and courage to reshape the future with common sense and compassion.