It’s now over eight months since I was diagnosed with cancer, and I still have not met anyone else with pancreatic cancer. This despite five months of fortnightly sessions of chemotherapy in the Oncology day stay ward where I learned to keep my head down and listen out for what drugs the others in my room were being given which would have given me a clue as to whether they had pancreatic cancer. I quickly learned that my acceptance of my terminal cancer diagnosis and my refusal to begin a battle with my cancer was rather unusual and not welcome to patients or staff. Given that people with the most common type of pancreatic cancer and the one that I have – exocrine pancreatic cancer – have already lost the battle long before they are diagnosed with it, there really is no point in fighting it. For me, learning that my life expectancy was now measured in months not years had quickly resulted in the decision to make the most of the time I have left. It definitely didn’t include climbing on some rollercoaster of a ride of highs and lows chasing miracles cures.
So I abandoned the second of the very early decisions I made – not to buy any more books or any new clothes – and took myself and some book vouchers I had been given off to the Women’s Bookshop in Ponsonby Road and bought four books and ordered a fifth. Returning to my car with my bag of books, I took one of them out of the bag and began to read and didn’t stop until I had finished the first chapter, titled “Diagnosis.” I read like a severely dehydrated woman who had just been handed a large glass of cool clear water. Jenny Diski may not have pancreatic cancer, but her description of getting her terminal cancer diagnosis certainly rang many bells for me. She describes leaving the doctor’s room after getting her diagnosis:
“One thing I state as soon as we are out of the door: “Under no circumstances is anyone to say that I lost a battle with cancer. Or that I bore it bravely. I am not fighting, losing, winning or bearing.” I will not personify the cancer cells inside me in any form. I reject all metaphors of attack or enmity in the midst, and will have nothing whatever to do with any notion of desert, punishment, fairness or unfairness, or any kind of moral causality. “
Yippee! I have finally found a kindred spirit!