Rock and a Beautiful Hard Place

by J Cooper

Competition theme: 'Between'

The sea of words vibrated in her ears.  She felt the canals desperately trying to plug themselves, trying to stop the poison from seeping in. Having gained access, the dam gates had opened. The details streamed into her airways like water filling the pipes and crevasses of a sinking ship, preventing her from taking a breath or making a sound. They gushed into her head and bloodstream sending her spinning as they flooded in. Dropping down into the dark depths, as she was now aware, of her diseased abdomen and beyond. As they drifted down she reached out towards Charlie. He wished he could pull her out from this nightmare. He turned and she could see his tears were cascading to the floor. She felt all hope was lost. 

Her first thoughts were of her gentle minded elderly mother. Would she be able to endure the loss of a child? As a mother she understood that at any age it was the ultimate tragedy. An unjust disruption to the normal order of life. ‘Why?’ she asked and then she felt a slight unexpected sense of anger.

The doctors said that it was “looking pretty grim” and she should “prepare for the worst”. She looked at Charlie. How had she done this to him and their family?

Eunice grasped on to the opinion of one specialist who hoped something might be done. No one else at that outpatients meeting, had experienced survival at this stage, with that amount of spread of disease.  It wouldn’t make it go away but may delay the inevitable.

Weeks after, what seemed an age to Eunice, treatment began and although a harrowing journey in to the unknown both mentally and physically, the alternative was not an option. Eunice was shocked how quickly she had gone from normal life to dying. This cruel serpent had grown inside her, incognito. A sharp spasm here, a twinge somewhere else, a wee here and there. She had been unaware these were traces of its mission to become strong enough to win and constrict another unwitting helpless victim.

During her treatment she hated being congratulated for being a warrior.  To call her a fighter betrayed all those millions before her who had fought for life as hard  as they could but had been defeated.  Fear was her fuel and enough to keep her going.  Eunice felt totally at the mercy of the doctors, clinical staff and of course the good old drugs.

No visible sign of cancer!  These words like a dream, a trick, a terrible mistake!? Someone else’s notes, which looking back hilariously, Eunice recalled had happened. In the early stages, a consultant on a ward round had had pulled the curtain back and seriously asked her where exactly her leg was hurting. Eunice recalled laughing out loud as the curtain was abruptly drawn. 

Eunice waited for the inevitable but. “It will return, but the longer you go on without that happening, the better your prognosis. Why is that? To be honest we don’t really know” Yet again it was all about statistics. Eunice had checked these and she knew which statistic she should have been  “Go out have a glass of champagne and enjoy yourself. The world is your oyster.” The consultant had heartily shaken their hands.

Eunice had stood at the very edge of the cliff and tumbled down it, clutching at anything to grab hold of to break the fall, and finally just before the loud bang and darkness at the very bottom she had slowly gradually edged back up the cliff face, fearfully and tentatively, terrified to let go of one hand to move it up in case of falling back to where she started. Then having heaved herself over the precipice and lay there on the ground she was now totally traumatised by her experience. 

She had heard people explaining life changing experiences and now a voice in her head told her things would never be the same. There was a new Eunice – a post diagnosis being that had not been welcomed or for that matter invited but had arrived like a resurrection unannounced.

She found herself a member of a very small elite club.  Living with cancer thankfully had become increasingly common in recent years but surviving after her diagnosis less so.

Eunice was definitely in between and was to encounter unexpected mixed reactions.

She caught whispers of an air of disbelief ‘Really, she can’t have been that ill? My friend had the same diagnosis and lasted 12 weeks from diagnosis to death’. 

Eunice read bitter reactions on line to elated survivors relaying their story, praising the hospitals or nurses, posted to give hope.  Responses like “Aren’t you the lucky one! I wish my sister had experienced the same treatment; she was totally let down….” Eunice decided that her good fortune would not be displayed as a beacon.

At odd times a sense of guilt would envelop her. That extra time in the second half.  She often thought about the deciding penalties.  She wasn’t sure whether she could face that although she would give it her best shot. “Let’s see how we go when I am standing on the penalty spot”, she would say to herself.

She tried not to think about it. 

This reminded Eunice of when she had confided a worry to her mother as a child. Her mother’s response was normally “Try not to think about it.” At the time Eunice had thought quite ludicrous and impossible, but strangely now blocking reality was impulsive, and she had to admit sometimes was the best way.

Eunice was truly thankful to everyone who said they had her in their thoughts or prayers or asked a whole congregation of strangers to pray for her from different creeds and countries. She wasn’t entirely sure whether any of this had helped however she felt she couldn’t respond. “To be honest I had got to a point where anything was worth a try – but thanks!"

Eunice knew it was now or never time, but this in itself brought very problematic decisions about life planning. She still wanted to travel to special places. She hadn’t expected another hurdle which presented itself. Despite all her efforts and research and contacting recommended specialist travel insurers the majority would not even consider her insurable at any cost. Stage 4 Metastatic but now in remission just wasn’t present in their algorithms. She didn’t fit - Computer says no. She was in limbo, not one thing or the other.  She managed to get insurance for certain areas of the world, but many places were uninsurable. The world wasn’t in fact her oyster but a whelk.   

Prior to her unexpected diagnosis Eunice and Charlie had been planning for future years of retirement, with savings, pensions, and dreams.  Someone had gone into their filing cabinet and tipped their lives on the floor.  Eunice thought wistfully it was unlikely she would ever receive her state pension – all those years of toil. 

But never say never - she quickly stopped that bit of negativity. Since Eunice had looked the grim reaper in the eyes her attitude to waiting had changed. Blowing everything on expensive trips, (and its related travel insurance) gifts, good causes, possessions and being lucky enough to live longer than could possibly have been anticipated, still all had to be weighed up. How could she plan anymore? A positive conundrum she mused.

Eunice felt she was in some kind of unofficial state, not a purgatory as that inferred misery, but not one thing or the other but in a good way.  She felt special to be given this opportunity as the light dimmed to a mere flicker to see life again with a new lens, the light, colour, and volume knob turned up to max. She had stopped and smelt the roses and dipped her toes in the water and sand which she would never again take for granted.

Eunice had love learning new skills and saying yes to trying new things. She was immeasurably grateful that her family now knew that they were loved and everything to her and their love was her world. She had been blessed by being given the opportunity to tell them this  

She was strangely thankful to have taken the path she had and now accepted that everyone is between. No one knows just how long they have between life and death. Eunice felt thankful she was still alive – still between.