Wendy Woolfson

The Diagnosis

When I sat down in the surgeons’ office for the results of my biopsy, I had convinced myself he was going to tell me he could remove the tumour from the cavity behind my eye. I had created a story that had me going in for the surgery to remove it, and then the pressure in my head would begin to reduce and therefore so would all my symptoms. Within a few weeks my pain would lessen and I would start the process of coming off all the drugs I was on. The result being that I would be back at work, and life by February at the latest and I could put all of this behind me. I don’t know why I had decided that this was the outcome, except that I guess it was the best-case scenario and that’s what I was hoping for, naturally.

The month before, I had seen a psychic medium, something I had never previously done. It was just something that came up and felt right, so I contacted her for a reading and we met online. One of the things she said in reference to my health, was that treatment would be quick. She had been very reassuring and told me that the best team was being put together for me and ultimately the outcome was good. However, she also said that it was good that I already had short hair when she was referring to the treatment, and we both laughed at that. I knew what was being intimated by it, that when people receive chemotherapy, they often lose their hair, I allowed it to go over my head and blanked out that scenario, instead focusing on what else she was saying, like about it being quick, which fitted in well with my surgery scenario. Funny how we do that, isn’t it? We like to rearrange information to fit our preferred narrative. It’s called confirmation bias, and in that moment, the last thing I wanted was to be told that my comfortable little story was not going to come true, even though she said there would be a happy ending by taking the other path.

That’s one of the things about me, I always like to take the path less travelled and all my life have tended to swim against the tide when everyone else is going with it. Although I also believe in going with the flow and not fighting what’s in front of me, following the signs as they come up and being fairly easy going in my life, whilst at the same time doing my best not to be typical, not to fit in too well, be slightly different, and not follow the crowd. I do this not to be difficult but so I always look for the most interesting corners of life, to avoid falling into the trap of boredom and sameness and getting into a rut, and most importantly, to have a life of art and creativity in as many different ways as is possible. This way of thinking comes from an innate distrust of authority, born from a childhood of gaslighting and never being able to trust the authorities in my life and always being the butt of the joke, which led to the first part of my life being about conformity and never doing what I wanted to do. Instead, I work to keep one step ahead of anything that could get in the way of achieving my dreams, I keep my cards close to my chest, and research to ensure an element of caution and to protect myself.

Unfortunately, on this occasion, there was nothing to research and all I could do was wait for the results of the biopsy, and in the interim make up a story that fitted my preferred narrative, completely ignoring the possibility of other scenarios. So, when the niceties had passed with the hello’s and I’d told him how I’d been feeling the last three weeks and how my pain medication had been working, I was utterly crushed when he told me firstly, that it was not benign and secondly, that surgery was not possible due to too many risks. It was an atypical tumour and the irony was not lost on me. He scooted over to me on his wheeled stool and put a comforting hand on my shoulder as I began to crumble and cry. I just could not believe what I was hearing. How did this happen to me? I immediately thought of my boys and how was I going to tell them. How to tell my mother and father-in-law who had given us a lift to the hospital and were waiting to take us home again. Suddenly my whole life crashed around my shoulders and a hundred questions burst from my head, the splinters and shards from the edifice that had just shattered all around me.

I had always been against chemotherapy, I balked at the thought of putting all those chemicals directly into my bloodstream, flooding me with their poison But as he began to describe the treatment and how it would work, there was a feeling deep inside me that knew this was the only way to go. And I held onto my lifeline whose patience, and strength seemed to be endless. The warmth of my husband’s hand, an anchor in the sea of pain and uncertainty.

 And maybe my hair would fall out, but I really didn’t care about that. I only cared that I could get well and continue with this life that, once upon a time, I didn’t think I wanted to have.