I did something small yesterday – tiny, really – that has a much larger significance. I removed two little words from my Twitter profile. So what? you may be asking, quite reasonably. Well, the two little words were ”F*cked Cancer’.
It just felt right to let them go. Or maybe it stopped feeling right to include them. I only have 140 characters to sum myself up for my trusty band of followers, and spending ten per cent of that on a disease I had a couple of years ago (I’ll be three years past diagnosis this October) suddenly seemed…what? Irrelevant? Awkward? Embarrassing? Like I was hanging onto something in the past and continuing to let it define me? Maybe even a little bit David Brent going back to Wernham Hogg after he’d been sacked. Sometimes it’s just time to move on.
This isn’t to say, of course, that I will ever forget about having cancer. The day I was diagnosed was, and will always be, as defining a moment in my life as getting married and giving birth to my two babies, in that it changed everything. There are moments in one’s life when it really does seem, quite tangibly, that you are one person one day, and a completely different person the next.
Or, perhaps, that you see the world differently as one chapter closes and another opens. Like you are breathing a subtly different air; like the appearance of everything has been put through an Instagram filter. Marriage, birth, death, diagnosis, divorce, and lottery wins: they split your life into ‘before’ and ‘after’.
So pre-October 2010 was BC: Before Cancer, and everything after 13 October was AD: After Diagnosis. That sounds a little simplistic, but that’s how it was. One day, life is a certain way. The next day, your previous taken-for-granted existence has disappeared, forever.
I was accidentally reading some emails from the BC-AD period this week – you know when you press a button on Outlook and you’re suddenly looking at your oldest emails, rather than the newest ones? – and it was plain weird. In the weeks leading up to The Big Day, it’s all chat, jokes and making arrangements with friends, liaising with existing clients on projects, and setting up meetings with new clients. I marvelled at the normality of it. The innocence.
From 14 October, the emails have a different texture and tone. Cancelling meetings and dates, and explaining why. Announcing, carefully, my news. Asking for help and support and advice. I was astonished at my calmness, my clarity, my eloquence, the lack of panic or distress in my words. But it’s really obvious that nowhere, in not one single email, do I say the word ‘cancer’: it was still too raw, too powerful, too shocking.
I’ve said before that I don’t consider the day I was diagnosed to be the worst day of my life. It was probably up there for DH, my sister, and my parents, but not for me. And I’ve said before, also, that I wouldn’t have not gone through it: I don’t want to go through chemo again, ta, but I honestly feel it was a critical experience, a positive turning point, and full of important lessons. I’m still processing all of that – it takes time to become someone new, or rather, to slough off the crap that has accumulated over the years and allow yourself, with love and approval, to just be yourself.
Nevertheless, I have never defined myself as a cancer patient, sufferer, victim or survivor. It’s just something that happened to me, it’s not everything I am, by a long way (although I know I do go on about it rather a lot in this blog…) And it’s time, now my scars are silvering and my hair is finally thick and growing, to move forward. I’ll still nod respectfully to cancer, of course: it will never not be a significant part of my life and history. I honour its memory. But it’s not part of my present or, god willing, my future.
And I don’t want it to be one of my ‘things’ any more. My adorable children, their education, the marvels and bafflements of love, books, writing, cats, trees, good light, cooking and eating good food, good wine, good company, the pop music of the late 80s and early 90s, quantum physics, the mysteries of the universe, complementary therapy, Italy (we had an amazing time in Rome for DH’s 40th in April…), London, social media, art, stripey tops, pretty necklaces, spa days, heels, being a red-headed Leo – all of these will continue to be my ‘things’. Cancer doesn’t belong in that rich, colourful tapestry any more. There will always be a bit of me that’s ‘the girl who f*cked cancer’, but it’s rapidly becoming a 1970s-orange-tinted Polaroid.
Someone I adore once told me I had ‘f*cked cancer with dignity and courage’. I look back on that brief interlude with my head held high, but only for a moment. I turn round to face today, and tomorrow, and the sun on this golden afternoon is warm on my face, and I am smiling, and the view is really quite something.