It’s now 3 months on from my final chemo and I feel pretty good. I have very short hair but no bald patches. I still get flushes but it’s manageable. My eyebrows are back and I have eyelashes, sparse but they are there. The physical signs of chemo are less visible but I still ache like an old woman.
I am enjoying my yoga. I find it tough but It feels good to do something challenging and I realise that yoga is teaching me a lot about accepting myself and my body as it is and not as it should be.
So how is life after breast cancer? My life is good in a different way. It is good because I am grateful for the simple things that I did not fully appreciate before. It is good because I feel loved and valued by the people in my life. I am also back in touch with many people as a direct result of my illness and I have been able to spend time with some of them. It is good because I have an enhanced sense of how wonderful my life is and how much I love the people in it. It is good because I have learned important things about myself. I am stronger than I realised and brave because I’ve had to be.
That’s a fairly good list! Of course there are profound negatives too. The obvious and most relevant negative is that I could still die of cancer. I live with the fear of recurrence every day. It is an entirely rational fear based on my statistics. When I saw my oncologist for the last time my updated statistics were 70% survival for 5 years and 60% for 10 years. I am more likely to live than to die but its high risk and I must learn to live with that. I think I’m doing ok with it.
Having Triple Negative Breast cancer is also an additional source of fear. It is higher risk for recurrence, tends to be aggressive, is more likely to spread to other organs and kills more women over a shorter period of time. My prognosis is worse because the cancer is in my lymph and pre menopausal women also have a worse prognosis for this cancer compared with older women.
There is irony in dealing with these stats at the same time as people are congratulating you on your ‘journey’ being over! It doesn’t feel over but I do have a strong sense of moving onto the next bit.
I accept that I won’t ever know what caused my cancer. I know what didn’t cause it. Not my hormones or the Her 2 protein. Not a gene mutation or at least not the one they can test for. So I am left with lifestyle being a causal factor but without knowing what aspects of my lifestyle were to blame. I was fairly fit and relatively healthy before I got cancer.
That’s quite hard because if my lifestyle gave me cancer then how can I stop it happening again? Also if it comes back it probably means it never really went away so changing my lifestyle may be pointless in any case. These are the routes that my thinking takes. Round and round.
In the beginning I felt like the foolish man in the proverb who build his house on the sand but it goes further than that. It’s more like the fairy tale of the 3 little pigs where the wolf comes to blow your house down but you don’t know what your house is built of, straw, wood or bricks. How can I know if I am better? I won’t know unless I become ill again, when it’s too late.
I won’t live my life waiting for the wolf to come. I have to accept the fear and face it and live my life despite it. That’s what is going to happen next. That will be my story.