When I was going through treatment for Breast Cancer the very last thing I wanted to hear was that things might continue to be difficult ….albeit in a different way, once treatment concluded.
I so did not want to think this that I refused to accept it as a possibility. This route was not for me. Wasting my precious time with worry? No. I was with sheer determination going to make my life nothing short of fucking fantastic.
In the first 6 months after treatment I made a pretty good stab at fucking fantastic. I lost a stone in weight, returned to swimming, took up yoga, returned to work, went to New York with my family….Carpe Diem and all that.
But around about this time the wheels starting coming off the wagon. It’s complicated but I suppose the first stumbling block was work.
I have worked part-time as a teacher since having my children and it’s always been a balancing act between, work, parenting, managing activities for the kids, preparing healthy food, keeping up with household tasks and fitting in exercise for myself. When you write all that down it’s easy to see why. It’s always been hard and I manage it myself during the week as my husband works away.
It’s always been hard but after cancer treatment it was just so tough. My body ached, my legs would swell up at the end of my working day which was usually just the continuation of my parenting day. Six months after chemo I was sitting at 9pm on my sofa after a long, long, non-stop day and I was crying my eyes out and as miserable as hell. I felt like I got through treatment for this? To feel like this? And I knew I could not continue like that.
I resigned from my job. It was suggested to me that perhaps I should go off sick but I wouldn’t hear of it….after all I didn’t have cancer anymore…I’d been off work , for 9 months, I wasn’t sick and I didn’t want to be signed off as sick.
The problem was (and with hindsight I can see it) …..I was sick. I was still feeling the physical after effects of chemo but I was also sick in a different way and not one that I was able to recognise largely because I was in total denial of it.
I’ve always been healthy in a kind of ruddy strong way. Rarely ill and hardly ever off work. I do know that’s luck not good management. Getting a cancer diagnosis took any feelings of control over my health I might have had and obliterated them.
All the swimming and walking… the eating your 5 a day, eating a proper breakfast …things I did because I tried to be a healthy person. Not only was I not a healthy person but I might actually be a person who was dying of cancer. My eating habits quickly deteriorated and I fell easily into my old groove of self-destructive behaviours.
Getting through treatment was such a massive challenge physically and emotionally that it didn’t leave room for any other feelings. Finishing chemo was the mountain that I had to climb. I hauled my weakened, exhausted, damaged body up to the top and the view was great up there for a while but the descent presented a different set of problems.
Grief. Shock, denial, pain, guilt, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, this is the grieving process and it’s not a linear thing. I felt shock, pain, grief in the early days of my diagnosis. But the other elements did not really emerge until after the shine had faded from concluding my treatment.
Recently I have started to feel that perhaps there is light at the end if the tunnel but perhaps that is not quite correct. Perhaps the light has to appear from within me not without. The light is a consequence of acceptance of what has been and what may be.
I can’t go back and I don’t want to. What I want to do is reconstruct. To rebuild and reclaim myself. I feel hopeful that I can. I have replaced feelings of guilt with self-compassion. But I need to fuel the drive to improve my life. It is after all…my life.
I can’t control timescales. I don’t know if my life will be long or short but the responsibility for making it fucking fantastic is still mine.