It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Fifteen years, to be precise. To the day. Amazing to realise it suddenly, like a gust of wind knocking into me as I step out into the rain to fetch some logs. A Tuesday, as I recall. Bitterly cold. Dry, sunny. The ward warm. The head spinning information of it all, the nurse rummaging for tissues for Tatty in Felicity’s office. Jörn with his arm around my shoulder. The magazines covering every surface in the waiting room.
The same office eight months later when she told me you had gone. A yellow leaflet with the email of a counsellor. Jörn still swearing at everyone; everyone still loving him.
You did leave, she was right. The odds she had given me – 83%, she said, not 80 or 85, I always loved the precision of that – turned out well. And though I have been certain at least twice that you were returning, still you have not come back. I am amazed by that, and grateful. Most days I do not even think about you.
Only, I do. I think about you a lot. I have written two books about you (possibly three). You are in everything I do, because I am still being touched by what you did (are doing) to me, even though you have left and are no longer in my body. Those ghost-pains down my right side, just above my kidneys (we thought it was stones). The hours I still lose wondering if you are there and if you were there, how would I live my life then, having been known by you already?
For someone with no presence, you have a long shadow. In my life, my body, my mind, and in the lives of those I love whose bodies you also seem to need. People used to ask me, was I angry that I had you. No, I said. But I was sad that my children had to know about you at such a young age. I am angry, though. I am angry that you took away my friends and are trying to take away others. I am angry that we still talk about fighting you, as though we have individual responsibility for making ourselves better. Tomorrow, next week, next month, a person we all love will die having fought a ‘battle’ with you. For one so common, you have so much power. We can be cured from having you, but we cannot cure our addiction to needing to talk about you as a battle to the death.
At least we no longer refer to you by your initial. At least we now say cancer. A doctor friend of mine says the next word we need to deal with is depression. (I know about that too, thanks in part to you.) I am no expert, but think he may be right. When I was ill with you I talked about you all the time. Then wrote about you all the time. Writing and talking about depression is much harder for me. (We can maybe talk about the reasons another time.) But you, cancer, you were the one who changed everything. You were the one, you see. You changed the way I read, the way I believe, the way I am in my body, my family. I still stand by what I said: you made me pay attention. Though you taught me more than I ever want to know, I still don’t think I can say thank you.
You don’t need to write back, that wouldn’t be kind.