Curley ‘k’ is for what the actual??
‘Curley K’ is for cancer.
‘Kicking K’ is for kak.
‘P’ is for PTSD.
Clearly we are in that stage where our kids are learning to spell….
And learning about life, about the hard parts, way too early if you ask me.
I’m not sure that this post will make sense so if you expect a coherent story then stop reading right now, go to your nearest coffee station and make small talk with a colleague.
I’m at a friend’s funeral and as people leave I walk up to this tiny box that contains all that she was and I say my goodbyes and I realise this could have been me. And I’m scared because in the back of my mind I will always wonder if it could be me. Being told that you’re in remission is not what people think it is. I’m not sure what I expected? A high five and a pat on the back and a certificate of completion perhaps. A handshake to say ‘well done on surviving, go forth and live your life like a normal person.’ Being in remission is a relative term that causes a daily battle in your head. A battle for space.
I cross the road after the funeral, a good mate drives past, I wave at him, smiles, how life goes on. I get in the car and I can’t stop wondering; how can a box that small contain a whole life? All the dreams and love and wishes a person held dear.
I used to go through stages where I thought that I’d be ok to go if I must. Dark I know, a coping mechanism of sorts. And then I find myself in a boat doing a ’grotto tour’ in the Algarve and I marvel at the beauty. I marvel at the beauty so much that I almost knock myself out (I very nearly hit my head against a big rock formation, really that tour guide should have paid more attention). But I did not knock myself out. Just as I did not die of cancer. I stare at the bright sun and the clean sand and I hear my two crazy friends saying some inappropriate shit about the tourists and the tour guides and I realise that I’m so not ready to go. So much beauty in this world, so many words to learn, books to read, art to create, people to meet, things to experience. Around every corner I want to say ‘Babe, hunk, wow! Look at that!! Or “Idele, can you believe that?” And my kids, my unique, loud, amazing kids….I can’t even begin to write about them, it’s too close, too emotional, even though their single mission in life seem to be to drive me bat-shit crazy and test my boundaries to the very end of the end.
The water in the Algarve is bright green and blue and pure as my two amazing friends. Goose and Jodi are on this journey with me all the way. The ugly, the sad, the lessons. As all my good mates have been. #FGeorgeArmy I still salute you daily. PTSD after cancer is real though. And like Lymphoedema, it can set in years later. The PTSD only hit me recently. It is ugly and when I’m ready I will write about it. You know it is real ugly when even I can’t say it as it is.
I’m floor sleeping at Schiphol airport Amsterdam, I smell and look and feel like a hobo. It’s been many hours of traveling and there is still an 11 hour flight ahead. I cover my whole body with a throw that I bought for 10 Euros and gently rock like a crazy person. The floor is hard and there are these weird fake trees that play fake bird sounds. To my right some ADHD folks are cycling stationary bikes around a table to charge their phones and laptops. Soon, I’ll see my loved ones again. I had enough money for an orange juice and a bottle of water and I’m totally content. Writers want these kind of experiences, right?
I board the plane and realise that I have the cheapest seat known to man, way at the back of the plane, I’m seated between a husband and wife. I generously (selfishly) offer to swap seats so that they can be together but weirdly they insist that I sit between them. They are from Amsterdam. She has always wanted to visit Africa, he thinks he is going to die in Africa. She wants to know if she will see a giraffe, he wants know which areas to avoid and if he will be stabbed in the stomach. It is super awkward. She tells me how she can never sleep on flights and how she always arrives at her destination super tired. She falls asleep just as my bladder fills itself to the brim. I wave down an air hostess and ask for a small South African wine pretty please. When it arrives I consider for a second using the plastic cup to unleash the pressure from my bladder. I clench my teeth and tap my feet and do breathing exercises for about 40 minutes, and then I wake her because I actually just cannot hold it anymore.
I run for it, as fast as one can on a moving plane, very much aware of my armpits being close to face level as I walk. I so badly want a shower. Then I queue of course, with twenty others who are about to pee themselves. 30 Minutes later, inside that super small, smelly, weird little bathroom I think about how this is my life. Perhaps it’s my perception and perhaps it’s just really the strange and interesting life of Karen Jackson. I’ve never been one to ask for help. I speak up, don’t get me wrong! Litter on the beach or abuse a child or an animal or do anything wrong towards one of my loved ones and I’ll tell you straight and you’ll be scared. People don’t expect me to be scary. I can be very scary. But I also have an unreal level of empathy and true Afrikaans manners. Like the squint lady from Amsterdam, when she was finally sleeping, snoring and drooling with happy giraffes running all over her tiny little tv screen, I would rather have pee’d myself or have developed a bad UTI, rather than waking her.
Cancer stepped in here big time. I had to learn to ask for help. Cancer taught me so much.
