I was sat relaxing in a lovely hot bath last night after a tough day at work looking at my body, which is now scarred to serve as a permanent reminder of the cancer. There are the six recent incisions necessary to insert my new extra-anatomic stents which are still red and only just healed, the two paler core biopsy scars in my left upper quadrant, several holes in my flanks from the multiple nephrostomies and the most visible scar from the removal of my Hickman line. I know it’s silly but I cannot help feeling like damaged goods about to exceed my best-before in the foreseeable future. The wonderful Helen Fawkes, a BBC journalist and ovarian cancer sufferer recently blogged about ‘having an expiration date’. I have been thinking about this a great deal.
The 2nd January was a wonderful date in our family as it marked the arrival of my gorgeous nephew. He is so perfect and I am certainly the doting, proud Aunty. There is however this bittersweet undertone that I am not going to see the little man grow up into the self-assured, intelligent and successful person that I know he is going to be, all because of my damned expiry date. I guess I just have to squeeze as many visits in now for cuddles while I have the opportunity. I have nearly finished making him a book all about my life with lots of photos and stories. This has been an extremely tear jerking exercise but I want him to know a little about his Aunty Kate and have something to remember me by.
The birth of Jacob has also highlighted my infertility. Not that I would ever want to bring a child into this situation and not that I could as I am now a fully blown menopausal woman, but I feel the natural broodiness that most women feel around brand new babies and am no different in that respect. It might sound a little selfish but I would have liked to have a family. This is not something that has particularly distressed me before, but the recent events have made me feel sad and disappointed deep down inside. I am never going to give my parents Grandchildren, but I guess at least my brother has. The disappointments of a limited life expectancy extend into my professional life too. It is unrealistic to think that I will ever make it to be a Consultant now although this has been my ambition since setting out at University all those years ago.
Perhaps my main worry for when I do reach my expiry date is how Chris is going to cope. He is not good at being by himself and I cannot imagine how tough the loneliness in that situation would be. Although he has a supportive family and some brilliant friends I am really concerned about how he will tackle his grief. I’m not sure there is a good or healthy way to grieve properly, but I do worry that Chris’s grief may become self-destructive. I think he will be ‘fine’ initially with all the practicalities that need to be attended to after someone dies to keep him occupied, but it will be later when it hits him, when everyone thinks he has ‘got over it’.
There are some positives though. Knowing that I will not live into old age means I have no worries about developing the conditions my patients have such as dementia or disabling stroke disease. The recent doctor’s pension furore passed me by too – I could not seem to get agitated about something that was not going to affect me. I was sat at lunch recently with a group of Consultants and junior doctors who were bitching about the pension reforms and stopped the conversation in its tracks with “at least you’re going to be able to draw your pension”. Perhaps this was self-centred, but it did seem to make people stop and think. On the upside I am also no longer bound by the monetary ties the future has over us. If I want to go somewhere or do something then I do. I cannot take my money with me so may as well enjoy life now and create lovely memories for everyone else too. The expiry date also forced me into part-time work, which redressed my work-life balance and has really enhanced my quality of life with no more long on-call shifts to work in the hospital.
So having a likely expiry date is a strange place to be aged 31. It clearly has it downsides with emotional turmoil and disappointment, but there is a silver lining too if you look hard enough. I am reminded of a poem:
Death is nothing at all
I have only slipped away into the next room
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other
That we are still…
(Canon Henry Scott-Holland)