Perhaps if I had been born in another time, another country, another town, in another family, with another name and the planets had aligned in the heavens in a different configuration, then maybe none if this would have happened. I would not be the person I believe myself to be. When I look in the mirror who would I see? Perhaps I am him, or her. Perhaps I am you. My life would have followed another path with another story, a different set of characters, setting and plot. A different beginning, middle and end. Not better nor worse, who’s to say. Just different.
Perhaps in the thread of time, one decision made differently, a glance in an alternate direction, a no instead of yes. A hello and not good bye. And perhaps I wouldn’t now be perching on the side of the bed, and not for the first time this month, head resting on a pile of pillows, with a needle and catheter inserted into my back between my 3rd and 4th ribs draining what will be a litre of fluid from the pleural lining of my lung. Another litre of fluid. That’s three litres in the last six weeks so far. There’s more yet to come, but that is in the future, a life not yet lived and breathed.
I am awash with fluid. Water water everywhere so the saying goes. I am like Canute raging against an incessant and unremitting tide. Impotent and futile against the power of nature and the elements. The lungs, according to Chinese medicine represent grief, and as the sea of sickness seeps from my body drop by drop I feel the release of decades of grief held vice-close, of sadness, of fear, of shame, of guilt, of secrets, of abuse, of self blame, wrong choices, missed opportunities, isolation and silence. Oh the silence is deafening now, drowning out the white noise that butts and rasps and rattles in my head like a hornet trapped and angered. A pestilent and painful reminder that I too am trapped, that I too am pestilent. Looking out upon the life I want to have that lies beyond my reach. Out of my grasp. On the other side of the glass. Slipping through my fingers. Nothing to do but surrender, be here now, allow the grief to subside like a receding tide, when all is revealed and I can breathe again.
Forty minutes and three coughs later and I am done. The cause of this, my latest incapacitation, the breathlessness, the palpitations, the discomfort, pain and physical restriction when life is reduced to a corner of the sofa and dependency on others, lies malignantly in a plastic bag upon a metal trolley, not yet for discarding, but for analysis, searching for more clues in the crime of my disease.
Beside me, Dr H. wraps things up with a manner at once professional, friendly and endlessly reassuring. We have met several times over the last year, despite my best intentions not to, and he maintains an easy dialogue throughout the procedures that both distracts and normalises this most un-normal of circumstances. As bedside manners go, he rates a 10/10. As I think it, I hear the words fly clean out of my mouth and into his ears.
Drain removed, plaster applied, all swabbed clean and tidy a thank you to the team and I am wheeled from day theatre down the corridor to recovery before the next victim, sorry, patient is wheeled in. Recovery consists of spaces for four patients and Eric* the nurse in charge.
“Hello again” I say
“Hello again you” he replies. “Back again? How are we today? Can I get to a drink of water?”
His accent places him in the region of the Philippines. Like so many of his NHS colleagues I have had the good fortune to meet, who come from South East Asia, Thailand, Africa, the West Indies, eastern Europe, Spain, Greece, India, China, Hong Kong, I am grateful he made the journey to work here, healing the sick of Great Britain. Clearly we cannot sustain this great and wonderful institution alone. Our global friends are a intrinsic to its health. And for all our sakes the NHS, needs saving, before the disease of neglect and lack of funding and secretive selling off kills it off once and for all. Where would we be, where would I be without it? Not here and now, that’s for sure.
Eric turns the monitor so I can monitor myself. My oxygen sats read 92, I know they won’t want to let me go until they each around 98. Eric remembers I like a challenge! Tentatively I begin to deepen my breath, lung slowly re-inflating for the first time in weeks, like a butterfly unfurling from cocoon, spreading my wings, come on, come on, I will myself, that’s it, 93, 94, you can do it. Heart rate is starting to come down from over 100 bpm, it has felt like a runaway train the last few weeks, even when stationary. Is this what it’s like to feel human again? I’m almost scared to remember.
Eric bustles back with a poly cup of water, de- licious. He sings quietly under his breath to the retro tunes whispering forth from the radio, to my amusement, he really does seem to know every song.
“You missed your true calling” I joke, humour returning in equal measure to breath.
“I think you’re right” he laughs
Dr H. Pops by to check up on me just as my sats reach 98. Job done we both agree.
“No offense,” I say, “but I hope we don’t meet again for very long time,”
He smiles, as I have said this very sentence on several occasions over the last year. What I really mean, is thank you thank you thank you. Thank you for making me feel so much better. Thank you for the gift of modern technology, science and medicine that found its way from you to me and means I am not drowning in my own water, but alive and kicking. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. He departs taking my gratitude with him, radiating 10 out of 10
“OK young lady, you’re looking good, home I think.” Says Eric
“Yes please,” I say to no one but myself.
A new song starts up on the radio, Eric sings along,
“At first I was afraid I was petrified,
La la la Laa la la la Laa la la la lala laaa….”
HEY! Wait for me Gloria, I’m just putting my skates on,
You sing it girl, you sing it loud. And she does ,
“I will survive! Hey Heeeeey!”
And with that I pirouette into the corridor and back into my life.
