The cancer party’s over

Hello [she said, in a bit of a sheepish voice]. I’m back. Evidently. I did warn you my being ‘on a break’ from blogging might be short lived. It’s been one of those ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’ weeks, where immediately after resigning my post, all I wanted to do was write.

It took a coaching session with the astonishingly good Amanda Alexander (she of Coaching Mums) for me to to articulate a) what the hell is going on in my head at the moment and b) why I should be blogging more, not less. Ergo:

a) Having got through the f%cking chemo and the f%cking surgery with what I’d like to consider a certain amount of aplomb and elan, I now find myself in an unexpected and unwelcome place: that of feeling, all of a sudden, that this isn’t fair. Not having cancer per se, since I, y’know, don’t actually have cancer anymore, and I never felt that it ‘wasn’t fair’ anyway.

It’s more of a petulance at the continuing amount of treatment required, and a growing sense that the hard work starts here. The hard work, that is, of finding new ways of being and doing in the world, of ensuring my mental, physical and spiritual health, so I get to live to 120 (the age I’ve always assumed I would be when I die). I feel knackered thinking about it, frankly.

I think a couple of things are happening here. Firstly, that a crisis or big event brings out the best in us. Whether we’re talking about a wedding or a terrorist attack (or cancer, forgot that for a blissful second!) we go through The Big Thing together. We rally round, we celebrate, we rise to the occasion, we become heroes. We surf the wave. Then, there’s the comedown.

After all the energy, love and momentum that carried us through the diagnosis and the really big elements of the treatment, we find ourselves cleaning up after the party with a mahoosive hangover. The rest of the less invasive but just-as-critical treatment feels like mopping up. ‘Real life’ (which still looks a bit surreal, to be honest) kicks in, and I’m not quite willing to face the overwhelming knowledge that that there is an awful lot riding on me getting my next move, existentially, right.

As my new Health Creation Mentor, Kit Hammond Stapely, remarked today, ‘you know that story in the Bible about footsteps in the sand, and there only being one set of footsteps because God was carrying me? Well, when I got through all my cancer treatment, it felt like God had put me down’. And even though I would label myself, if absolutely required, as spiritual rather than religious, I totally got what she means.

When I was first diagnosed, I was in a bubble of absolute acceptance and understanding that cancer was a really rather valuable gift. Some people mooted that I was in shock and in denial, but that certainly wasn’t the case. In those early weeks, back in the hinterlands of 2010, I saw with absolute clarity that this was the ‘wake up call’ of legend: the Big Event that was the catalyst for changing my life. It was quite exhilarating, in a weird kind of way.

Then the chemotherapy gradually took its toll, followed by the surgery, and I stopped feeling grateful for this incredible insight and opportunity, and just felt increasingly, well, rubbish. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been feeling flat, miserable, confused, and not sure what ‘normal’ means any more. Because we’re almost back to ‘normal’ but everything has changed. It’s like waking from a very, very bad dream, where the echo of the nightmare taints the rest of your day.

And then I started on the long-dreaded tamoxifen at the beginning of last week (a large white pill I take every night for five years) and the side effects kicked in immediately: hot flushes, day and night (the Chillow my mummy bought me helps a bit), upset tummy, and mood swings like the sort of PMT you get off a murder charge for.

My action plan to deal with this ‘Twisting My Melon, Man’ state ASAFP is:

1. Find a meditation course to help me calm my head. I’ve done this, starting tonight, and have also booked on an introduction to Mindfulness (sort of a secular offshoot of Buddhist meditation) at the Fountain Centre at the Royal Surrey County Hospital. Ever your intrepid reporter, I will file my impressions.

2. Get some perspective by revisting a coaching exercise I’ve done before with Amanda called ’80 Today’ where, you guessed it, you imagine yourself at 80 and think about the life you hope you would have had: the experiences, the travels, the working life, the family life. The idea is that this will help me understand and put in context how the defining event of cancer and its successful treatment will affect the rest of my life.

