“You could have been Einstein…”
When two old friends who don’t spend nearly enough time together any more sit around with cups of tea, the talk can take some odd turns. But when you are still alive thirty-four years after your first cancer treatments, and – most surprisingly – a year after treatment for your fourth, it’s a fair question – what would I have been like if I’d never had it? Again. And again. And again.
I might have been a god-damn genius for all anyone knows. Right?
I mean, PCCI has hit me hard this time, and I wonder why the devil I never noticed before. With other chemos, I mean, not today. But I was still seventeen when they started pouring mustine and vinblastine through my veins, prednisolone and procarbazine down my throat, and in 1980, no one had heard of chemobrain. So who would have known to check if I was more dappy than usual?
Though I doubt I was ever cut out for Einstein.
I was bright in school, highly capable but dreadfully lazy and totally lacking in academic discipline. College was the same, my potential always exceeding productive reality. Maybe I was a late developer in need of a mentor, but Einstein comparisons weren’t the ones that leapt to mind or lips, and anyway, instead of a future of glittering potential, what I got was a father berserk with drinking and fists, mums divorce, and Hodgkins Lymphoma – it was a busy six months. I always was a crammer.
Cancer treatments then were a comparatively blunt instrument, and the scars of various biopsies and diagnostic interventions tell their own story, to say nothing of the ticking cancer bomb left by high dose radiation in a young breast which lay dormant for nineteen years before exploding my world again. I was in a turbulent relationship with a complicated man I loved very very much by then, and the emotional fallout was rough. Treatments had come along plenty in the intervening years but don’t let that fool you, it’s no walk in the park. However, hiking up Helvellyn between bouts of FEC, everyone believed I was superwoman, so of course, I was.
But I wasn’t Einstein.
By the time number three made its presence known another twelve years on, life with that lovable complicated man had become a horrible mess, and in the preceding nine months a lot more bad things happened, including the deaths of my mum and adored stepdad, my cat, my job and this time a husband beserk with drinking and fists. Cramming again. The marriage was dead man walking for another six months or so until number four bloomed in my now breastless chest and I finally found the courage to say enough.
Einstein would no doubt have managed that a lot sooner.
Of course, I could never have been Einstein – physics makes about as much sense to me as – well let’s just say once I’d made a basic circuit of bulbs light up, that was me and physics done. Theories of relativity in my world have more to do with fathoming that my aunt is a great great aunt to my nephew’s children than a bunch of rules involving gravity, space and time.
Though perhaps Albert and I do have something in common after all. And when I’ve remembered what it is, you’ll be the first to know.