Right, back to the blog. I started this blog post ages ago, around the time of my ‘cancerversary in February 2020’. Then ‘The Megladon’ happened (when my besty from Oz, Megan, landed, literally landed, in my house one Sunday afternoon), and then, well, Coronavirus for shit’s sake. Oh and then I accidentally deleted the website and it had to be restored. And all manner of other excuses not to blog. But I DO want to blog, and losing the site reminded me of that. So, I’m back. With a post about cancer roughly a year on and precious little to do with what’s on everyone’s minds at the moment, but hey. There we go. This one’s all about cancer contradictions.
1. Breast Cancer – it’s somewhere between doable and utterly harrowing… There are days when the fear and enourmity of it all feels like it’s enough to sink you there and then. And many others, mostly in fact, where you just get on with it. Because you have to. The ‘you’ve got this’ instagram meme can grate, but like any other platitude often rings true. Somehow, from somewhere, you muster what’s required to get through it. That counts for every single human I’ve encountered going through the shit-show, breast cancer or otherwise, no matter how awful. Having a full hysterectomy, vagina reconstruction, and shitting out of your stomach for the foreseeable? #youvegotthis
2. Cancer is officially ‘common’ and yet society seems wholly ill-equipped to deal with it. Half the population will get cancer over the course of a life time and one in 7 women will develop Breast Cancer. Now, the maths is a bit dicey here but we’re nearly as likely to get cancer as the Coronavirus (maybe a 10% difference?). And yet, when diagnosed, it comes as a complete shock as if it’s the last thing in the world you’re expecting. Not even remotely on the radar. WHAT?! CANCER?!! As for the rest, most people haven’t a clue how to deal with someone with a diagnosis. It’s still ‘the c word’ and difficult to talk about for many. Mad, isn’t it?
3. A year on, I’m a ‘cancer expert’ yet still none the wiser. When you’re diagnosed, you realise how little you actually know. I’ve spent the best part of a year re-educating myself and undoing my own misconceptions around cancer, only to arrive at a place where I have no more answers than I did at the beginning. Random cellular mutation and oestrogen is the long at the short of it for me. One day, they’ll be able to map the footprint of cancer and truly understand how and why it originated in each individual, and it will be a complex combination of factors. In the meantime, you’re left trying not to fill in the gaps.
4. The life-style disease with fuck-all to do with life-style. Chat around reducing the risk of cancer pitching up or coming back is all life-style based (diet, booze, fags, exercise), and yet you’re categorically told there’s nothing you can do, outside of ‘balance’ to stop it returning. A combination of positivity, downward dogs and turmeric tea might help you feel in control, but it’ll do fuck all to stop aggressive cancer cells from multiplying undetected. Lots of us get stuck in the disconnect between medicine and functional nutrition. In the absence of more joined-up science, all you can do is live life as best you can without getting too caught up in what you should or shouldn’t be doing.
5. I’ve been happiest through the worst, and sunk to the depths for the best. Your emotions regularly play opposites on you. I was my most upbeat during treatment, practically skipping to and from radiotherapy every day, and then crashing later for the post-treatment lows. Whilst we’re all different, actually, so many react in similar, near-predictable ways. Effectively what we’re doing is emotionally ‘battening down the hatches’ to ride the biggest waves, then in calmer seas, getting a grip on what we’ve dealt with. It’s in-built trauma management that happens without you thinking about it. The hard bit is making sure you don’t keep those hatches jammed shut for too long.
6. You can be surrounded by people, love and support and still feel isolated and alone. Cancer just is, by its nature, isolating. Someone I was introduced to early on in my diagnosis said over whatsapp; “It’s very lonely. At the end of the day, it’s between you and your body”. And it’s true. Layer onto that the fact that so many really struggle to know how to respond to your diagnosis, from the great empathy-bypass to cancer-ghosting and pity-eyes, it’s little wonder so many end up finding solace in the cancer community online.
7. Hospitals can be grim places but there’s so much light. It’s the people. I think anyone in the UK would struggle to emerge from treatment under the NHS without a sense of deep love and gratitude for the people who held you through it. Sure the NHS admin can be a bit iffy at times (they’re basically swamped), and I’m sure the bed side manner of some Consultants isn’t perfect either and, oh, gosh, I could get myself into a real hole here so I won’t keep adding exceptions (I’m really sorry if you’ve had a rough time on the NHS), BUT when all’s said and done, when you look back and remember the times when you’ve been most vulnerable, alone in a hospital bed, having had some dreadful op or procedure, it’s Shirley and Rodrigo and Carol that you remember, people that were unbelievably kind, warm, smiley even when helping you get your functions functioning again. Especially then, in fact.
8. Boring old normal is the new amazing. I really like Dee’s words for this. Dee was diagnosed with Bowel Cancer in her early thirties and said, about a year after her own diagnosis, “when your own life has been out of your control for so long, the idea of normality takes on an alluring glow that others don’t see.. Normality is not having your life consumed by your health. It’s being able to focus on something other than how long you have left to live”. It’s essentially a reminder that all that matters is the here and now. Breathing in. And out. Stars. Naps. Grass. Kids. Cook it then eat it. Him.
9. Cancer was so scary, it’s made me braver about life. There was a moment, a week-long moment when I was waiting for my liver scan results to find out whether the cancer had metastasised, that I felt like was living from breath to breath (and holding my children WAY to tight and staring at Tom WAAY too much). Where it all made sense. I’m trying to hang on to that feeling. The current struggle, as it were, is finding the balance between moving forward, but not letting myself forget what I’ve learned. Most importantly, that I don’t need to be scared about life anymore. Try the thing. Say yes. Say no. Do it. Or don’t. None of it really matters anyway.
10. It’s really annoying ending on a 9 isn’t it?