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My other citizenship 

Since I last wrote I’m back firmly ensconced in Canberra. It’s been an easy transition with the exception of my medical care. 

I always knew my Peter Mac doctors were good but it’s now clearer than ever.  I have a grim prognosis. The five year survival rate for my diagnosis is somewhere between five and nineteen percent (depending on which lot of stats you are looking at). In the last six months I’ve lost two dear friends with my same diagnosis. Both mothers of young children. Both older than me, but not by much. It’s all too real to me. I call myself an optimistic pragmatist in relation to my cancer. I think I’ve been smugly giving myself credit for this attitude when in fact it may well have been the gift of my treating team at Peter Mac. 

I have never once been made to feel like a hopeless case by my doctors and nurses there, nor that my fate is written in stone. They have not given me false hope but they have given me the courage to live each day, to be pleased with my good responses and to hope for more of the same. In particular,  Michael my oncologist is so skilled in this regard. I imagine the term ‘patient led’ is thrown about a bit in the medical field. A bit like ‘strategic’ or ‘evidence based policy’ in the public service. Easily said, difficult to actually do. Michael is so good at it. If the time comes that there is no hope, he is the person I want to hear it from. 

My first oncology appointment in Canberra really brought home to me how good my Peter Mac experience was. It would almost be comic if it wasn’t so awful. I hope that one day I’ll be able to laugh at it – I shall tuck it away for the novel. Long story short, this oncologist wanted me to be in no doubt that I will die, probably quite soon, and that I will die in great pain. It was all said very politely but it was like talking to a wall. Everything David or I said just bounced off him as he returned to his theme of my imminent and unpleasant demise.  

The appointment sent David into an immediate decline. I think I’ve had a delayed reaction to the conversation. Initially I shrugged it off. But for the last week or so I’ve felt like a dead woman walking. Susan Sontag’s quote about our dual citizenship – of the kingdom of the well and the kingdom of the sick – is on repeat in my head. Perhaps for the first time I feel marked as a citizen of the other place – the sick. I feel separate, even from David and Violet. I’m struggling to believe I’ll see Violet start school. I’m not afraid of pain but I’m so very afraid of leaving my people. 

It’s funny what can help. On Monday I unexpectedly ran into a school friend who happened to be visiting from Brisbane. It was lovely to see her and to be reminded of that bit of my life. We agreed that adulting is bloody hard. And yesterday I had a coffee with my wonderful Alicia. I told her all about the appointment and I could see she was a bit teary. I don’t know why but I found this comforting. I don’t want to make my people sad. But while I spend a lot of energy trying to live as normally as possible, it is good to be reminded that my life has some pretty traumatic moments. 

I’m currently trying to change oncologists up here. In a few weeks we’ll go back to Melbourne and I’ll see my Peter Mac doctors. I’m lucky this is an option. At some point I’ll write some more about treatment and outcomes in the regions versus the bigger cities but for now I will sign off. My aim for the next few weeks is to keep plodding along. One day at a time. Sufficient unto today is the evil thereof. 

“Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.” 

― Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor

19 thoughts on “My other citizenship 

  1. There are other oncologists here. I wasn’t too happy with my initial one, but have found one I’m comfortable with. You could ask for a referral to someone else. I’ve wondered how you were going. Thinking of you, ☺. Lyn

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  2. Am so sorry you had to sit through such a callous consultation. This made me cry out of sadness and anger for you. It sounds like another oncologist is a must. Craig went through cancer treatments here over five years ago and is still grossly disappointed by the lack of emotional support from the medical system. No wonder Peter Mac has so many success stories. This is exactly why health care should be holistic. You’ve had so many successes to date and I’m looking forward to hearing about many more xox

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  3. Wow. How beautifully you write. This post was so poignant and that quote right at the end … sublimely perfect. We all have to take up the other citizenship at some point … the well often live blithely like they will never lose their efficiency or their able status. But we all will, somehow, someway. Many under more acceptable or ‘fair’ circumstances, many under less so. What a brave mother and human being you are. You have to be so much braver when you’re a mother, but what an incredible example of courage you are giving to your little girl. She too will one day take up her dual citizenship and you are leaving her, through your writing, a shining example of how to do it gracefully. Wishing for the best for you and your family. xxx

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  4. Hi Caitlin, I love and hate all your posts. So beautifully written. Angry at the way you were treated. Wishing you many giggles of joy from Violet.

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  5. Caitlin, you have a beautiful gift to share with your writing, I am sure many people will be able to share your journey with you as a result. Lots of love♥️♥️♥️🎈 Enid

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  6. Lovely lady, I too am so sorry you were treated and spoken to in such a way. Why these people work in such an industry I will never know. Sending much love from Chicago and extra kisses for Violet xxx

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  7. Caitlin, it was such a pleasure meeting you at my salon. Not because of the health issues you are having to deal with, not because of the horrendous treatment story you told me from specialists here in Canberra but because you were simply a refreshing joy to have sit in my manicure chair. You are a strong beautiful woman who is not going to take anything or anyone lying down! We have a fabulous colour at the salon, and without being rude it’s called ‘F@ck off Red!’ it’s a powerful colour and I’m feeling we should try it on you next time! Keep smiling and being you! Look forward to seeing you in a few weeks!

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