(c) Leah Bracknell
Butterfly photographs: Seb Janiak
20 Comments Add yours
I wish these techniques were around in Australia in 1996 🙏
Leah, u are an inspiration 💖 keep shining bright xxx
Amazing piece. I hate the way we take drs from their country of Origen though and their nurses too Beacause these countries need them.
I also have found them to be outstanding drs and yes they fuel our health system with incredible care. .
Also diagnosed with lung cancer in NOV 2017.
As a nurse it was devastating.
Love your blog.
May miracles overwhelm us. X
Thanks for sharing; more bites of truth and poetry from the woman shining a beacon on the way. I don’t have any pdL-1 expression but I thought you do and perhaps immunotherapy drugs await past your chemo? Either way, love and comfort and thanks to you
Leah your radiance shines bright even though your going through all this. Very pertinent song” I will survive”
You have courage, humility, strength and determination.
Sending you healing light and hugs across the air waves.
Love and bright blessings💖💖💖🌟🌟🌟💖💖🌞💖💖
Leah, I love reading your blogs, I love the way you see things, and interpret things, which I feel as well but could not put so eloquently, stay strong lovely lady, we all admire you and send you love and healing thoughts. xxxx
Please ignore the Daily Mail report calling you ‘terminally ill’ – I know people who were days or weeks from death by cancer who are now active and mostly cancer free. Lung cancer is a tough one but laughter and poetry are clearly helping you. I just wanted to let you know of a resource that may be helpful – The Cancer Survivor’s Bible (available on Amazon). Good luck.
I quite agree with the negative and disempowering impact that the thoughtless use of language and labelling can have. Terminal is never a description I would chose for anyone. Whatever your circumstances never be limited by other people’s assumptions and labels of who you are, what you are dealing with and how you want to LIVE. Blessings
This is the first time I have ever followed the urge to reach out to someone I have never met and comment on the impact they’ve had on my life, positive or negative.
Today, when I read the following passage,
“The lungs, according to Chinese medicine represent grief, and as the sea of sickness seeps from my body drop by drop I feel the release of decades of grief held vice-close, of sadness, of fear, of shame, of guilt, of secrets, of abuse, of self-blame, wrong choices, missed opportunities, isolation and silence. “
I recognised myself in your struggle.
I am also aware of the impact that negative feelings and emotions have on our physical bodies and yet I procrastinate. You reminded me that NOW is what matters, that I MUST be on top of my wandering mind, that I HAVE TO meditate more often and train my brain to stay on a positive path.
I would like to thank you. I am grateful for you, for your pain, for the awareness you’ve brought me today. Your soul is forever included in my prayers.
We are all together in this. We are all one. I am with you.
We all reach out to one another, I to you and now you to me. Thank you. Many blessings. You make my day. X
Love and best wishes Leah.
Leah, I found you tonight at 2 am, at a dark time for me, and you have given me hope. Your words are beautiful and profound. Cancer, the C word is something that can leave so many without dignity but you convey your journey with hope and beauty, I will avidly support and follow you as someone who’s life has been touched by cancer so many times. It runs in my family genetically and my mum is five years in to her latest battle, with the worst form of breast cancer, still fighting defying our man made odds. Your words, your wisdom and your honesty give me hope as someone who does not have cancer right now, all of this cruelty is not in vain and thank you for what you convey. I, as so many others have and will, support you and your journey. Thank you so much for humanising the unthinkable, you truly are amazing. So much love is being sent to you. God speed and bless you and keep being so strong and honest xxx
Kat, thank you. In life we often feel alone, but when we learn to see each other, we realise that we are not. Thank you for your words that shine a light in my day, and many blessings to your mother on her journey, long may it continue x
Thank you so much for sharing these powerful words with us – your honesty, strength and courage are palpable and it is beautiful to read. Would you ever consider writing a book about your journey? It could empower and bring comfort to so many people. Warmest wishes, Lauren x
Your an inspiration keep fighting , much love Sharon xxx
I love you Leah, you are a truly wonderful person and beautiful both inside and outside, like many others I send you my love, hope and support, and I wish I could do something to help you as well as sending you my regards.
Hi. Just wanted to let you know there is hope. Just search YouTube videos ‘the truth about cancer’ and ‘the beautiful truth’ . I hope you don’t let the system bet you. Take care
thank you for your words and poems. They touched me deeply. I’m writing from Finland, sorry if my english is not so correct 😊I found so much strenght in your writing.
My dear mother has also lung cancer and it’s terminal. She also loves life but this cancer is taking over her. In Finland the letter is S and I hate the soud of the word cancer.
I hope that people could give strenght and positive energy to sick person. Just beeing near, listening with heart. I can see my mother often, be there for her and give her hugs. She saids that us children give her the strenght she needs. That way she knows that she lives forever in our life and hearts. And in grandchilds hearts.
I send you a warm loving hug from rainy Finland, land of the thousand lakes. I pray for you and keep following your blog. And also following Emmerdale on tv😍
Have you tried Cannabis oil?
Just know that many people, myself included, get liver damage from trying cbd oil
Hi Leah, your journey sounds very similar to my fathers who was diagnosed with ALK rearrangement (stage 4) in June 2018. He is doing well at the moment no drains for over 3 weeks.
Wishing you well xo