365 days of horror

by Hilla Duka

Little flower arrangement on a table

It’s now one year since I found out I have cancer. The last few days have been filled with the roaring thunder of my mind, the echoes of storms past and storms to come. Cancer storms. Deadly, all-consuming storms that steal what I’ve worked so hard for, snatch it out of my hands.


These days have been filled with the memories of lying on a narrow hospital bed, knowing things were bad, but not how bad. That first surreal feeling, that I was somehow experiencing another person's life, because surely this wasn’t meant for me. Snatches of conversations, sharp as knives in my heart.

“What did you say to them?”

“I told them Hilla has cancer.”



Other, wordless moments, eyes meeting in horror, when there are no words to be said. Hands fumbling for each other, to offer if not comfort then at least a short refuge from the loneliness.


Memories of how I raged at this huge, unmanned weapon, without intelligence or compassion, still I tried to reason with it. “I have children!” I argued. “Please, you cannot actually do this to me. I’ve learned my lesson, slap on the hand, I’ll be a better person, honest”. And while I’m still there in that same spot, one year later, and cancer is still without intelligence and certainly without compassion, I’ve learnt that the universe isn’t. I’ve touched a love and caring so deep and profound it has given me strength when I thought I could not go on.


This new feeling of being here-but-not-here. Hearing my family talk about me as I half slumber after chemo. “Can she eat? Did she vomit? She looks so weak...” Watching the people I love hurt, and knowing there’s nothing I can do to reassure them.


The way my heart shattered every single time I woke up, as I realised again and again that it was true, it wasn’t a bad dream, it was all true and nothing would be the same again. For weeks this went on. I’d wake up and for a second I’d not remember and then it would hit me and it was as if my heart was sucked out of my chest in that instant, and I’d weep and not stop until there were no more tears.


Somehow some people loved me enough to stay with me. Not just in the beginning, when all was new and shocking, but through this year and onwards.


I didn’t understand then what this year would bring. I would have never thought then that I would be happy again, that I would laugh and love and make plans and look forward to things again. One year has passed, and I’m still here.



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