There I was with the news I had cancer. The private consultants’ building has a central cafe on the ground floor and I ordered a green tea (soon to be on my list of forbidden beverages), whilst I gathered my thoughts. Firstly I knew I was near to tears and I had to take on board what I had just been told.
I didn’t want to break down in front of my friend’s 13 year old daughter. I felt very sorry for myself, but I knew this would soon pass as soon as I had to deal with practicalities. I quickly texted my friend to say that I had caught the bus home and to make their way home without me. I said I would speak to her and explain why, later.
Then I emailed my four sons saying simply that I had been diagnosed with cancer, that I would be admitted to hospital and operated on within the week. I would keep them informed as I went along.
This email was very difficult to send. I was fighting back the tears as I typed the words. I kept my head down so others in the cafe would not see me crying and I pretended to blow my nose, wiping the tell tale tears at the same time.
After all I was the mother and it had been my job as long as my boys had been alive, to protect them from hurt and harm and to do my best for them. I have honestly done that all my life, and always had their best interests at heart in whatever I have done. Some of them would not agree with me. I am the only person that has been a constant in their lives and there was a chance that I would not survive this. I know we all have to die sometime and no matter that a couple of the boys were then in their 50s, they were still my boys and I wanted to protect them. I knew I was causing them upset by sending this message.
It was a beautiful sunny day, a bit breezy and I walked down the paths past the main hospital and down towards the bus stop. I sat down on a bench and let the world pass me by. I wondered how many other people had been given similar news that day.
But I had a guardian angel looking after me. ‘What are you doing here? I thought you were in Spain or Sri Lanka or somewhere exotic?’
Margaret had been visiting her son in hospital. I had known her for years since we were in a writing group together. She is the kind of friend that no matter how long since we have seen each other, we can pick up straight away. She quickly sat beside me when she saw the tears well up again. I asked if she was going to Skibbereen and could I have a lift down the road. She was and I could. She lives in the same parish and would pass the end of my road on her way home.
There was truly no one better to be with me at this time. We talked amiably as we walked slowly to Margaret’s late aunt’s house where her car was parked. She explained about her son being injured. Her husband was staying at the hospital with him and she was heading back to Castlehaven to be there for the rest of their family. Two cups of tea and two chocolate biscuits set me straight and I knew although the tears might come again, for the time being I could talk about what had happened and what I was facing into.
I needed to get home and get on with what I had to do before I was admitted to hospital. I would have pre-admission tests within forty-eight hours and was being operated on the United States’ Independence Day, July 4th.
I now knew what a stoma was as I had looked it up on my iphone whilst I was in the cafe. I was to have a colostomy bag fitted so that the anus, the area where I needed to have treatment, (chemotherapy and radiotherapy), was clear. So it was a matter of diverting the bowel which made common sense.
I didn’t know if I was to have an colostomy or an ileostomy and how either would affect me. Over a matter of weeks I was to discover the difference between each one and a lot more besides.