The origin of things

by Hilla Duka


Everything begins somewhere, though it’s very often not too clear where that is.


For me, I could say that it began with a phone call  on my way to lunch. That phone call, where an unknown doctor told me to get myself to the emergency room to get a blood transfusion, certainly did change everything.


Or I can go back a day or so, to the meeting with another doctor, whom I asked, after having gone through all my symptoms, “How much of this would be explained, if the breast is cancerous?” and who looked at me with those sad, kind of empathic-but-not-really eyes that doctors save for bad news, and answered very simply “Everything”. That shook me, and it was by any standard, the start of things.


But I can go back even further, to an evening in Berlin on a work-trip, where I slipped on a patch of ice, tore of a ligament and dislocated my knee. That was the start of my downfall, physically, though I already had the cancer in my body, unknowingly. The adjustments I had to make because of my knee allowed the symptoms to hide for a while longer. Just a few months, but no one knows what difference finding it a few months early could have made. Perhaps nothing, but perhaps something. We’ll never know, and though it’s pointless to wonder about it, that doesn’t seem to stop me.


And even further back, at some unknown point, when in my breast a cell or two broke loose and started forming the beginning of a tumour. I have very little of an idea when that was, the doctor tells me most likely it happened somewhere around three years ago. I think back, trying to picture what I was doing three years ago, wondering when it happened. Again, pointless, but sometimes I find myself pondering on it as if obsessed, quite unable to stop.


It’s so hard to understand, that it is in my breasts, which nurtured my children from the day they were born, that the events that will one day take my life started. I think that’s one of the hardest things to take in with breast cancer: how can the very parts of me that gave life to my children be the same thing that threatens my own? That threatens those very same childrens right to their mother?


What I’ve learnt is that these thoughts and questions, unhelpful as they may be, demand space. They demand to be thought. The only way I can put a smile on my face, and enjoy the day that is given, is by also making time to feel the sadness, think the horrible thoughts, have a good cry and admit to myself my fears and worries. Then I can leave it behind. That way, anxiety doesn’t consume me, the panic attacks stay away, and (by the help of a sleeping pill), I can sleep through the night. That way, I can enjoy what I have, and be grateful for it.


Everything begins somewhere, even gratitude, joy, and the ability to appreciate each day have to come from something. For me, they come from making time to accept all the things that aren’t perfect.



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