Before my trip to Kurdistan at the beginning of June, I was having my eyebrows and nails done. (I always keep them neat. Partly because I think it makes me feel and look smart – and partly because it’s not so very long since I had no eyebrows and fingernails that were more a source of pain than anything else.)
Lying back preparing to be waxed, I had the oddest experience. Looking at the ceiling tiles while I waited for the heat and rip of the eyebrow shaping, I was back in the Royal Marsden’s basement, staring upward while the radiotherapy machine did its banging, humming, burning thing.
In memory, radiotherapy is little more than crashingly boring. When I think of radiotherapy I think of the long journeys, the waiting, the undressing-and-dressing-five-minutes-later, the professionally-distant staff. Sometimes I remember the burning and the relief of aloe vera gel straight from the fridge.
But in this unexpected flashback I felt something different. I felt a powerful loneliness, a sensation of being adrift in the world and far from the shores I would have chosen. I felt the mix of stoicism and panic which I suppose I ignored at the time; but rather than being forgotten, it’s been distilled. It was a sudden, dark place.
The waxing brought me back.
Thinking about it since, I suppose these pushed-away feelings are the basis of my strident ‘just-because-it’s-not-as-bad-as-chemotherapy-doesn’t mean-it’s-nothing’ stand. (That, and the crashing boredom, and the burning.) It was curious to experience them again. Once more, I reached back through time to brave-face-me and held my hand and said, you’re doing fine, girl, it will be fine. Hang in there, I said to myself.
Hang in there, I say to you, if you’re going to be staring at some tiles today while the radiotherapy machine clicks and buzzes. Hang in there. It will be fine. Mighty fine. You’ll even get your eyebrows back.