Breast Cancer, Blue Skies and Me

During the pandemic, the first lockdown, I took to writing short stories and it involved a girl/woman in a pink jumper, her observing the world and the world observing her.  A girl and her dog out walking. This girl is me. Little did I know that Lockdown 2 would see the girl taking centre stage in the story.  Enter breast cancer stage right. 

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on the 14th December 2020 and its fair to say it rocked my world. I’d had a biopsy, a recall, another biopsy and I knew, before they said it, when sitting in my Stay At Home office, my hair wet, my wife next to me, it was cancer but it still was a total shock, a story I wanted to undo.   I’d joked about it, saying this is not my story, not my department, this lift needs to go up to another floor, I’m not getting out. But out I had to get.

I experienced blind panic (not sure that is the word to use now) but it was panic that meant I couldn’t see.  I stood one day looking at the grill, and couldn’t think how to turn it on.  I was driving the car at night and I couldn’t figure out the full beam. 

I’ve learnt that I can’t know things, don’t want to read or google or be told.  I’m a writer, that researches and searches for knowledge. But in this moment knowledge isn’t power to me, it’s the opposite, for now.

At the beginning, which now feels like a beginning, I felt total terror, all the time. It was like someone kept jumping out at me, from cupboards and corners.  I felt total terror and fear.  When I was inside the MRI between Christmas and New Year, it felt like I was lying under or inside the Tyne Bridge, with lots of people hammering and screaming at me.  I tried desperately to hear my chosen music, to hear the stories told by Dolly Parton, but she was like a whisper.  So I conjured up my wife and she came inside the tube (in my imagination), and she lay with me as if we were on the beach in Lesvos.  I also channelled others that I know are praying for me (I’m on board for prayers).  

I started to understand that I needed blue skies, to think of ice cream, sand, sea, moons and to walk under the stars. At night I needed/need candles and roaring fires, Christmas.

‘Telling People’ was the first title of this blog, as telling our son, family and chosen family nearly broke me.  But it was and is better for me to tell, that people know, as I don’t step through life alone, my strength comes from being connected, part of a community and family and for me that’s about sharing the load, it helps. 

I have had the honour to work with 100’s of groups over the past 22yrs with Open Clasp. Women who come together, share, support and grow together.

As I was going through the tests and then results, I was working on three projects.  And at times it was a challenge, I’m a crier. That has been something else I’ve learnt; I cry all the time.  If I were to write the story of me, in this moment I would want to write how strong I was, that I reassured others, had it all in perspective but I didn’t, so I panicked a lot and cried, and still do, but not as much. 

I explain this, that I am a crier, when talking with the medical experts, friends, work colleagues and family.  I explain I can’t talk on the phone, that I am alright with text, but I can’t call or have them call me.  I learnt that telling people on text was a gift for me, maybe not for those on the receiving end but for me, a gift.    

The Groups – We had redesigned the Open Clasp methodology during the first lockdown so we could work with groups online with zoom.  It needed to feel the same as if we were in the room, feel political and the ability to shift thinking.   Creative writing became a big part of the projects. They still worked together to create a character, therefore a composite of the collective group and their lived experiences but with creative writing you work individually, and they created the most amazing poetry and prose.  But we all wrote and shared, as that is what you do, you also share your writing.  This became tricky towards the last few workshops, as my personal world had become wobbly, unstable and my tears battled with my eyes at times. It was hard to say goodbye as I didn’t know the results, what kind of cancer it was or whether it had spread. I didn’t know what after Christmas would look like now, or when I would be back.   

However being with the women grounded me, thinking about their trauma, loss and resilience put my world into perspective. This is not trauma, its fear, like being slapped by icy rain with a north east wind, like a sting (bad big sting) that makes you cry, but its not trauma, and I know trauma and I’m thankful it isn’t. It’s just fear.   

Tomorrow I have an operation, after that, all being well, radiotherapy.  I am looking forward to this being a story I tell in the past tense, when its all over and I’m cancer free. I’m looking forward to the girl in the pink jumper stepping back into the shadows, when the spotlight is the ensemble again.

Having over shared all of the above, I feel totally blessed, and have done all through this pandemic, this isn’t where I thought I would be as we start the new year, but it is what it is.  Our team is strong at Open Clasp, our work is out there, we are still creating (and I plan to do so as I recover).  But for now I’m looking at blue skies, thinking of ice cream and watching moons dipping out of skies.   

11 thoughts on “Breast Cancer, Blue Skies and Me”

  1. Sending so much love as I dance at the other side of the fear, recovering quicker physically than I am mentally but recovering and dancing none the less xxxxx

  2. Ah that’s awful Catrina. There is always icecream, fires can be lit inside or out, women are amazing people and we can’t live without each other, keep them close. Hope all goes extremely well, you can get through this x

  3. Dearest Catrina, I am so deeply sorry to hear this. Your work and life is so full of creativity and connectivity and I am sure this will continue to support you as you face the coming months. I am sending you love and strength. Anna (Clean Break).

  4. Prayers, love and hugs. You have shared your worries, thoughts and concerns, that is a big step and a positive one. Take every step forward cautiously but take the step as it will lead you to a future full of blue skies and everything you hold dear.

  5. So sorry to hear that news Catrina. I can remember how frightening it is to get a scary diagnosis but I think it’s great that you’re sharing it and I think that really does help. I know you’re so used to helping others share difficulties and traumas so it must be particularly hard for you to but sharing is brave. I know the fright will recede and you’ll get on with dealing with it all – as you probably already are. Thoughts are with you and Hufty too, and your son, and all your close friends and family. Wishing you bluer skies each day. xxx

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