Back in my seat, they want to ask more questions (the couple from Amsterdam). I politely put my headphones on, recline the 2cm that my seat allows and watch some arb series. It contains some sex scenes, both husband and wife look at me like I’m some depraved individual. The dirty smelly chick with weird hair and a fat arm from Africa. Also I’m sweating and shaking as some of my hormone therapy meds ran out three days before. I shake my legs (I like to think of it as aeroplane yoga, but it’s more like that feeling of being stuck in church where you absolutely have to stretch your legs. Like immediately). The whole flight is just weird. I’m like a junkie in withdrawal trapped in a box with a small tv. But then, the last 7 years have been weird…
I met the hunk of my dreams, I had three amazing kids who don’t sleep and who are super loud. It’s not been easy, I won’t lie. Spiders bit me (on my forehead, twice), work was hectic, my kids are the type of kids who wash their hair with toilet water and I’m that mom who is too tired to care, and so on and so on. We have amazing friends, we are super blessed, but inside something was slowly dying. Tough times, events and happenings and mistakes Iv’e made that I might reveal in my book one day. And then George of course, George my breast cancer. None of us saw him coming and the asshole was already at stage three…..
I hate and love George in equal amounts. Such a c*** should not cross anyone’s path, but there are so many lessons that he snuck in with himself. I met amazing people, I slept like never before, for days and days (for those 6 moths of chemo). I learnt that I’m stronger than I thought and that looks really do not matter. The arm is a bit unnecessary, really, I don’t think we needed this on top of it all! But Gen likes it, so even if the main reason was just for her and I to become friends, then it is worth it. I’m so tired of explaining that it’s lymphoedema that I now just say I train police dogs or wild hawks, kids love it.
I’m sitting in a small cave on Prahina beach, Goose and Jodi are in the water and I can hear the Goose laugh. I’m so happy my heart can burst. I’m sipping on cheap wine (3 Euros cheap) and reading an amazing book (Tin Man by Sarah Winman). I wish Kev was with me, but these two friends, they are honest, they are for life and they fill me with joy. A few meters in front of me a super model mom is posing for photos with her kids. Her nerdy husband snaps away. The water is clear, there is a yacht just offshore and we all wonder if it might be a celebrity. How lucky am I to experience this? To be alive? To have beaten cancer. When you come out of something like this you want to do everything, experience everything, learn everything, Soak it all in.
But life is life you guys. A few days after Prahina is when I floor sleep like a hobo, I travel more than 24 hours back to my loved ones. I hug and kiss them, I smell their hair, I hold their tiny feet. I vow never to be away from them for this long. That first night back I stroke their brows like my mom used to do when we were little. I delight in Kev’s chest hair and I kiss Beast even though I’m fully aware of the fact that he probably licked his balls 10 minutes before and that he rolled in Hadeda pooh.
I love my family so much I will die for them, no questions asked. But sensory overload sets in the very next day and I wonder if I might be better off sleeping on a cold hard floor on Schiphol airport, stinking like a hobo, listening to fake birds chirping from the ceiling. Was adulting ever even been for me? Am I winning at life?
My biggest lesson was to let go of snap judgments. Everyone is just doing the best they can to do this life. That mom who snaps at her kids, the person who chooses to live off the grid because it is what makes them happy, the couple who prefers to not sit next to each other. We all have our reasons. Seek to understand first, as Covey says. If you have never been a working mom with three young kids, then don’t comment. If you have never been addicted to anything then don’t judge. If you’ve never had mental illness then rather ask before you throw suggestions at the person. If you’ve not had cancer and experienced moments where you think you were going to die, then don’t pretend to know what it feels like. I could never understand the beauty of the Algarve until I was actually there. I’m not saying that cancer is the worst thing that can happen by the way, it really is all relative. People lose their jobs, their kids, their spouses. Abusive relationships and on and on. Also, help and guide your loved ones in a kind way by all means, that is our responsibility to each other. But always hold perspective close to your heart as well as in your head.
At the end of the day we each just have to create meaning for ourselves, whatever that might be. Find your native genius and meet your own unrecognised needs. Don’t say “I am”. Rather say ‘I have”. Because the stuff you may have do not define you and is easier to let go of than you think. But who you are, the “I am” part – that is what sticks, that is what counts.
Just a PS. to my kids if they ever read this; if chargers are still around when you are grown up, mark them. For the love of God, mark those things! So you’ll know which one is for that scooter or this watch or that toy. Trust me on this.
“One reason why some may continue to live with PTSD even after successful cancer treatment is because they may fear a return of the disease, says Caryn Mei Hsien Chan, Ph.D.
They may also be avoidant of hospital settings in general, and they might fail to seek treatment for unrelated diseases or conditions because this might trigger traumatic memories about cancer and cancer therapy. They also noted that people diagnosed with breast cancer, in particular, were more exposed to PTSD. These people were 3.7 times less likely to be diagnosed with this condition within 6 months from receiving the cancer diagnosis. However, this was not the case at the 4-year follow-up.”
Medical News Today: article published by Maria Cohut, November 2017