It’s not the uncertainty actually…its the certainty

Posted June 19th, 2009 by Jane

R and I were mulling over the state of play last you do with a terminal diagnosis. I repeated my familiar mantra: ‘It’s the uncertainty I can’t bear’..’No’ she said It’s the certainty’.

Something clicked into place..some days the certainty of my premature and maybe very soon death is unbearable. No matter that I cry, no matter what I fantasise, standing right ahead of me is the certain truth that I’ll soon be dead And I don’t want to be..dead that is. How do I, or any of us, get to live with that certainty? How can I live the time between then and now.

The annals of breast cancer stories are stuffed full of calls to ‘live life to the full’ and ‘take each day as it comes.’ The literature is romantic and nostalgic; and pain, whether physical or emotional, is somehow swept away and disinfected.

I’ve written before about the popularity of memory boxes and detailed funeral planning. I panic at times that I’m not ‘ready’ in terms of this practical stuff. My final letters are not written; the funeral music not decided; my finance files are in disarray. Knocked down by that proverbial bus I wouldn’t know, but cancer gives you great chunks of time to prepare. I have a ‘To Do’ list but now it feels artificial…do I really care right now whether I get up the London Eye or not?

I just broke off to find a passage in Arthur Kleinman’s book: The Illness Narratives. It’s written by a 33 year old man in the final stages of bowel cancer:

“All that nonsense that’s written about stages of dying, as if there were complete transitions-rooms that you enter, walk through, then leave behind for good. What rot. The anger, the shock, the unbelievableness, the grief-they are part of each day. And in no particular order either. Who says you work your way eventually to acceptance-I don’t accept it! Today I can’t accept it. Yesterday I did, partly. Saturday, I was there: kind of in a trance, waiting, ready to die. But not now. Today it’s the fear all over again. I don’t want to die….”

These words bring me comfort of sorts-just glimpsing that others feel as I do, is sweet relief.