Fit for work?

Yesterday, I made it outside for the first time in five days.  The occasion for this tentative reintegration into society: a work meeting.

I’ll predict some responses:
You didn’t need to do that’.
‘Be easy on yourself’.
‘You don’t have to worry about work now’.
‘Save your energy on getting better’.
‘How about some more Netflix recommendations?’
‘Why aren’t you taking advantage of this gold plated excuse to do absolutely nothing?’

Well – in my defence – it wasn’t like any old work meeting.  It involved collaboratively composing (in order to teach it) and planning a big multi-orchestra concert for summer.  I like those things and it was completely worth the journey.  Despite the weather.  And the nagging fatigue/brain fog/dizziness/nausea/abdominal pain.  And having to sit down all the time. And pause for breath in the middle of a sentence.  And gradually, it sunk in.

I am now disabled.  Due to the legal status of cancer patients, this has been true for some time now.  But barely able to stand up after a sedentary two hours very much inside my comfort zone, I really felt it.  Rooted to the sofa this morning, I feel it still.  In the moment, that’s fine.  I can do whatever I can do now and that’s fine.  In the meeting, it was fine.  There was nothing to lose – my presence a bonus.

But what breaks my heart? I find myself robbed of my future.  As the working party excitedly made arrangements as far forward as July, I had to bite my tongue at every mention of something I might be able to contribute.  Because I don’t know if, by then, I’m going to be back at work, in limbo waiting for results, in chemo, radio, surgery, recovery or – I’m just going to say it – alive.  I’m no longer able to offer a reliable promise, commitment, or diary date beyond pencilling something in and making it clear it’s best not to expect me.  How many times a day do we bet against the future? ‘No problem – I can do that tomorrow’ etc. etc.  Well, for the first time in my life, that’s no longer a safe bet.

What happens if you define yourself as being dependable, reliable and useful – then suddenly, you can’t cash all the cheques you’ve optimistically written against the future?  Well I’ve now had to renege on every promise I’ve ever made and all that’s left is to clutch at whatever straws are within reach.  It became evident yesterday that I wouldn’t be able to make it through a day of teaching and being responsible for large numbers of children.  And that’s annoying, because I’d really like to offer – but in the likely event I had to go home, someone would need to scramble to cover.  The late great Deborah James came to the same conclusion – when diagnosed with bowel cancer, she stopped teaching because consistency was the one thing she couldn’t provide.  But she did plenty, including raising awareness by dressing up in a big poo emoji costume.  Well that’s not quite my style. However, having found some joy in making it out to rehearsals, there’s a brass band on tonight and I’m still officially the conductor.  Let’s see what happens…