Health: Cancer - Facing the fear of recurrence and moving on
Updated: Aug 31
Ever heard the old saying 'Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle'
It's 100% true. I would imagine most of you that either know me or follow me on social media know that I have recently fought cancer again.
'Fought', it's an interesting word isn't it. You picture somebody battle weary coming home to a celebration, a bruised but brave hero.
Where do I fit into that? Did I fight? Part of me feels I just had to turn up. The Doctors were the ones that did the work, how does that make me a brave fighter? I don't look ill, if anything I've put on weight. Somebody asks me how I am and I'll say I'm fine.
Reality is, it's the old clowns face isn't it. Dress up , paint your face on, act the fool and nobody really knows whats going on behind the smile. In some ways I'm my own worst enemy in that respect. Maybe I should be slouching around in my pyjamas, maybe I shouldn't even have used the cold cap to keep my hair - perhaps then people would understand how ill I've been...am?
The scars from my first operation four years ago under both my breasts have faded, but now under my right arm is a fresher reminder of recent trauma, as are the hollows and dips where my second tumour and all my lymph nodes were removed.
Make up hides the face of a person tired both mentally and physically. Someone who starts the day with plans and ends it with a feeling of frustration at just not having the energy to see them all through. In many ways my body has been to war. War against itself. When your own body has tried to kill you, can you ever trust it again?
Then there's the physical battle against the chemicals injected into my body, killing not only bad cells but also the good, as my body fights back to recover.
Twice I've done this in the last three years. Twice I've faced my own mortality and wondered what happens at 'the end'. There is the opinion that at least with cancer you get to put your affairs in order and say your goodbyes, but it can also be a long painful death which takes away your dignity and identity.
The fight itself is scary. The thought of waiting to die, knowing that no matter how much you fight you can't change the outcome doesn't bear thinking about. Death scares me, the fight scares me.
I worry about others. I think about how my Mum would cope. I think about how hard it would be on everyone to sort through my things afterwards. Filtering my life into a box of memories because that's all that would be left of me. All that's left to show for my time on this earth.
The thought of another reoccurrence messes with my mind. Who am I now? And what I really can't get my head around is - Do I live as if I'm waiting to die? or live in hope of a future?
Should I be blowing my savings and travelling the world? Where is this epipthany where I know what to do with this second - third chance at life. Why do I still find myself living by the rules?
Do I eat like a rabbit and live like a nun or eat the cake and live wild and recklessly because I'm going to die anyway? I guess it's about finding a balance and hoping for a future, but I'm not there yet, infact I'm not anywhere. I'm lost. Lost in a sea of cancer and my fear of it returning, you see you don't just finish the physical treatment and off you go. It never leaves you. Not only have you been touched by death, but it's there hanging over you like a dark menacing cloud, waiting.
Sometimes I'm scared to be happy because that's when it will get you. Just when you're getting your life back together. Every twinge becomes a reminder of your battle. The mental scars are worse than the physical. Your life becomes a series of 'What if's' not 'What if it comes back?' but 'When'
Maybe that's a coping mechanism. Prepare yourself for the worst and it makes the process easier, but in other ways it's like grieving your own life while you're still alive.
Although you can beat cancer, I feel it still takes a piece of you, that part of you that didn't have a constant fear of death, that looked at life as though tomorrow wasn't an uncertainty. I'd love to be her again, the one that pictured herself being a little old lady one day rather than the one now that sees the clock from countdown ticking down, battling between making the most of each day and not having the energy to do it, wanting to achieve my goals so I don't die feeling a failure, so other people won't think I'm a failure, knowing that at some point, maybe not tomorrow, but that that clock is getting louder and I'm running out of time. Do -do - do -do-do-do-do-do - boom - pens and papers down - my time is up!
These are my thoughts. The ones that I live with each day, not those of the medical profession. They've told me that they don't think it will come back - but then again they told me that the first time, they told me that a few months prior to it coming back and suggesting I see a psychologist to help me stop worrying about it, so forgive me if I find it hard to believe.
I know, and obviously from experience, that psychologists have their own methods of dealing with it. Turn it around. Look at the positives. I can recite it text book, but putting it into practice is a whole other thing. A new fresh battle.
I'm trying, but its hard. I'm neither young nor old, but not ready to die, certainly not ready to die. I look at photos. Me as a kid, me as a teenager, me - before cancer. Cancer draws a very think line through your life. I grieve for her, I want to tell her, but I don't want to tell her. Let her enjoy life as she knows it. Life.
In many ways the mental side of it is the real fight. Like I say, I just rolled up and let the docs do their thing, pump me with chemicals while I scrolled through my phone. I just had to trust in my body to let them work.
I'm a big believer in self love and that you have to love yourself before you can love anybody, but it's hard to love a body that has tried to kill you, but this part is down to me. This is where I start to fight again. It's up to me if cancer wins the mental round.
The coping strategies can be applied to many traumas in your life, if I can do it, then so can you.
Life is a journey - regardless of how we live it, death will be our final destination.
Join me - lets make it one hell of a journey, and when we die, they'll have to find a big fucking box for all our memories!
Post inspired by Kathryn Marlow's 'Fear of Recurrence' Course. If you would like more details or to find out how you can take part visit: https://www.facebook.com/groups/fearofrecurrence