Emotions have colours, we’re all familiar with those: envy is green, rage is red, sadness is blue. Well diseases have colours too and cancer is a shade of grey. And although I love grey – many rooms in our house are painted in varying shades of greyness; numerous items of grey clothing hang in my wardrobe – we’re not talking interior-designed, mood-enhancing, goes-with-everything grey.
If shades of grey paint are named after the breath of animals and manor houses and pavilions, cancer’s colours are worthy of significantly less aspirational names. Here are some I think might work: Cold Porridge, Breeze Block, Pavement Chewing Gum, Dirty White Sock, Cobweb, Old Bra, Hangover Face, Hoover Dust, Coated Tongue, Cement Shoes. OK I’m going to stop now. You get the idea.
In a scenario where what you desperately want, what you need, is monochrome – the stark, sharp contrasts and certainties of black and white – perpetual, interminable, fuzzyness can be really hard to deal with. Since Oscar was diagnosed almost three years ago, we have come to realise that many aspects of coping with and fighting cancer are frustratingly, frighteningly uncertain.
February 14th 2017 marked two years since Oscar completed his treatment: Valentine’s Day will now always be less about hearts and flowers and more about that very significant anniversary and (while we are lucky enough for Oscar to remain healthy) feeling happy and so grateful for every one that passes.
So on Valentine’s Day a few weeks ago, we celebrated. But not too much: Oscar’s 4-monthly MRI was scheduled for the following week so we wanted to wait see what that showed. And then, when the MRI results showed no change at the site of Oscar’s original tumour, we celebrated. But not too much: Oscar had been complaining of back pain in the exact area of the original tumour intermittently since Christmas and we wanted to discuss this with his consultant. And a few days later, when she had checked with the radiographer and told us they were both happy that the scan showed no evidence of disease in bones or soft tissue, there were no celebrations. Because it all felt a bit anti-climactic. And, somehow, the most wonderful news got almost lost in the inevitable greyness of it all.
In a movie I would have explained this eventual outcome by saying Oscar had been ‘given the all-clear’. In real life, I have never heard anyone use this brashly confident, future-predicting phrase. Because how could even someone in offensively rude health with no history of disease ever be given the ‘all-clear’, with its connotations of tripping off happily into the sunset towards the certainty of a healthy, illness-free life? In the same way, the phrase ‘in remission’ is rarely used and we’ve certainly never heard it from a medical professional. Instead a much more measured phrase is used; carefully chosen words which don’t make any promises they can’t keep. I’m fairly sure no Hollywood endings have ever been inspired by the oncologists’ phrase of choice: no evidence of disease. (No evidence but who knows what might actually be going on unseen. No evidence today, but who knows what might happen if you looked again tomorrow. Or in a week. Or a month.)
So you learn to live in the fuzzy, blurry, greyness, because you have to.
And if you can’t have lovely, crisp monochrome, the best thing you can do is to punctuate the grey with flashes of technicolour; to inject as much kaleidoscopic, psychedelic brightness and vibrancy as you can into cancer’s bland pallor.
To make life explode with retina-burning, neon-bright, blockbuster moments .