Dianne’s Battle Royale – Actor or observer
After last week’s scan, the doctors seem confident that the medication is working and everything looks stable. So, I am continuing with both the gene therapy and the immunology for another two months—but on a timetable that requires I go to hospital only monthly rather than the weekly visits up to now. Then, after two months, they test again.
Given the good news and the reduced treatment frequency, I have just arrived in Curacao. No, wonderful readers, although I will have a weekend on either side of a week to soak up the sun, I am not goofing off ☺. I will be working with students and faculty at the University of Curacao. Goofing off will definitely happen the following month when my daughter, son-in-law, and I will spend ten days in South Africa! I am smiling, I am smiling.
When people hear you have cancer their reactions vary. Some ask you questions very directly while others will shy away and avoid the topic entirely. The question I get asked most frequently – and I must mention it is often asked in a genuine way, “Dianne have you changed as a person given the cancer and the prognosis? When I am asked this question I always wonder what I should answer, thinking, was there something wrong with me before?
Here is my reply:
I liked myself before the cancer diagnosis, and I still like myself. I have always tried to live my life to the fullest. As long as I can remember I have had a bucket list. A list that I empty, refill, and then empty again! A list that has taken me to some amazing places in the world. Have I changed as a person? No, I don’t believe so. I continue to drink good wine instead of water, eat chips with mayo instead of salad. I love hanging around with my family and friends and having conversations about everything and nothing while drinking too many cappuccinos. Unfortunately, I still eat far too many chocolates and buy too many scarves – however, any regrets are only momentarily. I continue to laugh and to cry. None of this has changed.
What has changed is the concept time. Before the cancer, I could always imagine an endless future. The future was around the corner; it was a week ahead, a month ahead, a decade ahead. I could see it all because it was boundless. I planned and set long-term goals. Arriving back at my apartment from one holiday, immediately beginning to plan the next three. I would dream about places I would take the grandchildren (I am still hoping for), and the stories I would tell them. Stories about the history of where their amazing family comes from. Stories of Germany, The Netherlands, and South Africa. Stories of how their great, great grandparents fled Germany through Genoa on a ship in 1939. I even imagined, without guilt, traveling for three months to visit family and friends all over the world. I dreamt of writing a book with my daughter to help women realise how phenomenal they are and that they too can embrace careers without guilt or being told that they are somehow being negligent of family.
Do I still see an endless future? No. However, I still see into the distance and I still plan. Only now it is in days, weeks, and months. I think about what restaurant I am going to eat at next week and the week after. What friends I am going to see and whom I am going to Skype, phone, or WhatsApp or annoy ☺. I now decide on the spur of the moment what countries I want to visit, and then I buy the tickets immediately for a trip next month. I still teach and I love facilitating intense discussions around gender, but I book these assignments on the short term and have a back up plan thanks to a number of great friends and colleagues. I write articles that don't take months to finish but still give me joy
Yes, I still drive friends and family crazy with all my planning around the things I still want to do. They care, and they worry. “Slow down”, they say, “you will tire yourself out”. But as I have said before, how can I slow down? I still have plenty things to do, and I am running out of time.
As often as I feel “why me”, I also feel if I am the luckiest person on this earth with family, friends, and colleagues supporting me and giving me so much positive energy that at times I feel I have wings. Of course, there are moments when I am down and I cry. There are certainly times when I feel scared—actually terrified—but this is short lived.
So no, I have not changed. I remain determined to enjoy, embrace, and love every moment I have left. I continue to work really hard to stay alive so that I can experience as many, many of these wonderful moments as possible.
So, as ‘the redhead’ (the treatment I have had over the years has resulted in me having many hairstyles) finishes unpacking before dashing out into the Curacao sunshine, she recalls Mary Oliver’s wonderful words:
When it ‘s over, I don’t want to wonder
If I have made of my life something particular, and real
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply having visited this world
With love to you all.