and so it began…
Twelve months on and my prognosis is looking pretty good. I’ve been reassured by the consultants that the cancer is unlikely to return, although no one will actually sign anything to that effect. They have all done their bit, therefore I suppose they can afford to be optimistic. Breast surgeons, oncologists, radiologists: I’m on surname terms with half a dozen of them, and they have all had quite an impact on my body over the last 12 months. The main source of trouble has been cut out and I’ve been flushed through with bilious amounts of toxic substances, and blasted with enough radiation to make even Superman uncomfortable.
Apparently I have now joined the legions of “brave cancer survivors”, although I feel nothing of the sort. It was those I was surrounded by throughout the various stages of this nightmare who should be awarded for their acts of courage. Those who accompanied me to chemotherapy and watched me deteriorate in front of their eyes as the poison went to work. They deserve a medal for holding my hand and holding back their own tears while feeding me mints and making small talk as the chemo did its very worst/best. The boyfriend (and anyone watching their wife or girlfriend go through the same) certainly deserves credit, not just for sticking around in the face of terrible sickness, but for putting up with my frustration, anger and helplessness, all perfectly aimed in his direction and hitting the spot – not that I ever knew; he took it and hid it, returning with a patient smile every time.
I’m no Pollyanna. When facing something like this you just deal with it as best you can. I have quite a dark sense of humour and I put it to good use during this time and those closest to me followed suit, making it so much easier. The friends from all over the world who turned my pending baldness into an online forum, suggesting the most outlandish and ridiculous headgear imaginable. The best friend, who having sat for hours by my hospital bed when I was in isolation didn’t run screaming when I blithely pulled a clump of my falling out hair off my head, eventually seeing the funny side when she was able to breathe properly. Another friend who, in a social situation, made having my photo taken so much easier when she piled her gorgeous blonde hair onto my bald head. I’m better as a brunette but in that moment I was definitely having more fun.
It’s a strange thing to have cancer. The word itself sounds like a death sentence, although it isn’t always. Notwithstanding the diversity of the disease I have been left open mouthed at sweeping statements, said in all probability to reassure me. Let me be clear, there is no “best cancer” to have. Breast cancer in any shape or form is terrifying, whatever the stage, the treatment or the after effects. It is all devastating. I am not “lucky” not to have died. I’m not sure luck and cancer sit particularly well together in any context. And there is no upside to being bald and female, regardless of the shape of my head, decent cheekbones or pretty eyes. Once you lose that hair and those eyebrows you may as well be naked. It is definitely a look and no amount of wigs, hats or eyeliner can hide the fact that the general public only see you as being terminally ill. Ironic considering that by the time my hair fell out I was cancer free, so chemo does have a sense of humour then.
Has cancer changed me? Maybe, possibly, although I haven’t embraced spiritualism, taken up yoga or changed to a vegan diet, but I do worry less and really savour and enjoy the good bits of life. I look back and don’t feel brave, but I definitely feel very proud, and grateful.