So the elation of being told that your cancer hasn’t spread lasts about 24 hours. Pretty soon after that, the reality starts to creep back in. You’re never truly free of cancer, even once all the treatment is done it looms like a spectre over your life, waiting to strike again.
I know that statistically, once chemo and radio are done, my odds aren’t too bad, but that doesn’t stop the worry. Once it’s got inside you, it never leaves. Now, and probably for evermore, every twinge, every ache, every tiny mark makes you wonder if it’s somewhere else. Once you become part of the online breast cancer community, you can’t avoid the stories of secondary breast cancer and recurring cancers, and how women who thought they were clear of it found it had come back, even more devastating than before. This is now my future and it’s crap. I want my old life back.
I’ve been having a tough weekend. I guess it’s the come-down after all the activity of the last couple of weeks. Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted with the outcome of the surgery, and I’m totally overwhelmed by all the support and care I’d had from so many lovely friends. But it feels like the big dramatic event is over now. It feels a bit like when our house burnt down in 2010 and our entire village collected up toys and clothes and household goods for us. It was absolutely wonderful and it got us through the horror of that awful event. But once the dust cleared, we were sat my mum’s spare room, homeless, wondering what the fuck we were going to do. Gradually everyone went back to their lives, and we had to start carving out a new path for ourselves, starting from scratch, with our past and our memories gone up in smoke, literally.
Life Changing Moments
We survived, the insurance process kicked in, the house was eventually rebuilt. But when it was, I didn’t want to live there any more. It wasn’t my life any more, because it wasn’t the same house and it didn’t have the same familiar things in it. That’s how I feel now. This huge event, this life changing moment, has destroyed how it used to be. It’s changed me, it’s changed us, it’s changed everything.
I scroll through my social media feed, not stopping to comment on the things I would have normally have jumped on. I have no idea what the current Covid numbers are, I don’t know who’s trolling who on Edutwitter, I’ve turned down commissions for articles and I’ve apologised for having no comments to add on media stories on edu-finance topics that I would have usually been a dead cert for. It’s not that I don’t care anymore, it’s just that I don’t have the spare emotional capacity to give to anything else right now, other than things about cancer. I’m spending less time in the company of old friends and more with new ones, women who are living and sharing my cancer experience with me. It’s what I need right now, it’s where I feel comfortable. So it looks like maybe I am that cancer woman after all.
Good Days, Bad Days
But even this I know is just part of the process of healing. My wise guru has warned me that there will be good days and bad days, and it’s OK to just wallow sometimes if that’s what I feel like doing. Today it was, but already I’m starting to feel a bit more upbeat. Oddly, aside from the dread of feeling like utter shite for months, the prospect of chemo is also quite exciting. It’s the next big step in kicking cancer’s arse, and I just want to get cracking with it now. Sitting around isn’t something I’m very good at, so I’ve been exploring ways of turning this into an adventure.
Hair today, gone tomorrow
The prospect of losing my hair isn’t something I’d choose, but nor is it the most devastating thing that could happen to me. I’ve never been a beautiful, traditionally attractive woman (don’t come at me with your definitions of beauty, I know, thank you, you’re kind) but I’m really utterly fine with who I am. My point is that I’ve never felt validated by how I look, or had my value judged by my appearance. I truly don’t care about society’s values on how women should look (other than to challenge them), so that doesn’t worry me, I’ll be able to face my bald self head on (sorry, couldn't resist). But what I won’t want is people trying to engage with me about the reasons behind it, so I will almost certainly be exploring colourful wigs to amuse myself, and to keep them at arms length. I’ve also discovered that rainbow-coloured eyebrow stamps exist so a whole new world of statement dressing has opened up to me.
And when I do, it will be a statement about who I want the world to see, not what I don’t want them to see. I see brave women posting photos of their newly shaved heads on cancer forums, and they always, without exception, look beautiful and strong and full of courage. I don’t know if I’ll decide to do that one day, or ever, but I do know that true courage isn’t about posting photos on the internet, it’s about getting up every day and making the best of whatever crap the universe throws at you.
I’m busy collecting items for my chemo kit, some are essential and practical, others are things that make me smile or bring me comfort. Some of the things are gifts from friends, others are things I’ve treated myself to. Hell I even managed to find a rainbow coloured pill organiser to brighten my medicine box. So even in the toughest of circumstances, there is always a way to make things better, through laughter, friendship, colour and fun.
Tomorrow will be a much better day, I know that because I will make it so, because my own response is something I can choose. That, and the colour of my eyebrows.