The other day my breast cancer buddy said to me “It’s really shit having cancer”.
It is really shit having cancer.
It is really shit being told you have cancer. It is even more shit having to tell people you have cancer. That’s knackering.
But the shittest thing was being told my cancer had come back. I was scared; horrified; angry with myself (and that’s interesting, isn’t it, and maybe another post another time). And when they told me it had spread to my lungs, I knew I was going to die.
So I decided that I would find a book that would tell me how to die. A step by step guide. I may even have imagined a flow chart.
I have bought books that give me advice on every conceivable topic – from having a baby to tidying my bedroom. Finding a book for this proved more difficult than I expected. I wanted something:
- Secular. No religious content. (And really – if I really believed in life after death, why would I be afraid of dying? Religious books on dying feel like cheating…)
- Practical. I don’t know quite what I anticipated. Something that would give me guidelines on how much time I should devote to worrying about death? A will template? Suggestions for controlling my children’s reading habits from beyond the grave? I think I just wanted something that would help me feel in control.
- Positive. Obviously.
- Well written. Because I might be in the process of shuffling off this mortal coil, but I don’t want to be reading something that makes me cringe.
The really interesting thing is that I’ve worked in mental illness for over 20 years now, and yet somehow I had not grasped the idea that it is normal to be afraid of death. Maybe I’ve worked with too many people with suicidal ideas – maybe I’ve got used to the idea that it’s living that’s the scary bit.
I’m not sure I even knew that I was afraid of dying. I simply didn’t think about it, except as something a long way off, that happened to other people. When people congratulated me first time round on “conquering” cancer, it was as if I’d become immortal. We could all stop thinking about death. Phew.
I still find it hard to think about dying – it’s impossible to imagine not being alive: not breathing, not seeing, not hearing. Not being.
So now I’m beginning to think that my journaling and blogging is actually me writing the book for myself. The magic self help book that’s going to sort it all out for me. Maybe I’m stumbling and fumbling towards some sort of understanding of what works for me, what helps me deal with the different emotions that roll up like waves in the ocean, and roll back down again – often seemingly at random. Maybe this is it.