Part 29. What Does It Feel Like? #LifeAfterCancer
No, not really. I can expand on that.
Quick catch up
I have had a really long break from writing. Not by choice, at least it hasn’t been a conscious choice…I think! I’ve thought about writing every day, but every day has been full. Full of responsibility; full of getting back to ‘real life’; full of a genuinely joyful Christmas and New Year despite more sadness, fear and challenge at the end of 2018; full of the joy of new life in our family; full of a drive to regain some fitness; full of the humdrum of work, domesticity and always being skint.
Most of this has made me pause regularly and feel real pleasure in my health – my being alive and well enough to ‘do’ and be all of this. Some of it has made me feel deep sadness. Why? Because I’m grieving. No one tells you that’s what will happen, at least not until you get the amazing support of a good counsellor through MacMillan and she helps you to see your loss, your pain and everything that needs processing after a year of pushing to stay alive.
After some very effective sessions with my counsellor I joined a group she recommended for 6 weeks, HOPE – helping overcome problems effectively, or as I liked to call it, Tuesday Club/Group Therapy/Cancer Club. We went through some of the main issues we all had in common including fear of recurrence, sex and sexuality, loss, and gratitude. It was good. More than good. 6 of us have agreed to keep meeting because being able to share with (very cool) people who have experienced something similar to your own story, at a similar time is priceless. They get it, we get each other.
That was last autumn and in to early December. I had a few weeks during autumn, especially once I’d finished radiotherapy, where I felt crushed by everything I’d been through, what my children had coped with and what my family and loved ones had had to deal with. I use the word crushed because it’s as close as I can get. Devastated might do it, but I feel like I’m being dramatic. I was, probably still am, angry, shocked, deeply sad, physically battered, and all the time I’ve been watching my body, me, slowly return to something similar to what I was BC – before cancer. But it, I, will never be the same. I had a fabulous focus with the planning and execution of JOY, which raised over £3,000 for The Sussex Cancer Fund, and it was pure joy. But the feels were right there.
What’s it Like?
I’m still clear on all the positives I’ve taken from this crazy arse life experience – one being I get to say “life” when talking about it, I am very thankful for that. I saw the positive so clearly for 9 months. January to October 2018 I focused on life and it saved me (that and some serious chemicals, radiation and removal of body parts). Then my brain caught up. As it caught up life beyond my focused cancer bubble kicked in. Life after cancer started to emerge and it’s been weird, and good. As well as all of the above, good and hard, I had a massive bone scan scare in December (which turned out to be damage from a life well lived – yay for drunken falls) and we lost a much-loved, powerful woman in our family, my aunt, after an incredible fight. I wonder if 2018 just had it in for a lot of us? It was a pretty shite year on a global scale really!
As well as all the psychological and physical stuff that hits, I was warned about this bit but the feeling of it is REALLY weird. Having been surrounded, you’re very much on your own again once invasive treatment ends. I’ve switched to second person because I’ve discussed this with Cancer Club and it’s a thing for us all. Angela @rebel_boob gave us all a bloody brilliant analogy. In short, she said, it feels like you’ve been swimming in the sea with crowds swimming around you but quite far away. You’re attacked by a shark and it takes your leg, the crowds swim over, encircle you, treat your wound, rescue you, and gently get you swimming again. You need help for a while, then as you recover you get your groove a bit. You look like you can swim. They all swim off to resume their snogging/volley ball/athletic front crawl etc. (I added all that stuff, sorry Angela!), and you swim alone again, because you can. You can see them and they can see you. Only you know though, that swimming with one leg is hard and you’re petrified that the shark is going to come back.
That’s what it’s like. That’s the short version. And before anyone texts me – I know I am still surrounded, really, and I am okay. But that’s just how it is. Life goes on!
Tomorrow, January 16th 2019, will be a year to the day that a mammogram and ultrasound confirmed the need for multiple biopsies followed by the most agonising 2 weeks of my life.
Today I ran along the undercliff repeating the last run of week 5 on Couch to 5k in an attempt to run for 20 minutes without stopping or walking. I did it. As soon as Sarah Millican congratulated me and I asserted that she was right, I had indeed done it, I cried.
As I did the cool-down walk back to my car I couldn’t stop crying. It was a mix of celebration and joy because after everything a non-runner is now running, but it was also a huge reminder, of everything. In this month of significant dates I am reminded of tests, staple-gun biopsies, interventions, diagnosis, fear, more fear and pain – physical and mental. And I know the worst is over but it will never be over because it has taken so much of me and because it’s bigger than what was inside me, my genetic status means it goes on.
I look in the mirror and see a woman pushing to feel whole again. I know I will in time. I see a woman who would never have had THIS haircut, whose body hurts in places, who can’t do some of the things she used to be able to do, and who is heavy and tired. I’ll get there, as all the other women who’ve been through this do. In our own way, in our own time, if we recognise and talk about all the different ways that cancer tries to beat you down both during and beyond invasive treatment.
Meanwhile, January is no longer the month of the year I will wish away. I don’t want January 31st to come. That’s my big cancerversary. I want the newness of this year, my 2019, the end of 2018 to last. It won’t last though. Time has a clever way of ticking by, so I’ll soak up what I can of the grey skies, of being cold and The Voice being on my tellybox. Because I am not waiting in fear this January. I’m running incredibly slowly (anyone could happily wander alongside me) 3 times a week and I’m looking ahead as much as possible while I figure out what life after cancer looks like.