Part 30. One Year
I’ve just gone back to Part 1 and Part 2 of the QEK Blog as last Thursday, 31st Jan, did indeed arrive – my one year cancerversary. I certainly tapped in to my sense of humour, as did my loved ones with our ridiculous and at times wholly inappropriate response to my diagnosis including a group cancer selfie the night of diagnosis. And I tapped in to ‘that’ language, which is a hot topic right now – the language of ‘fighting’ cancer, a battle to be won or lost by warriors and brave people. I actually described what was to come as the toughest endurance test of my life and how very accurate that was. I should fucking coco.
The language of fighting continued and from my perspective it was one way of finding some control at a time when I actually had to give myself over to those with the training, the tools and the poison to cure me. It’s not for everyone (#thisisntforeveryone!) and it does raise issues around those of us who can’t ‘beat’ cancer. I understand the concerns about this kind of dialogue but for me it’s about trying to put words to something that is actually unfathomable. Something was trying to kill me from the inside. Shite cells had gathered together and were on the move in my body and they needed fighting with a massive dump of domestos, some scalpels, radiation and my belief, right or wrong, that my body and mind would survive.
Have I won the ‘fight’? No. That’s the short answer. I’ll ask myself in a year, then 2, then, because I had a triple negative breast cancer, in 5 then 8. TNBC likes coming back – metastasising. Some time last year I read somewhere that 8 years is the point at which you are considered ‘cured’ if you haven’t had a recurrence. I’m going with what I know now, the mindset I had throughout 2018, that I am healthy until my body and/or a professional tell me otherwise.
I am, to the best of my knowledge, following that incredible call from my surgeon in July 2018 and subsequent (frightening!) scans, cancer-free. I did very well at the endurance test, focusing my mind and treating my body better than I ever have before. However, following 9 months of invasive, active treatment, I have scars both physically and mentally which are the things to deal with from here on, as well as a year-long clinical trial, two more surgeries and the genetic testing of my girls in the future.
There’s no winning at this game. Clearly living is by far preferable to dying though.
The old Emma
But cancer changes you and I hope in time that means I grow, change for the better and continue to discover things about me that I didn’t tap in to bc. For now though I sometimes live in a parallel universe, at times consumed by the experience I just had, am still having. I don’t have cancer but I don’t have the old me either, and I liked her. I do have constant, uncomfortable memories and reminders daily. Last Thursday, 31st Jan, was full of them as I was taken back to one of the worst days of my life, beaten only by the day I told my children, and I couldn’t control the flashbacks.
I am probably wrong, but I feel I shouldn’t talk too much about my cancer experience, or talk about it too often as other people are over it. It’s all done now, right? Emma is better and going for runs, she’s back at work and she’s doing things with her kids, she’s throwing parties, and we’re trying to have a good time so let’s not go back to that, it’s depressing. I know my loved ones aren’t actually thinking that, but it’s got to cross their minds, it crosses mine.
I am not in a place where I can just forget it for an entire day or evening and be care-free. Not yet. An example being an evening with 3 of my best friends which ended on a high note of dancing around the lounge. I didn’t feel like dancing, I just felt suddenly, horribly sad. I didn’t let on, just came home, felt it and got over it. Writing that down makes me feel sad again but it’s not an ‘are you okay hun’ moment. It’s plain old honesty and me recognising what’s happening and that it won’t be this way forever. Stuff triggers a thought and I am taken to no man’s land, this place between the end of treatment and the start of living without cancer, both physically and mentally. I don’t know how long I’ll be here for but a brilliant woman posted on IG recently that she woke up and didn’t think about breast cancer for a whole day recently and she knew something had switched. Bring that motherfucking day ON!
Am I okay (hun)? Yes. I know I am in yet another phase and this one’s for me to work through without the kind of support I had in 2018. Only I can suss out what to do with this experience and these feelings. I can return to counselling if I feel I need it. Only I can choose to do the exercises that will alleviate some of my chest and arm discomfort. Only I can make those smoothies filled with every health-giving thing I can find that powered me through chemo. Or some unknown philanthropist can sign me up to a Kardashian style daily delivery (thanks v much unknown smoothie benefactor of my dreams). Only I can decide who to talk to when I need to talk, and I do talk when I need to. Only I can consider my attitude to my next surgery. Only I can make the choices about how I respond to this, still.
This feels very lonely but I know I’m not on my own, as Thursday’s cancerversary messages and my besties flowers and card placed in my home reminded me… but I am. One year on and it’s gone but it’s not, it’s physically no longer terrifying, but it can be a right old headfuck. However, I know myself, even if I’m not the old me, and I am okay. Sometimes I’m great and I can see the giant positives behind me and in front of me. One day I’ll be fully Emma again.
For now ‘happy’, weird, flashback-filled cancerversary me. My beautiful sister-in-law suggested I make it my second birthday. Perhaps next year I’ll flip January 31st and the memories it brings right on it’s head and celebrate with a party instead of crying in to my incredible daughter’s arms! Or the as yet unknown smoothie philanthropist can send me to Barbados for a couple of weeks. Either works.