Have you ever peered over the side of a cliff and wondered what it would be like to fall over the side and down onto the rocks below? That’s how getting a cancer diagnosis felt for me, like falling off a cliff. You don’t necessarily expect to survive such a thing but after the crash I picked up the fractured parts and attempted to reassemble them.
In the beginning I didn’t recognise this ruined version of myself. I didn’t feel fixed. In my timeline there are only things that happened before cancer and things that happened after. It created a chasm between what was and what wasn’t, what could be and what would never be again.
In the first few months after treatment I was still recovering from the physical side effects of chemo. I was however, ridiculously happy to be alive which proved to be an ameliorating force. I was tuned into the beautiful things in the world and unwilling to put up with anything that was not contributing to my wellbeing. I resigned from my job. I was too physically tired and too mentally exhausted to handle all the baggage that comes with teaching.
That was a really difficult time but it was also the beginning of some major changes for me. Out of the pain, suffering and fear that I experienced I have learned certain truths about my situation. The desire to survive forced me to adapt.
Some of the changes have been positive but much of it continues to be difficult. I have had to accept that I can’t make difficult things disappear. After completing treatment the very last thing that I wanted to hear was that things might continue to be difficult. I refused to accept this possibility. My life was going to be bloody brilliant thanks very much and cancer could just f*&k right off.
But both these things are true. My life is brilliant but it’s also quite difficult at times. That’s true for everyone but the cancer experience may diverge in that what is difficult becomes invisible sometimes even to the person who is experiencing it.
To explain; after I had cancer I didn’t generally talk much about how it felt because I had done that while ill and I wanted to move forward. Being told to stay strong and be positive had been irksome during that time but who wants to be weak and negative? So you crack on.
Tables or desks need to be moved and you don’t want to say I shouldn’t be doing that but you have to speak because lifting is a no-no for risk of lymphedema after the removal of your lymph nodes due to cancer surgery. The risk is real but you look healthy.
Short term plans are often overturned by feeling that you can’t cope. Making long term plans is a hurdle. I have forced myself to do certain things which had been curtailed by thinking ‘what if I die?’ the risk is real but you look healthy.
The fatigue I feel continues to be beyond anything I’ve experienced before but you look normal, perhaps even healthy. But you are never really quite sure that you are healthy.
Finally, ‘Time’ that curer of all ills. The 3 year point post cancer, where you have hair and you can move your arms again and walk and swim coincides with the peak time for recurrence of the cancer to present as a secondary diagnosis. It’s scary and it sucks. Sometimes you feel like you are back on the edge of that cliff, teetering.
I am writing this because it’s difficult to say it and it’s a bit of a buzz kill. Most of the time I just want to have a laugh and get on with my life but it would be the biggest lie to say that it is always easy to do that.
I am approaching the 2 year anniversary of my diagnosis of cancer- the ultimate kill-joy and yet here am- often joyful, sometimes sad but always grateful that I am still here to figure out my way through this bit.