The Other Half of the Glass Half Full

Okay, so I’ve been thinking about how I feel at the moment, about everything that’s been going on in my life since 3 January, specifically sickness and just where I am with it all. And you know how much I like blogging about me. And Jan and Feb have so far proved pretty rubbish so I thought I’d share some of my rubbish with you.

We went to hospital yesterday for Stella’s results. If I’d been writing a script breakdown about my character’s emotional and physical journey this is how it would play out.


Shelley walks from the house to the hospital through the park on a journey she has taken many times. Yellow and purple crocuses poke out of the wet ground. Spring. Almost. At the end of the park is the hospital where Shelley and her wife have been many times for cancer and fertility treatment. Shelley’s stomach churns with nerves, perhaps not so much churns as has a focussed concentrated area of pain due to the anticipation and concern over her partner’s results.

As usual the smokers annoy her, the fag ends squashed into the pavement she walks on. One day she will say something to the woman with the drip, the man in blue pyjamas, a cigarette in one hand, a child in the other. If she says anything today she will explode.

The walk to the breast unit takes them past the coffee shop. She is aware that the hospital smells of school dinners. She used to like school dinners. Today there is a sale of knitwear. Usually Shelley is drawn to shopping of any kind, today she doesn’t care. Her eyes glance at the brown, red, green garments for no more than a second. Her stomach, she thinks, is knitted with nerves. Knotted with nerves that she cannot untangle. Her nerves are red.

Into the breast unit, the shade of raspberry walls is more suited to small children than grown women. There are only two other women waiting which means Stella will be seen quickly. While Stella fills in a form (which hurts her right hand, she has not written anything by hand since her operation), Shelley sits with her hands in her coat pockets, not because she is cold, but because she needs to put them somewhere. She looks at the other two women, they seem relatively young. She is reminded that Stella was young the first time she was diagnosed. Stella was only 36. A woman is called away and in minutes emerges with a consultant. Stella and Shelley notice the thirty something brunette consultant with low heeled black shoes. They both know this is the consultant who will call Stella in a few seconds. Hearts race, Shelley is numb and scared, and what ifs keep coming at her. What if it’s spread, what if Stella has to have chemo again, what if what if what if. What if she has to grow old alone, what if is this it, what if what if what if? Selfish thoughts, she knows, but she has them, she has had them for fourteen years and she will have them forever.

In the room Stella introduces Shelley as her partner. No double take from Consultant M. And then to the results. They are not through yet, not fully. Fear edges away slightly. The doctor assures Stella that there is really, probably, nothing to worry about (but they’ve been there before). On initial investigation the histopathology team couldn’t find any signs of cancer, which may mean that they removed it all during the three very painful biopsies Stella had – however, they still need to carry out further tests to ensure this is the case and no rogue cells are playing hide and seek. And, Stella asks, will I need chemo. The consultant says we hardly ever give chemo with DCIS. And Shelley watches Stella’s body smile.

They will return next Thursday afternoon, after Stella’s brother-in-law’s funeral, to get the final results.


That is the narrative of my day. Part of the narrative, part of the day. I walked home through the park with Stella, feeling, strange, hopeful yet not too hopeful, numb, not nervous but not okay about it. Yes of course if Stella doesn’t need chemo, that would be wonderful and time will heal her bloody scars, and they are bloody. Hip to hip stitches, a breast which has been re created, re formed and in the doing has caused Stella enormous pain and blood loss and loss of some use of her right arm, which should, we hope, return with time and exercise. She is my patchwork doll, and each day the patches become more like the main body of the doll, except Stella is not a doll. And IF they have caught the cancer early, this is good. IF Stella’s annual mammogram had been booked three or four or more months further into the year, who knows what the results would be. Time. Everything is down to time and timing, and the older I get the more I accept that there’s not a lot any of us can do about time and timing in work and life and love and sickness.

And there will be people who say how lucky she is not to have chemo, how fortunate that all she had was surgery. It will be wonderful if she doesn’t have to have further treatment, but having witnessed her body hours after surgery and today, two weeks later, her recovering body, all of her body, there is nothing lucky about any of this and it is not a competition. We will continue to worry, every single day, because we can’t help it, because every time she has a cough or cold or backache or some ailment, my worry will rise up. Because that’s how it is, when your wife has had a grade three cancer once, had surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy and fourteen years later it has returned as a grade 3 DCIS – Ductal Carcinoma In Situ – that is, it hasn’t broken out of the ducts, it’s confined to one room of a house (grade 3 tumour is different to grade 3 DCIS, we discovered today), you worry every day. I worry every day. And I won’t stop worrying. Ever. But you probably won’t notice the worry, the fear, her fear and my fear. But it will be there, while I smile at you and joke with you, when I am on holiday or writing or at the gym or in the pool or making a cake or buying flowers or playing the ukulele or eating or partying or sitting in the sun or doing absolutely nothing. It’s always there. Yes she is alive, so many aren’t, so many we love aren’t. But we will never fully relax and it will never be okay, our lives will never be what they were pre cancer January 14th 2000. Yes she is grateful that she is alive, I am grateful, but the cost to her – and to me, is great.

10 thoughts on “The Other Half of the Glass Half Full

  1. I’d like to say I understand your anxiety – a lot of us have had it – whether it’s husbands, wives, children or friends or Twitter friends which you both are to me – I wish you both luck, a long and happy life together – all you would wish yourselves – Jane Pearce xx

  2. Dear Shelley, I come from a background where things like this were never discussed, only darkly alluded to. It has been both moving and inspirational for me to read what you and Stella have been writing about you are both going through. Look after her. Look after yourself. Much love, Stephen x

  3. hey Shelley, this reading of blogs thing – right thru to the end 😉 – is becoming a habit – mainly cos its YOU & your darling wife. Bloody gr8 writing. Insightful to read your experience: on the sidelines but constantly in play. nothing else to add.
    alofa atu

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