Do you Remember Sam (Patrick Swayze) from the classic movie Ghost? Do you recall the scene where he and Molly were walking down the dark cobbled street when they were confronted by bad guy Willie Lopez with a gun? Willie fatally shot Sam after a short fight. When Sam stood up from the road, he chased Willie, but he was long gone. Sam then turned around and called Molly to tell her the guy had gotten away. It was then that he was stunned by the truth of his situation in vivid colour. What he saw before him was Molly crying over his lifeless body in the middle of the street. He had become a ghost.
In the last 12 months or so, I often think about this scene as that’s how it felt to realise that I had had breast cancer. I was living like a ghost between worlds. Like Sam in the beginning, although shocked by the traumatic event, I believed I was still the same person as before. Not only that, but the reality and impact of the diagnosis did not kick in until after my operation, just as Sam did not realise he what had happened until he saw the scene laid bare before his eyes.
I now know I was in survival mode and in an intense state of shock. My cancer experience has impacted my every living thought, even when I thought (still think) everything was back to normal.
Case in point:
This spring I entered a Facebook competition to win a book bag from Dorothy Koomson’s publishers: Penguin. It was to celebrate her book ‘The Brighton Mermaid’ being published. I was so chuffed that I won it as it was a small triumph in my arduous road to my mastectomy recovery. On the postcard that came with the bag was a polite request that I take a photo of me, the bag and the book (when I had purchased it). That was in April. I felt so awful, as I didn’t buy the book (until now).
I didn’t buy the book because I already had another book: When I was Invisible (also by Dorothy) that I had brought to the hospital with me last year June and I still hadn’t finished it. To be honest, I had a little pile of books begging me to pick them up on a daily basis. But I would just look at them knowing I should embrace them but physically feeling like there was a concrete wall between us.
At times I would force myself to open the pages of Dorothy’s book, but the truth is I really struggled with it. I didn’t understand why because it wasn’t boring, the vocabulary wasn’t incredibly difficult. I would find myself reading about 2 pages a month of a 466-page book over a 15-month period. I was so disappointed in myself and had started to entertain the thought that I was no longer ‘a reader’. Readers are leaders, books help broaden horizons and expose you to new worlds and all that. Was I really at risk of losing all of that?
Well, last week, something magical happened. One quiet evening, I ditched my phone, switched off the TV and attempted to read it again. This time I got so engrossed in the book that I read the remaining 400+ pages in 3 days! The book was incredible! The plot line kept me gasping for breath and begging for the main characters to… (well I won’t say anymore as I don’t want to spoil it). I was so overjoyed; it was a massive achievement! I had overcome a serious mental block that had been preventing me from reading like I used to.
I attribute my being able to read and enjoy the book finally to my new-found acceptance of my cancer experience and the end of the survivor’s mode stage. I’ve been through the shock, the denial, the depression and sadness and now not only am I accepting of my experience, I am in a new soulfully joyful place. I guess I am where Sam reached once his death was avenged and he was finally at peace.
In this place, I find joy in a littlest of things from growing and naming our
sunflowers ‘Keisha and Lilly’ (gifted to us by my dear friend Iris) and enjoying old RnB concerts on Youtube like I was actually there, to taking my daughter on the train to visit somewhere new or simply getting my nails done. I don’t believe that’s it’s any coincidence that two people in the last few weeks have commented on how happy I seem lately.
So, following my personal triumph, yesterday I jumped on the train and skipped straight to Waterstones. I went shopping for a new book.
I don’t think I need to say any more…