I first saw my enemy, on a screen in the hospital. A fleeting, blurry, grey, shape; moving, shifting, changing – a grainy image of electrical static.
In this black-white-grey snow storm, this dark, hooded figure, was constantly forming and re-reforming, as the hand-held scanner on my wife’s breast sought to locate the foe.
Hiding, and re-appearing – the nurse definitively identified what she had feared was present – a ghost, a shade, a spirit.
This was the spectre haunting the imaginations and expectations of middle-aged women, and as I discovered, their husbands as well.
Not the ‘Big C’, but a little ‘c’; because this was discovered early, thanks to the regular, free, mammograms of the National Health Service in the UK.
And therefore, also small, easily treatable. No chemotherapy. An operation, cutting a safe penumbra around the cancer, to remove any possibly affected tissue.
Then radiotherapy, which did make her tired, but without the debilitating effects of pumping poison into the body through chemo.
I’ve read that some patients reject the militaristic rhetoric of war, battle, struggle. Instead they prefer the language of illness and recovery.
I understand that. Referring to the ‘enemy’ could so easily render us subject to further, unnecessary, stress.
The urge to be ‘strong’ can lead to more pressure for the patient to meet others’ expectations, and put on a brave face, when they don’t really feel up to it.
Perhaps it was because, in my wife’s case, the cancer was relatively small, and the prognosis was always positive, optimistic.
If she’d had to go through lengthy, drawn-out, chemotherapy, maybe I would have experienced the next few months differently.
But, from my point of view, it really did feel like my ‘enemy’. Something foreign, that had invaded my wife’s body, and taken it prisoner. And infiltrated my marriage.
A malign force entered our cosy realm. And, more importantly, displaced me as the centre of attention! My momentary gripes had to make way for the main event, her health.
From the moment the doctor said, after the initial mammogram, that there may be ‘something’ there, perhaps not cancer, maybe benign, we dived down the rabbit hole.
And in that tunnel, we surrendered control; to doctors, nurses, specialists, who told us what would happen next.
We have no complaints. We were treated well, and kept informed at every stage. But we were not calling the shots.
Rather, we became experts at navigating our way round the various medical departments and buildings, as we attended repeated examinations and procedures.
But always, in obedience, albeit glad ad grateful, to the next missive sending fresh instructions and appointments.
Now, my wife has been discharged. She is free of cancer. Of course, she is only in remission; not that anyone has used the term, it may not even be medically current.
So, she faces five years of medication and regular checks. For now, the enemy has gone. But we remain vigilant against his possible reappearance, in our cancerous cold war of waiting.