Or rather, you might not find me at a Macmillan Coffee Morning.
Typically, this is a difficult time of year for me. It’s coming up to my annual consultant appointment, which leads to my consultant (also known as “the life-saver”) sending me for some lovely tests to make sure I’m not about to keel over. Namely: a tumour marker blood test, an endoscopy, a flexible sigmoidoscopy, and until last year, a CT scan. As you can imagine, none of this is much fun – never mind being poked and prodded by strangers (lovely as those strangers may be), but scanxiety is pretty horrible. And around this time of year when it’s all looming ahead of me, I have a habit of going to a dark place. I just think about it all… a lot. It’s not just worrying about what could happen to me in the future (particularly the not-so-distant future), but also being reminded of what happened seven years ago and at check-ups in the years that have followed. My brain latches onto a bad thought and runs with it, and I let it, and I wallow, and it all takes over until my appointment has gone – or at least, until the next appointment:
— Sarah Andersen (@SarahCAndersen) 6 September 2017
(The above cartoon has actually really helped me because these days when I realise I’m thinking about something bad or scary I envision
someone pulling me away from a Bad Thought Slide I’m about to go down, and pushing me into a ball pit instead. Because ball pits are awesome, and because this technique distracts me and I then make myself think of something else – anything else. It works.)
So with all that going on inside my brain, you might see why seemingly innocuous mentions of cancer can exacerbate the situation. And there is a lot of cancery stuff around at this time of year. You’ve got the Macmillan Coffee Morning thing at the end of September, and Stand Up To Cancer on TV at some point – it just feels like it’s everywhere around this time. Stoptober (also Pinktober). Then Movember. Some months are just difficult. So I thought maybe this year I should try something different. Instead of wallowing, instead of indulging my brain, I could just avoid all mentions of cancer. Which is difficult because you can’t easily avoid TV adverts for cancer charities, or Facebook posts about it, or your friend talking about her distant acquaintance who has XYZ type of cancer. I mean, you can turn off the TV, or tell Facebook what ads you don’t want to see, or tell your friend to shut up (bit rude). But sometimes these things spring up when you’re not expecting them, so it can be
difficult to avoid them completely.
But what if I do everything in my power to avoid it? What if I book off the day we have our charity coffee morning at work? What if I block
everyone on Facebook who posts pictures of candles in honour of cancer patients? (Already done that one, actually.) I’m not trying to decry the work that charities do, or say that I don’t want people to have events and talk about it and raise money. I think it’s good that these things exist. But somewhere beyond curmudgeonliness and selfishness lies self-preservation. I don’t know if avoidance is completely healthy. But I have been doing well recently. If I think about it, I’ve been doing well all summer, despite working on my novel about cancer survivorship. I don’t want to stop now. I like not thinking about cancer. I haven’t yet decided whether I want to spend one of my precious days off work on avoiding a bit of cake. I mean, in taking off a whole day to avoid the coffee morning, am I not drawing even more attention to it? Will I be at home thinking “I’m not at work now because I am avoiding THE THING and I don’t know what to do with myself”? I have the next day off work anyway for my consultant appointment. So, I will be thinking about it regardless, I’m sure. I don’t really know what to do for the best, but I am trying. Is avoidance the answer? Will a month’s worth of cancer-related media blackout help? I don’t know. I felt so sure about this a few weeks ago, that I wouldn’t show up to work on the day of the coffee morning, but now I am rethinking everything. How do you cope with bad thoughts – is avoiding all things related to the subject the right way to go, or no?