After two scares and a sleuth of health issues, I’ve finally embraced the fact that dying isn’t the worst thing out there.
I’ve always been petrified of dying. There was a period in my life where it felt like family members were dropping off like flies, and so the thought of my passing away, scared the life out of me. I was that child that, for a while, played it safe. I saw terrors in table edges and perils in plastic bags.
Flash forward a decade or so later and, as with everything, this fear had become boxed away with all my childhood toys. Travelling, exploring, the general hubbub of cosmopolitan living, led me out of my comfort zone and banished the fears I’d once held so close to my identity. So, by the time I reached my mid 20s, charged with the blissful ignorance of youth, I felt invincible.
I’d almost forgotten the anxiety that came with it all, till I sat in that hospital room and my doctor mouthed the word – growth. For a while, I’d felt ‘off’. I lost my appetite and had been all over the place mentally, but couldn’t pin down the reason for it all. I blamed it on my big move back to London to study for my Masters; I blamed it on the stress of the messy breakdown of my six year relationship; I blamed it on the fact that close to my thirties, I’d sort of ‘lost my way’ and didn’t know which direction my life was going. But, after spending a week in agony, constantly breaking out in cold sweats and trying to push through my university lectures, and a hold a full time job, I’d decided to see my GP. She recommended a full checkup, which led me to that cold, lifeless hospital room.
I just stared at the floor.
In some twisted way, I blamed myself. I deserved it. As the doctor spoke about all the tests they’d run and mouthed to me some other information that I’d long since forgotten, I ran through my diet. I know it sounds silly, but in my mind, I tried to think back to what I’d eaten that could have caused this. Or perhaps it was the fact that I hadn’t switched to organic shampoo? Was it because I sometimes binged on non-gluten free foods, even though I was a long-suffering celiac? I’d watched as my aunt, vibrant, vivacious and beautiful as she was, succumbed to skin cancer and imagined myself going the same way. Day by day, losing a piece of myself, while something strange and alien drained away my life force, till I was gone. All my fears had been realised and something inside me broke.
“They’d have to do a biopsy and run more tests,”
“I’d have to visit the MacMillan Cancer Centre and see a specialist”.
The list went on, but in my morbid, twisted, little mind, I was already good as dead. Call me a hypochondriac if you must, but my biggest fear was unfolding right before my eyes and I’d already given up. People talk of beating cancer or fighting cancer as if it’s a ‘thing’ you can attack, subdue or box, they very rarely talk about what happens to you – to your mind. Mine was a mess. If everything can be broken down to fight or flight, I’d abandoned ship and was already half way around the world with a new identity and a fake moustache.
I spent the next three weeks, hiding the news from my friends and family but slowly breaking down inside. In moments of lucidity, away from my self-imposed mourning, I’d imagine all the things I would do, if it turned out that the growths were all benign. I made promises to God, promises to myself that I’d take life by the horns and never waste another day, if I could only live to see another year.
I must have gone through all the stages of grief – and back – because defeatism gave way to anger, grief to shock and denial. Eventually all I had was hope. Hope that my story wasn’t over.
Eventually after being prodded and poked more times than a pin cushion at a seamstress’ shop, it turned out my growths were benign. I’d had three, but none of them fatal. Lucky me. I could live to write another day.
People suggested that I get a tattoo or go skydiving, or do something drastic to commemorate this period of my life. I went to the park. Walking barefoot in Epping on a dreary Wednesday afternoon was all the celebration I needed. My blinkers were off. I’d lived through what was my greatest fear and found that even though I’d handled it badly, I still carried on. It was OK to fail, fine to feel down, perfectly normal to give up, because life simply goes on.
I’m sorry that I don’t have any revolutionary anecdote for you but that’s what I’ve learned. And though it may seem innocuous now, it has grounded me in such a way that nothing else has in my life.
I’m not afraid anymore.
So now, even now, after everything that I’ve been through in the last year, my brain has somehow managed to rewire itself – I’m invincible.
Zipporah Gene is a freelance journalist, writer, and self-professed frequent stuffer of face. When she’s not writing for various magazines and newspapers, she’s on: shedoesliving.com