Don’t Google it.
That’s what Sue Jensen’s doctor told her when she was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer.
She did – once. Walked around the backyard all night crying.
Then, she got on with it.
“It is what it is,” she says.
You have cancer
It had begun with trouble swallowing.
This kind of cancer is usually something that happens to older men in connection with smoking.
Sue is 59 and doesn’t smoke but remembers when workplaces were a soupy miasma of exhaled air you had to wade your way through. No question she was a passive smoker for years.
She faced a radical surgery that only a fraction of patients survive, doctors removing a section of her food pipe. It took 18 months to recover. That was more than seven years ago.
Five years after the operation, she was given the all clear.
But it came back. Now the cancer is in her lungs.
But it’s slow growing, contained. Glass half full.
Sue’s gone on the attack, having just spent four weeks in hospital for aggressive treatment with daily radiotherapy and weekly chemo.
Life is elsewhere
Going into hospital is a slow shedding of ordinary life.
You come in with coffee cup and cake in hand – a regular person, all the trappings.
Thongs on your feet speak to a casualness that’s not here. Should be headed to the beach with feet like that, or down the shops to pick up some bits and pieces for tea.
Within an hour you’re hooked up to tubes, chemicals streaming through your veins.
Next thing you know you can hardly make it to the toilet a metre from your bed, you’re in your underwear in front of a cast of too many – your son, your many nurses.
Outside the window it pours all day, rainwater collecting in the gutters. A patch of lichen on the tin roof, a pattern your eye returns to. A bird flitters every now and then, the traffic sighing on the road beyond as other people’s days go on.
There’s a sense of life happening elsewhere. A distancing from normality with each hour you’re stuck in this room.
Monitors beep with varying degrees of urgency. Sometimes quietly, sometimes insistent. Nurses ebb and flow in and out. They palpate your forearm, stick a cold instrument in your ear, have you recite your name and date of birth before dispensing the next pill.