It was a crazy day. Busy at work, roadworks messing up the highway and then the usual agonising struggle to find parking at the hospital. (All insignificant irritations, in retrospect.)
What started as a pain in my left shoulder a week ago turned into something “abnormal” that needed to be investigated. Although I first dismissed the pain as muscle strain, I guess I knew instinctively that something was off. I rarely break a sweat in gym and my 100% desk job hardly puts serious strain on those muscles, let’s be honest.
While massaging my neck and shoulder in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the N1 soon after, I felt a bump just below my clavicle. The bump turned out to be a swollen lymph node, which needed a biopsy for testing. The doctors also ran a load of scans and tests to see if there were any other swollen nodes in my body.
Today was Results Day, and we sat down anxiously to get the low-down from the doctor…
“It’s lymphoma,” he says and immediately continues describing what it is and how it works, what the best treatment is, what happens next, what my chances are, how long it lasts, how it works, how bad, how good, on and on and on. Stats and data wash over me, drowning out my thoughts, leaving my mouth dry and hurting my chest. I try and remember some of it while I focus very hard on not losing my grip.
I can’t die now.
I am a proud daddy to a beautiful little girl who’s almost two. I am a partner to an incredible, supportive and loving woman. I am a son to the most amazing parents. I am an older brother to two fantastic sisters. I am a friend to so many wonderful people. I love life. I love my life.
I don’t want to die.
“I don’t want to die,” I say to A as we wait for the lift afterwards. “You’re not going to die,” she says firmly. “You heard what the doctor said.” She reaches for me, but I turn away, afraid I will fall apart at her touch, at the overwhelming love and kindness shown in this awful moment.
Turns out I chose “one of the best cancers” to get (lucky me!) as it has an 80% recovery rate with ABVD, a specific regimen of chemotherapy applied for at least six months. Could have been worse, I guess, although it’s hard to see the silver lining at this moment.
We discuss my diagnosis as we head home, making a quick pit stop at the local Burger King as we’re both starving and need to rush home to pick up our daughter for her doctor’s appointment. (So much for a healthy eating plan…)
The Burger King is out of ketchup, which at the time I find wonderfully ironic but we settle in nonetheless, ready to inhale our generic and tasteless burgers while discussing the topic of the day, cancer. Cancer cancer fucking cancer, arriving at the party late with no ketchup and ready to fuck up everyone’s night.
We talk softly among ourselves and joke about the place and the food in the way couples do, but inside I am positively raging. I am mad as hell. I am pissed off. Fuck cancer. Honestly. I am livid. But more than that, I am sad. So terribly sad. I feel helpless, frustrated, anxious, depressed, freaked out, scared and stressed out. This. Is. Such. Fucking. Bullshit. Why me? Why now? Why us? Why this? Why? Why? Why?
Again A reaches for me.
“Please don’t,” I say, my voice thick with emotion. “I can’t… I don’t want to go to pieces in… in a Burger King.”
I look up and our eyes meet. It takes a split second and then our spontaneous laughter catches us by surprise and dials the moment right down. The tears are there, but they’re good tears. We can do this. I can do this. We’re going to be okay. I am going to be okay.