Mr Cool and I have spent a few months and a hunk of cash repairing an investment property that was left in quite a state by previous tenants. This week one of the jobs that needed doing was replacing some of the broken light fittings.
Late on a freezing wintery day I Googled light shops in my city and decided to drive to one of the shops out of town a bit. Normally I would go to the closest business to where I lived. But this afternoon, I felt compelled to try the one out of my way. So late in the day I took a drive to the light shop.
When I arrived, there were just two cars in the car park. As I locked my car, did up my jacket and adjusted my head scarf I noted how illuminatingly warm and inviting the shop looked from outside. It was just the second time in my thirty nine years that I have entered a light shop.
Amongst the sea of lights I could see a lone customer and a couple of staff standing at the counter.
As I slowly wove my way through the lights and approached the back of the shop I recognised the solitary customer as a fellow breast cancer sister who was diagnosed with breast cancer a month before me. She had a much better prognosis than me, a smaller tumour, slower grade, and less lymph node involvement. Our surgeries and treatments pretty much replicated each other, except she had a slightly shorter chemo regimen and a different cocktail of drugs. Her hair grew back luscious and thick.
In all of the time we have known each other, I have only met her in person twice. Our interactions were largely online in a breast cancer support group. Yet, here she was, standing at the counter in front of me in a light shop at 4:53pm on a Monday afternoon. A totally random encounter, between these final minutes of close of business day.
We embraced and quietly chatted about our present circumstances. Our conversation was rushed. We spoke at a million miles an hour. There was much to share in a small window of time. The shop was rapidly approaching closing time and we were both there to purchase lighting. The shopkeepers standing behind the counter would have seen hand gestures pointing towards our breasts as we discussed our double mastectomies and reconstructive surgeries. They would have overheard the terms diagnosis, ovaries, liver, exchange surgery, tumour markers. I remember a year ago, being wishful that my journey was as timely as hers, when she had her final exchange surgery in the private health system at a time when I was told I’d be waiting another fifteen months on the public list.
As the light shop employee researched prices of lights and ceiling fans in her computer, I wondered how much of our bizarre conversation she had heard.
As it turned out, this light shop did not stock what I wanted. They referred me to the light shop near where I lived.
Lately, I’ve been needing a bit of light in my life. I have been in a funk for a few months and depression has been following me in the dark halls of my house. It has been reaching out to me but has yet to make contact. It’s been hard to move forward with the acknowledgement of the permanent loss of my hair and the ongoing pelvic issues I have which are being surveilled with repeat transvaginal ultrasounds and blood tests. Just more and more intrusive tests for my mutant post treatment ovaries lay ahead, not to mention the ongoing pain.
This fear of the unknown is amplified with each succession of bad news we get about cancer choosing a new family member, or my continued disbelief at my friends battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I grapple and I grieve.
I am still in the midst of coming to terms with what happened to me and my family. Juggling young children. Going through the motions. Trying to hold onto and focus on the positive aspects of my life which are plenty; my partner, my kids, my incredible friends and family. Practising the notion of gratefulness as I continue to try to navigate my relationships, my marriage and my role as a mother. Trying to keep up with the effort it all takes. Trying desperately to keep the light in my life switched on.
Thankfully, I have had enough good sense and have returned to the blue chair in recent weeks. It has been ten months between visits and although the chair is the same, my new, youthful, spirited and shiney psychologist is providing me with some strategies to navigate some these dim perspectives.
But even after this, I’m still in limbo. I have retreated from the exercise which has held me in good stead for this entire journey. I have retreated from talking about how I feel, thinking about it, reflecting on it or even articulating it in writing. Hence the infrequent and rare blog posts. I’m over cancer, or the experience of having had cancer, or the helpless feeling of watching a friend continue to fight it, or learning a new loved one has been diagnosed. It’s causing my life lights to flicker. Threatening to smother and flatten me with impenetrable darkness.
Some days I am feeling like I am holding my breath waiting, just waiting for the cancer to come back. I feel like I’m not really living. Like I’m quietly sitting in the dark, with shallow breathes just waiting for the clock to tick past midnight.
In the chance meeting that occurred in the light shop, my friend said that that is exactly how she felt, intuitively feeling like it would come back.
And it did.
Today, she is over half way through chemo for stage IV disease to shrink and stabilise the secondary tumours they recently discovered growing in her liver while having tests for something else. She will never be cured of breast cancer and she is just thirty.
It is crazy that I would run into her by chance in a light shop at ten to five on this Monday afternoon. It’s also incredible that in our brief meeting, she would tell me to stop thinking about the cancer coming back because it just might. And what a waste of time all this thinking about fear of recurrence or progression would have been.
A true light bulb moment if ever there was.
P.S Thank you Coldplay for releasing a new album this year. You rock!
In the darkness before the dawn
In the swirling of the storm
When I’m rolling with the punches, and hope is gone
Leave a light, a light on.