My boss pulled me to one side
to talk about some things
she had overheard.
She wanted me to know that
she was there if I needed to talk
work or otherwise.
She tells me that
I need to be careful
who I say things in front of
because she’s concerned
I might upset people
and she doesn’t want me to get in trouble.
I try and bite my tongue
but every morning when my colleagues ask
“how are you today, Less?”
my mouth fills with acid
and I want to claw my throat out
because I don’t know how to answer
while staying in my authority
to not tell anyone what’s going on.
Like a child on Christmas eve,
tonight I cannot sit still,
It is not through excitement
of Santa visiting with presents
but through fear of what is to come.
This day has been two and a half months in the making,
and yet it feels like a lifetime
of panic and anxiety and not knowing.
It is chemo eve,
tomorrow I open the gift
of poison fed directly into my system
that will save my life.
At least my insides will match my attitude.
“Hey, where do you want to go for team lunch?”
My heart stops.
I don’t know how to tell my colleagues
that I need 48 hours written notice
of being asked this
so I have time to look at menus,
work out what I can afford
and what I can actually eat
in a minefield of allergies.
“We’re thinking the Lysander!”
they say excitedly,
clearly somewhere they’ve been before
and thoroughly enjoyed
and I don’t want to be the awkward killjoy
but I don’t know this place
and I don’t know the layout
and I don’t know if there will be
a seat away from all windows
with my back to as many people as possible.
We get there,
and the menu is almost entirely seafood
and I can feel the panic rising in my chest
and my heart is thumping so hard
I think it might crack a rib
I just want to cry
and I clench my hands into fists and dig my nails into my palms
hard enough to draw blood.
I got my maths wrong
and now I am off my meds
which keep me level.
The disaster radio is back
and detailing the news reports of
every tragic event that might happen right now.
I can hear the broadcast of my death
while driving to work –
my car spontaneously erupts into flames
and there is no way anyone could survive.
I am walking through Tesco at lunchtime
and the person walking behind me
several metres back is going to stab me
and I can almost see the newspaper article
in the small print on the side of my sandwich box.
It’s so tiring and overwhelming that
I don’t want to leave the house most of the time,
but then I see the police tape up outside the front door
as they investigate the burglary gone wrong
that resulted in my manslaughter.
There is a word used to describe me
that is accurate,
but it still hurts to hear.
I am needy.
I just love talking to people,
and I love talking to people I love.
As a teenager,
I would stay up to 4 in the morning
talking to someone,
fall asleep for two hours
then wake up at 6 for school
and continue the conversation
with no hesitation.
Sometimes I am too needy.
Interaction with those I hold dearest
is a drug to me
and I cannot seem to quit
and I have to fight off my urges to bother people
when they clearly don’t want to talk to me –
but is that true
or is that what I’m telling myself
to stop myself from being too needy
and annoying them more?
It’s a constant juggle in my brain
to satisfy my needs
without pissing off my friends.
Let them text first,
I tell myself.
But then here I am
stuck waiting for my phone to buzz.
An old friend and I
used to subscribe to the adage
that you should try and do one thing
every day that scares you.
But when everything scares you,
what is enough?
Is walking down the street enough?
Is going on a date with someone you met on the internet enough?
Is flying to a different country on your own enough?
Is cancer enough?
I have since learned that fear is fluid and relative
and each day the limits of what scares you might be different.
One day, I might be able to face down a wild lion without flinching.
The next, I might not be able to leave my room to get a drink
even though the house is empty.
Every day is different and needs to be handled differently
and that is perfectly okay
as long as you keep trying.
– for Ben, thank you for being my earliest supporter
I sit in the car
outside the local community centre,
leaflet in hand.
It is the night
I finally attend the support group
for young adults with cancer.
My blood is ice in my veins
and I shake uncontrollably –
with fear or sadness
or maybe just exhaustion.
I promised my friend I would go,
and I’ve already disappointed enough people lately
so here I am
and I am not ready
but I will never be ready
so here I go.
give your name,
and one interesting fact about yourself!”
Hi, my name is astera
I am 23,
I have ovarian cancer, stage 2
and I hid my tattoos from my parents
for four years
while living with them.