It’s four years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Actually, four years today as I sit here and write this blog. Four years ago, I was sitting in this same chair typing into a laptop and desperately searching for information about what the hell was going to happen to me over the next few months.
I was scared. No, that’s somewhat of an understatement. I was petrified and convinced that I was going to die. Even though the consultant had told me that I wouldn’t die. What did he know? Obviously breast cancer is a death sentence. I was going to have to tell my children that their Mum was going to die. God knows how my husband would cope with looking after them. They were 24 and 20 by the way, but still my kids and I didn’t want to leave them.
I’d been given this huge file of information complied by a breast cancer charity. Who did they expect to read that? Not me. I threw it into a cupboard and didn’t look at it for weeks. Much too scary to read all of that. I was given a list of three hospitals from which I could choose to have my treatment. Bonkers! I couldn’t decide if I wanted a glass of water let alone where I’d like to be cut, poisoned and burnt.
What exactly was breast cancer anyway? Why had I got it? How would I cope with the treatment? I don’t want to have an operation. I’ll definitely die under the general anaesthetic. What will my breast look like with a big chunk taken out of it? This is not in my life plan. Why the fuck has this happened to me? I don’t want to die.
I told someone that I was coming up to my four year anniversary the other day and their response was ‘that’s a long time ago. How come you still remember the date?’ I refer you to the blind panic and fear above. That’s not something that I’m going to forget. The thing is I’m not sad today, I’m not angry, I’m not upset, I’m not weepy, I haven’t cried…I just remember and mark the day.
What I actually did today was volunteer at my local Moving Forward course for Breast Cancer Now. I think it was a pretty perfect way for me to spend my morning and a lovely case of coincidence. There I was trying to help eight scared and angry women who had come to the end of their active treatment to start moving forward towards their new normal…whatever that looks like to each of them.
Three years and 364 days ago I hadn’t been told that I had breast cancer. Four years ago I was scared and angry having been told that I had breast cancer. Today, I was the hope that eight women needed to help them understand that their days wouldn’t always be full of fear and anger.
Have I moved forward? Yes, I have. I’m really fortunate that my cancer hadn’t spread beyond my breast and my status is currently No Evidence of Disease. I’m under no illusions that this will always remain the case. But recurrence isn’t something that I think about most days. I don’t worry about every ache and pain that I experience unless it persists for more than a couple of weeks.
I still have days when I’m pissed off about what’s happened and about the changes to my body – I actually missed my nipples the other day. That was a first. But I know that it’s OK to experience those days and that they’re a great excuse to catch up with Chicago Fire, Med & PD. Full disclosure – I don’t actually need an excuse for that.
For me, moving forward isn’t just about cancer. It’s also about trying to take steps to make other parts of my life healthy. I have a few activities that keep my mental health mostly steady.
Counselling is tough but I look forward to it each week. I’ve been working through really difficult events and relationships that go right back to my childhood. I’m learning how to express what I’m feeling rather than just what I’m thinking. Some of those feelings are ugly and jagged and I really don’t want to feel them. I know how important it is for me to allow myself to really feel and to express them. And I’m doing that.
I exercise a lot. I couldn’t for a long time, so now I do because I can. I also love how much stronger and fitter I am. Losing weight and becoming thinner are not the drivers for me to exercise. Moving my body makes me feel happier. Walking my dogs in the countryside is enough for me some days. Other days, I do strength or HIIT workouts or I run. However I move, I do it because it makes me feel good.
Writing helps me to process the jumbled up mess that goes on inside my head. I procrastinate so hard before I actually mange to write anything. But once I start, I always enjoy it. So much so that I did a life writing course for three months at the end of last year. It was exciting and totally out of my comfort zone. Some weeks I had to really talk myself into going and the old me would have given up and not completed the course.
And then there’s the crap mostly American TV to which I am addicted. It started with Grey’s Anatomy and actually… when is Season 16 coming to the UK? Those flashy, noisy, ridiculous dramas were really important to me during treatment and I love them still. I watch them alone, generally early in the morning when I can’t get back to sleep. I guess this is one part of my life which I haven’t moved on from…but I have no plans to do so.