To be blunt, to help me truly grasp and appreciate the fact that my life has been saved. That I will see my beautiful, funny, clever DD and DS grow and bear similarly delicious grandchildren. That when I am having my Herceptin drip every three weeks until Christmas (first one of this post-chemo batch was last Thursday), it’s not just another wasted morning, but another step closer towards being that wise, old, doting great-grandmother at 120, sitting in her lovely home surrounded by her family and shelves of novels and awards bearing her name, drinking Pol Roger and laughing her long white hair off (or something).

3. Turn my Herceptin days from a ‘tedious morning at the hospital then rushing back to work’ day, to a ‘chilling out for a bit and then treating myself’ day. In other words, create a fantastically relaxing iPod playlist, put on the headphones, put my feet up on the La-Z-Boy chairs in the chemo suite, and after it’s over (it’ll be down to a half hour session in a couple of cycles), get some really good sushi for lunch and read a book/flick through a magazine/go for a facial/have a manicure/sleep/buy a new item of clothing.

I should add here that my wonderful, long-suffering DH, who has been suffering from an equally acute post-traumatic stress thing for the past few weeks, played a blinder this weekend: he booked a surprise eyebrow shape, facial and cut and blow dry at Aveda on Saturday morning. The grey stubble on my forehead now approximates the shape of two brows, my skin is marginally less sallow, spotty and blotchy, and my hair is short and bouncy, with a surprising amount of volume considering the bald patches are only just covered with baby fluff. I have packed Sophia (the wig) away, and am enjoying the compliments, which sound genuine rather than sympathetic.

That’ll do for starters. As for b), why I need to blog, I’ll talk about that next time. If you’ll have me.

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8 comments

  1. Welcome back. So pleased it was a short break! Whilst I understand why you may have needed one I would miss you too much! 😉 xxx

  2. Of course we’ll have you!

    Very interesting post about coping with ‘normality’ after such a big event. My dad died recently and my mum has coped so well, however, three months down the line she is now having to come to terms with what normality is going to be like for the future and she’s scared and lonely. Life is now starting to carry on around her and she isn’t sure what her role is.
    I know this isn’t the same situation, but I think I have some empathy for how you’re feeling.

  3. Maja – I can empathise and understand. Forgive me for making this about me….. We as a family were involved in a head on car crash in 2005. We lived. Then tried to get back on with “normal” life….well we’ve just been an extremely non-normal amazing life changing experience…but life still wanted us to be normal whereas I wanted to scream “I want life to have impact and meaning, I want us being on this earth to really matter, our lives not to be wasted in the numbness of normality”….This can’t be what we survived for.

    Well actually normal life is what we survived for but what we put into it, contribute to others, accept and love of others makes it extraordinary i think became my realisation. And Amanda’s exercise is great for seeing that.

    The diagnosis as did my crash – gave us extreme moments of clarity for what life is and what is important in it – we can maintain an element of that in our meaning and purpose of our lives going forward but accept some of the humdrumness of reality and normality as “comforting” that life goes on no matter what.

    It takes some tangling with and getting one’s head around but I know you will – core to it is the love and comfort you give to your children and family and what they give to you.

    Good on you for rising to the challenge, seeking support and really do enjoy the compliments – you bloody deserve them!!!

    Hugs xx and lovely to hear (read) you again.

    Nx

  4. I was listening to a recorded interview with the last WW1 veteran, who died recently in Australia aged 112 I think (very, very old anyway) and he said if he had his life over again he wouldn’t change a single thing. The reason he thought he’d had such a long and good life was ‘keeping his family close’ and I guess that’s what we have all done over the past months – a close family anyway, but having to be even closer so that we can support each other at the most difficult times. We all have different strengths to share in times of trouble. I include your friends who have been part of the ‘family’ of support you have and I am really looking forward to our ‘friends and family’ walk for Breast Cancer Care on 11 June.

  5. Don’t give up your blog, please, at least not for now. You have an unique knack of choosing just the right words, phrases and sentiments to suit the situation.
    Your piece rang a lot of my bells. For those who don’t know me, I lost my wife to cancer recently, and Maja’s blogs are a real inspiration, and help me through tough times. Thanks, Maja.

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