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I was diagnosed the end of January with vaginal cancer. I am 36 years old and the prognosis is iffy at best. I wrote this after I went to a new cancer patient orientation yesterday.
Today I faced the beast. Not the beast of imagination or fantasy, but the true beast that frightens me more than anything I could even discribe.
For 6 years I have played my favorite game, Ultima Online. Nearly every day I log into the game and I prepare myself to face the hardest monster my party of friends and myself feel like they can beat. If I am alone, I pick my opponent a bit more wisely, but seldom do I rush out to meet something easy. I enjoy the challenge of battle.
I enjoy the question of who will win, myself or the monster. I enjoy the rush of adrenaline, the heat of my face, my breathlessness. I enjoy the tenseness of my muscles and that final moment when I see the way the battle will end. I enjoy the end scream, whether in agonizing defeat or in suprised victory. I enjoy the moment of stunned suprise that follows the outcome and the final rush forward to claim my prize of treasure, or that mad scramble to save my defeated body, so that I may again go forward to try my luck in the next battle.
I chose my weapons with care, based upon what I wish to fight, and I cover myself in the very best armor I can find or afford. Sometimes it is not the best weapon or the best armor in the game, usually not even close, but I realize I have skill on my side. I spend hours strengthening myself in the game, building the strength I need to face tough monsters. I study my opponents. Everything I can read, everything I can find out from others who face the same enemy, and I store it all in my mind for use when the time is right. I prepare my attack. I go over strategy in my mind and hope for an opportunity to use it. When I go forward, heart racing and often hands shaking, I never think of turning back.
I dont know if that is bravery or foolishness. Maybe a bit of both. I know I have questions about my ability to win and I need the answers to those questions. I guess 'curiosity killed the cat' but it also allows for surprising victories. There are opponents I will not face alone. This is not cowardice I know, but realism. The best weapons in the world and the best armor will not protect me from some of the most evil and dangerous of beasts. I know that if you look some opponents in the eye for even a second, you die running with your back to them and a scream in your throat. For those I take my friends and do my best to add strength to myself as well as them. Some things are best not faced alone.
So today I faced the beast. The real beast.
I sat in an orientation for new cancer patients beside my husband who was there for support but unable to hear the class himself. He did surprisingly well and didnt fidget so that I could get the most benefit out of the class I could. I was grateful that they took so much time answering questions. I didnt ask any but sat quietly, however I heard much that I felt I needed to know. I did feel strengthened. At the end, they took us on a tour of the facility and I followed where they led.
I found myself in strange corridors and odd rooms. Like a maze in a dungeon you could easily get lost if you didnt have a guide. I realized as I looked, however that soon these rooms and corridors would become as familiar to me as my own home; As familiar to me as the lairs of beasts whom I track through an imaginary world with a pixel axe. I felt the familiar fear before battle. Only stronger than I had ever felt it before. I felt vulnerable and naked in those halls and rooms. I almost wished I had said I was too tired for the tour and had gone home, but I continued to follow, holding the hand of my husband. He smiled at me for a moment and winked, he could see my fear, and I felt as though I suddenly held a sheild in my hand. The fear lessened, not much but it was not so suffocating in that moment.
The tour wound through radiation oncology and I stood for a moment beside the other warriors in my party, looking at a CT machine. I wondered if they felt what I did. I wondered if the coming battle scared them as much as it did me. The fear nearly shut my mind of what the doctor was explaining, but I continued to listen, barely looking around the room, my eyes fixed on the giant in the center of the room.
I could feel the beast in the room, and I felt fear.
I imagined myself on that table, the maw of the CT machine swallowing my body to get its pictures. I hated the knowledge that I would use that very machine. I looked at the beast and wanted to go home right then.
We moved from there into the room where the actual radiation machine was. This beast scared me more.
It was huge and black, nearly to the ceiling. It hummed softly when it turned as they showed how it moved. The doctor stood by the treatment table explaining the machine and the table and what went on in the room. I imagined myself on this table and my eyes filled with tears. I was ashamed and quickly recited the alphabet in my head so tears wouldnt fall. It wouldnt do one bit to have anyone ask me what was wrong. I wanted to be invisible, I wanted to be alone in my terror. My husband, of course, felt my feelings like he always does and he whispered something comforting to me. I was too full of fear to answer and if I did the tears would fall. I really could say nothing.
I looked at the beast and I know why they say true terror has no voice.
I followed the tour through the rest of the facility, through the chemo treatment rooms, doctors offices and office facilities. The image of that great black beast burned into my head. I felt like a child afraid of the boogie man in the closet. I felt like I had finally opened the closet door and instead of reassurance, the boogie man really was there, and I had looked him in the eye. And I felt like to be free of him now I will have to let him claw his way through my body every day for 6 weeks, so that maybe, at the end of the battle, I can be free. I looked at the beast and I didnt feel strong enough or knowledgable enough or brave enough. I felt like a child.
I went home. I spent a night with my mother and husband, going through the motions of normal evening activities, but feeling so far from normal. The image of the beast burned in my brain and distracting me. I can imagine its growl, I can imagine its cold embrace. I know it wont hurt, not directly, but ultimately it could cause me pain.
All night I thought about the beast. All night I have felt the fear and dread.
I had a few minutes to myself and some time to think alone. And I suddenly realized I had it all wrong. I felt the beast because the beast is with me all the time. I have already faced the beast and it does hold me hard in its grasp. The cancer is the beast and I have nothing to fear from anything else.
What I saw today was my weapon. Its the best one in the game, I just have to use it. I just have to have the courage to trust myself to it. I should have seen my power in that machine, not my weakness. The beast had confused me and closed my eyes to that. So now I prepare to use the weapon.
I dont know how, but I read and I listen and I will learn. This is my time to get my weapons ready, my armor and my party. The things I do to prepare myself for battle in UO are all things I will do to prepare for this. And the fear wont keep me from the battle. I have no way of knowing how the battle will turn out and I feel that same adrenaline rush, that same breathless, shaking uncertainty. I have fought many battles and that will help me control the terror I believe.
And at the end I will have a laugh of relief no matter how it turns out, just to have the uncertainty banished forever. And beyond is another battle no matter which way it goes. So one battle at a time.