* this post talks about my cancer diagnosis and the effects of treatment, but has a happy ending – like all the best stories *
Four years ago I was a mum to two boys aged 11 and 12, the older one had settled into his secondary school really well, he was trying hard and was generally very polite and well behaved at school. The younger one was in year six and was preparing to move onto his secondary school, he had already been attending a Saturday club at the new school and was looking forward to starting in September. I was applying for jobs, anything that I thought would fit with school hours and child care needs, so mainly part time admin roles.
I was confident that with both boys at secondary our life would become more settled and I would be able to manage “everything” and a job.
In October, we went to a wedding. It was truly beautiful, the sun was shining and it was a lovely romantic day. We returned home on the Sunday as the boys were in school the next day. I remember feeling peaceful and just content with how things were going.
On the Friday morning I decided to have a pamper day, I ran a lovely bubble bath and stayed there cocooned in bubbles for ages, adding more hot water as I needed to. After my bath, I began a full body moisturising, from head to toe.
And that was when my life changed.
When I felt something at the very base of my breast, not really a lump, it just felt a bit hard.
My entire body was flooded with fear and with the certainty that I had cancer and was going to die. I stood there touching the area, comparing it to the other side, examining myself in the mirror.
I cried, even then, before I knew anything for certain, I cried. I wanted to phone my husband at work, but I didn’t want to have to tell him over the phone. I got dressed, I paced around the house, trying to bring my tears under control so that I could ring the GP surgery.
And then for the next six months I travelled the conveyor belt of appointments, tests, surgery, chemo. I cried more than I’ve ever cried before, I was so scared that life was over. I didn’t want to die, I didn’t want to leave my family without me in their world.
Three years ago, I had finished chemo. I then started on Herceptin and Tamoxifen. I had no hair, no eyebrows, no eyelashes, virtually no body hair. I was bloated from steroids. My skin was dry and peeling from an adverse reaction to one of the chemo drugs. I was on beta-blockers because of an adverse reaction to a different chemo drug. I had put on over a stone. I had peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage from chemo) in my hands and feet. My sense of balance was shocking. I dropped things (a lot). My memory was poor. I couldn’t follow a conversation. I would forget what I was saying half way through a sentence. I couldn’t remember the names for everyday objects. I felt fat and unfeminine. Clumsy and stupid.
I worked hard to lose the extra weight and a bit more. I had acupuncture which helped the neuropathy. I joined a Pilates class which helped my balance. Slowly my memory and word recall improved a little. And my hair grew back.
Two years ago, I finished the year of Herceptin injections and this signalled the end of active treatment. Just Tamoxifen and routine check ups now.
One year ago, I was diagnosed with PTSD alongside the depression I had been living with since the cancer bomb exploded in my life. My mental health was at its lowest point ever. I could not see a way out of the despair that clouded my every thought and action. I felt hopeless, lost and trapped in a life I no longer wanted.
Six months ago, I started running. I started this blog. Then I began writing poetry.
I have a BEng (Hons) and a BSc (Hons), I had worked in financial project management… writing poetry was not my thing. Running wasn’t my thing. Yet, somehow the poems just flowed and I found that I loved running. I was enjoying being a writer and loved being part of the WordPress community.
I have had two poems published and I am almost ready to self-publish my first book of poetry.
I am already planning my second and third books.
I can run 10 miles.
I weigh less now than I have ever been in my whole, entire adult life (not that I was ever particularly large)… but hey, it’s another plus!
I have a much better understanding of who I am and why.
I feel like my future is positive.
I have goals, hopes, aspirations, dreams.
I look after myself, and understand the importance of self-care.
I consider my needs alongside those of others, and above those of others if appropriate.
I accept my difficulties and limitations, both physical and emotional, but can adapt to manage alongside these.
I ask for help and delegate.
I step back from unhelpful relationships and situations, and have downsized my social media.
I still have a poor short term memory and struggle with word recall. My mind no longer processes logic, science and complicated stuff. I get distracted easily. I forget birthdays. I forget a lot of stuff. But, it doesn’t matter because I feel complete as an individual. Not as a mum, wife, daughter, sister, work colleague, or whatever.
But just as me, as I am right now.
Flawed. Imperfect. Slightly batty. Odd sense of humour. Almost vegetarian. Poetic. Running obsessed. Me.
And this is because of everything, all the good stuff, the bad stuff, relationships – family, friends, in person or online, medical people, therapy people, people I bump into and chat to. Everything.
Nothing is permanent. Everything changes. We may go through the worst times, the saddest times, through joy and love, we may cry like the tears will never stop, smile until our cheeks ache, or laugh so much our stomachs hurt. But it’s all just transient, just one piece of the jigsaw.