If there is one thing a cancer diagnosis teaches you, it’s how to fake cool. We’ve all been there: your blood work is a bit off, and your doctor says to wait another month. So you breathe, and fake cool. Your GP leaves a message for you to call his office about a recent chest X-ray. Breathe, fake cool. Why aren’t antibiotics working on a throat infection? It’s probably nothing, right? Breathe, fake cool. Except that six years ago, that strange bruise on my arm was supposed to be nothing and it turned out to be a very big something that turned my world upside down.
So after having a cold for two months, then a cough and a fever, then strep throat twice in one month, I was faking cool. My rational brain was in high gear. Everyone I knew was sick. My kids were coughing and sniffling. Even our dog was coughing (seriously). All of this explained why I was constantly sick. Still, I couldn’t help worrying. “Isn’t it strange that after two rounds of antibiotics, I still can’t kick this cold?” I’d ask my husband, and he’d give me his you-worry-too-much look as he hacked away.
But when I woke up without a cough, or fever, or even congestion and I could barely lift my toothbrush, I began to lose my cool. I skipped the shower because I didn’t think I could stand up that long. Breathe, fake cool. This is just fatigue from the cold, I thought. My clothes felt heavy and I could barely move my legs. With a pretend smile, I cheerfully told my husband I was going to the walk-in clinic to check for pneumonia.
It was with relief that I looked around the clinic that day and saw that almost everyone was wearing a mask. When I described the incredible fatigue to the doctor, he smiled and said that everyone was sick and tired. I had to ask if how I was feeling had anything to do with CML. He said it was unlikely. Except – let’s be honest – there was no way for him to know for sure.
The next day, the five-minute walk to my kids’ school felt as if I was climbing a mountain. I lost my cool. And since all roads seem to lead to my oncologist, that’s where I spent the afternoon. I looked around at the patients, some dragging IV poles, others gaunt and clearly struggling. It brought tears to my eyes. I was reminded of that day six years ago, when I sat in this same clinic waiting to hear what type of cancer I had. I could no longer fake cool – this was my life. I had things to do, like take care of two beautiful human beings whom I love more than anything.
Five hours later, the test results were in. It turned out my body was being challenged by the H1N1 virus, or swine flu, as it’s disgustingly called. After a fast round of medication, I was upright again. A thank you to my oncologist who is always on top of things. Crisis averted once more.
Breathe, fake cool.
Lisa Machado is part of The Canadian CML Network in Toronto. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.