Picture this. I am standing in Camden Market. The large lady in front of me has one hand on my bald pate while the other points to the sky. “My God, look down upon this lady” she exclaims, “take care of her and bring her strength”. This is a little embarrassing. I have often been accused of attention seeking behaviour. However, when seeking attention I try to do it when I feel the desire to receive it, like bragging on Facebook or dancing wantonly at office Christmas parties. I admit there have been other occasions when I have received unwanted attention, as was the case when a tampon fell from my handbag at the top of the leaning tower of Pisa. And here, now, in Camden Market while purchasing a rather splendid hat to hide my baldness is not an occasion for seeking attention. What’s more, personally, I am not religious. I respect other people’s faiths and have often wished I could share in it. But I confess, at the risk of appearing blasphemous, I really only cry out for help from God at moments of extreme passion or despair.
The hat I am purchasing is colourful, handmade by the loudly praying lady and quite expensive. Finally the seller recovers her composure and turns her attention back from God to me as I scrabble in my purse thanking her for her prayers of support. But it seems that not only is the news of my chemo-bald head a reason to pray for me, it also makes me deserving of a significant discount on the price. This cancer malarkey is not all doom and gloom.
It is some time since I have really prayed. I used to do it routinely as a child at bedtime, generally because I wanted things. I know, I know, if you are religious and reading this you may be offended. I don’t mean to offend. I do have some sort of faith but don’t really know how to express it. But since my diagnosis people seem to want to pray for me. I am touched at this. I value that people care about my well being. However, I mostly put my faith in the power of medicine. And there have been occasions on my so-called “journey” where the offer of prayer has felt inappropriate. Most prayers have come from friends and family and are gratefully received. Prayers offered by fellow patients in waiting rooms I also consider to be well meaning and kind. However, once I am in the consulting room or in my hospital bed I become less confident that prayers are what I am seeking. Take for example my post mastectomy consultation with my surgeon. It is two weeks since they lopped off my left tit and the results are in. Thankfully this is not the X-factor or Big Brother eviction night so my surgeon doesn’t leave me hanging for the news. But the news is not so good. They have found cancer in my lymph nodes. It is only recently I found out what a lymph node is. Although having said that I have no clue what one actually looks like. But I do know this is not the news I was hoping for. So I will be going in for another operation – for what’s called an axillary node clearance. And so, I am feeling a little shaken and upset when I am asked to go behind the screen to take off my top so the surgeon can inspect my “wound”. After checking his handy-work the surgeon leaves the room and it is just me and the nurse left alone to talk dates and procedures. I’ve met this nurse a few times at different appointments. Although she is immune to my attempts at consultation and surgery-related jokes she always seems kind. But today she does something different. She leans across to me and places her hand on my arm. “I will pray for you” she says. I am surprised. This is a hospital. Both she and the doctor are medically trained. My faith in what happens next is based firmly in science and the power of medicine. Please don’t pray for me!