On Wednesday I had to go for the initial appointment interview for radiology treatment following my breast cancer surgery four weeks ago. It was held in the grounds of the hospital where my sister was situated following her suicide attempt in 2013. It is also the hospital where I spent three months following my MVA in 1979.
I was informed that I needed to be there 15 minutes before. I waited over 30 minutes to be seen by the nurse, who asked me all of the questions I had already completed on the form they gave me to fill in when I arrived. I then waited another 30 minutes to the see the radiographer’s assistant who canvased the possibility of chemotherapy (which I had been informed by my doctor was not considered necessary). At this point I started crying. “What is the problem?” he asked.
“You haven’t lived my life, nor could you be aware of the amount of trauma I have suffered over the past years, at this point I feel chemotherapy would be the final straw that would break me, I just don’t know if I would want to go on living if I had to endure the side effects of chemotherapy on top of all this. Besides, I was recently informed by my surgeon it was not even a possibility.”
“Well”, he informed me, “it probably won’t be necessary but I am just informing you of all of your options.” (Why, the fuck so when I have already been informed chemo would not be necessary?) Lots of tears at this point after which he left the room to find the radiographer, (another 20 minute wait).
I won’t go into all of the further details of her manner (cold, detached, a bit patronising) suffice to say that towards the end after I had been informed that I would need to learn a technique to hold my breath to keep my heart away from the left breast while undergoing the radiotherapy , a technique which would be simulated on the next pre radiotherapy appointment, I was then asked again. “Have you ever been pregnant?” (this question was clearly marked on the form I had already completed a hour or more ago). “Yes”, I replied “six times, I have had six terminations of pregnancy.”
This tipped the scales for more tears. “Is there a reason for these tears or is this just the way you are?” she asked.
Dumfounded I replied. “Can I explain to you an ocean contained in a teardrop?”, I said.
“Do you need to see a social worker?” she asked.
“No, what I need is to get out of this environment and into the fresh air and sunlight”, I replied.
I walked out of the New Cancer centre crying my eyes out, feeling like an alien on earth.
Later when I spoke to my sister about the experience I said to her how I find the a lack of empathy and understanding shown seems to fragment and splinter my reality, an experience of empathy, understanding and support brings the fractured pieces back together. As I walked out of the hospital these words from a Carpenter’s song played over in my head
Day after day I must face a world of strangers
where I don’t belong
I’m not that strong.
I left the hospital behind after negotiating the multi level car park with difficulty. While waiting I was only sustained my looking at the photograph of my dog Jasper and imagining cuddling his soft fur when I got home.
I don’t handle scientific medical environments well at all. I find them most often alienating, removed, sterile, clinical and lacking in compassion. My experience at the Breast Screen facility had been far more supportive and nurturing than this. I am not looking forward to four weeks of daily radiation and yet its what I feel I need to do to help my chances of recovery.
I must remember that in time it will all be behind me. I have coped and recovered from the surgery as painful as that was. I will cope with this. But I am still human, I am still sensitive, I have a lot of grief due to the path I have lived that many others will not understand. In the end I cannot expect empathy from anyone but its a wonderful gift when I do receive it.
Without it life for me is just not really worth living, I become fractured, feel like an alien. Life becomes a barren wasteland seemingly populated by robots or androids who seem like another species, I feel dissociated and then the deep soul loneliness grows.
And yet, now I understand why all those years ago I felt like such an alien. Before I found the empathetic support of my current therapist, and came to understand all the ways my environment growing up led me to feel so disconnected I felt my best option was to turn to drugs and alcohol, I had no idea of why I felt so raw, removed from and different to others.
Now that I know what it means to be shown true empathy, I know the times I am not will still hurt but the pain won’t stay lodged too deeply within me. I know I have places to go to share about my true feelings. As long as I can feel then and in the feeling recognise what in hurting was damaging for me and alien to my soul, I will reassemble the torn fragments and come to feel reconnected even after periods spent in those strange environments.