Saturday, May 08, 2021

Four: Control The Narrative/ It's A Great Feature

My first message using a WhatsApp broadcast - It's A Great Feature

Welcome to Part Four!

I experienced an undercurrent of stronger emotions as I wrote this.

I wasn't aware until I snapped at Davina after writing it.

Doing these posts is like re-living the experience - and it helps at the same time.

Writing this part reminded me of how much the story we tell ourselves about ourselves...is well...a story...and we can re-write it at any time.

I was also reminded of the profound nature of the conversations we have with the people in our lives. It's almost as if they create who we are.

Reminder:

_Men/ Young Men: seriously - learn to check your testicles regularly please - see here*

_Women: get the gentlemen in your life to check their testicles regularly

(Re)Reading List:

Part Three: Ninety-Something Percent Certain

Part Two: Smooth Egg Intact

Part One: I'm Not In Any Pain

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4: Control The Narrative/ It's A Great Feature

As I got into my car, I had the sense that time was moving and standing still.

At. The. Same. Time.

"I have testicular cancer"

I think I might have said it out loud as I sat in the car. To practise. To make it more real.

Even if I didn't, that was the overriding thought.

I tried calling Davina (my wonderful wife). It went to voicemail.

FUCK!

I don't remember if I left her a message. But she needed to go into work that day. No chance of getting through to her.

Is it bad that my next thought was - what about work?

That morning I'd fully expected to be back in school for the afternoon.

Not any more.

So, as I drove around the back streets towards the tube station to pick up my wife, I found myself on the phone to my deputy head at school.

Hi <name>- can you talk?

Yes.

Are you sitting down?

Yes - why?

I've received a diagnosis of testicular cancer.

Oh - I'm so sorry to hear that.

And like that it became real.

My deputy head was the first person in my life that I told.

Of all the people...FFS. 

I wasn't seething with rage. But wasn't numb either.

After I got off the phone I did have one thought:

"I want to control the narrative"

More instinctively than by design, I knew that the way I communicated it with people would have an effect on their reactions.

--

I picked up Davina from the tube station.

So they know what it is.

Oh really?

You should put your seat belt on.

OK.

Are you ready? I have testicular cancer.

Tears - on her part.

Then whydidthishappenwhynowhowcomethesethingshappentousitsnotfairwhatarewegoingtodowhatdoesitallmean

As we drove home I explained the key facts that I was going to be explaining a lot over the next few days:

_testicular cancer is very treatable

_because it's the testicles, the chance of spread is very low

_I'm going back for a CT scan so they can check the spread

_based on that I may need chemotherapy

_they want me to have surgery in the next two weeks

_my CT scan is tomorrow

Everything had slowed down for me. I was only thinking about what was next.

Telling my parents, my sister, my wider family, friends.

"I want to control the narrative"

--

We got home and started calling. That was in fact most of the rest of the day.

I remember telling my parents. My dad was really super-factual about it (he'd spent nearly 30 years as a lab technician at the hospital where I was going to be treated). My mum was scared. I knew this because she kept repeating herself. And saying "oh gawd" (yes she really does sound like that).

Then my sister who said she had been wondering if it was cancerous because she'd looked up my symptoms. She is the most intuitive person I know. She sounded calm and worried at the same time.

I also remember telling my brother-in-law who promptly burst into tears.

And then my mother-in-law, and then selected friends.

And so it went over the next week.

I started to get used to speaking to people and being very factual about it. With the occasional joke. 

I also did one video on Davina's family WhatsApp group.

And quickly discovered that the communication method needed to vary according to who was getting the message.

First time telling: a call (depending on how important the person was to me, and if I wanted to tell them)

Updates: Phone call for close family, WhatsApp for friends that knew*

Everyone else who might ask but I didn't really give a shit about: generic email.

"I want to control the narrative"

--

I remember being clear about the generic email I wanted sent to colleagues. What I didn't want were a bazillion "well-wishing" messages.

I'm not sure a lot of the people who had my number would really give a fuck.

So I intentionally wrote a vague but truthful email to my Deputy Head stating exactly what I wanted communicating.

And then went about speaking to the people I wanted to tell.

I got used to the range of reactions:

"...wait what?"

"...naaaah man!"

"...why do bad things happen to good people?"

"...oh for fuck's sake." (That was my line manager who then said "you don't do things by halves do you?")

"...whoa."

etc.

One of my friends did say that the way I was explaining it made it easier for him to deal with.

That was when I realised how important it was to communicate the facts with everyone. No drama. No speculation.

This was something that helped me deal with it myself - what were the doctors actually saying? What did it mean?

I made my parents in charge of telling our wider family. I joked with them saying they were my "communications team" and drafted them a script.

Looking back, it made it easier for them to deal with - regular phone calls gave them the chance to ask questions (my mum now knows how to put her phone on speaker!)

And now I end every conversation with my parents and my sister by telling them I love them.

*Every* conversation. (Try it out for yourself and see what you notice...)

"I want to control the narrative."

--

Friday 18 September, I was back in the hospital for the CT scan. My mask. The sound of my breathing. More waiting.

A cannula, a warm sensation, a feeling like I'm going to urinate (except I won't).

The facts came in the next few days in a conversation over the phone.

There was no spread. It was Stage One Testicular Cancer. 

No point doing a biopsy - it might spread it - get in there and take it out.

Surgery scheduled for Wednesday 30 September.

Let's go.

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*WhatsApp allows the creation of a 'broadcast list' where you can select contacts and send them messages all at once. Then when they reply, it appears in the conversations you have with them directly. It prevents the creation of ANOTHER unmanageable WhatsApp group. It's a great feature!

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