It is not often that I talk about my cancer here but today I would like to take a moment to share some of the thoughts and experiences with you on living with cancer. One of the things this blog has taught me is that being able to be able to connect with other people is one of the most gratifying perks of blogging, things are always better when you realise you are not alone.
We all have the statistics, we sit and watch the adverts telling us how many people are affected by cancer, and yet. A tragedy can happen to any of us at any time but we never think it will happen to us. Perhaps that is why I ignored the fact that we should check our breasts for lumps. I thought I would worry about that when I get older, breast cancer is something that happens to women over 50, right? Wrong in fact in the UK alone over 9000 women under 50 are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. One fateful day 3 years ago I started my battle with cancer. I wasn’t looking for anything and by a sheer luck when putting on moisturiser I felt a lump. For the first hour all I did was recheck the same area because I was convinced I must be wrong, I must be imagining it. That night all I did was lay awake and wonder if I ignored it and did not go to the doctors that it would go away. That night I felt like a small child again convinced that hiding my head in the sand was a reasonable strategy. As it happens I was not a child anymore, I knew that ignoring this was not an option and I still had in the back of my mind that this was just a lump, a lump is not cancer.
I had watched films and seen it on T.V. the moment when a character is told they have cancer. It happens in one blow, one hit of awful news that shakes their world and makes them crumble. It was not like that for me. For me it was like being in the ring and getting repeatedly hit in the gut, every time I got back up I got hit in the gut again and dropped to my knees. Finding the lump, the first hit to the solar plexus. Having my GP telling me that he was making a referral for me to the hospital, and I hit the floor again. Getting a biopsy. This time it took me longer to stand back up, just in time for the final blow, the results. This was what I had seen in films and had remained living in the world of fiction until it was my turn to hear the words, “you have cancer”.
I see myself as an intelligent forthright person, I make decisions and take control and I do that by being informed about a situation and taking the best possible course of action available to me. This time no matter how much I tried to listen to what I was being told about the type of cancer, what stage it was at, what the prognosis was, what my options were I could not really listen. I would come home and family and friends would ask me questions that I knew I had been told the answer to and I simply could not remember the information. My whole life as I was growing up countless people had told me how stubborn and bloody minded I was, parents, teachers, family, babysitters. It was never told to me as a compliment but when I decided I was not going to be ill it was my greatest asset and I was never more proud of my stubborn nature.
I decided that if I was going to be tough and fight this I had to act tough. I remembered that when I was bullied as a child I pretended that I didn’t care what others were saying about me, I pretended so hard that eventually I didn’t care. This was my new game plan. I was to mask my fear with a nonchalance. If people asked how I was I would talk about cancer as if I had a cold that I could not shift. I went shopping for a wedding dress with my maid of honour the whole time thinking I am not sure how many years of marriage I might get and should I still be doing this, but when she said you look great I smiled and remembered that my plan was to pretend that I am not ill and nothing can take me down. I was so good at executing my plan that I shut a lot of people out including Joe. This was hard to do, and I will admit it was and is exhausting to keep the bravery up but I really believe that it has been the thing that saved me.
The travelling back and forth to the hospital, the treatment, the operations, the pain none of it was as exhausting as the emotional fight. Perhaps that is because you know you have options there. The treatment and hospitals that is all something that is going to happen, you have no way to prevent a side affect or pain but you do have the option to stop fighting so hard emotionally, you can stop being brave about it. You can give yourself a break, the thing that kept me going was a firm belief that if I did that, if I gave in and rested under a blanket and allowed myself to wallow in being sick I would die and cancer would win, I was not willing to let that happen.
The first time I went into remission I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted that is why 6 months later when it was back and had another operation weeks before my wedding I felt like I was caught in a nightmare and this wedding was my farewell party. Another Christmas with the cloud of cancer looming and the New Year brought with it great news. I was back in remission and this time I felt like it was going to last, 6 months – clear, 9 months – clear. Then it happened a 12 month scan and it was back.
Last week I had a 3 month check up and all is good I am back in remission. Do I feel like this is always over my head? That depends on what day you ask me the question. It is always in the back of my mind. It does not get easier each time. No I have not had the same feeling as the first time I heard my diagnosis, instead that is replaced with an inevitable and expected disappointment. I do wonder how long I can keep up the emotional strength but then the world keeps giving me new reasons to fight and stay strong. New avenues of support, coping mechanisms and I dig down and always find a little more.
Why tell you all of this. Well one thing that I found the most strength and comfort from was being able to find other women online or through local groups who had been through the same thing. Some were winning others I met lost their fight but the fact that we stood together gave me a sense of solidarity which gave me a strength. It is hard to stay strong when you think you are alone in something. So I thought that if I shared my story online maybe someone might find it one day. As much as I don’t want to become a poster girl for breast cancer I do want to let people know that it is important to check your breasts, it could save your life. We all need to deal with things in our own way and it will be different for everyone but this is my story and I wish you all the luck and love in the world with your own.