Hello! I write not from my sun-shiny garden – as had become my habit – but from my sofa, where I find myself curled up under a blanket with a cup of tea and a hot water bottle for company. The last hurrah of summer, it would seem, has already hurrahed. I can’t help wondering what autumn might have in store for me this year.
Last autumn was the very definition of the ‘mixed bag.’ On the one hand, we had the Big Move North(ish) to Market Harborough to look forward to. It was a big deal for us, the relocation from Hampshire to the midlands, being as it was, part of a much bigger plan about what we wanted our future to look like. And on the other hand we had the spectre of my diagnosis hanging over us – the little lump and strange not-very-painful-pain above my right breast; the hope that it was nothing to worry about but the growing fear that actually, it perhaps wasn’t as innocent as all that.
That’s that then
I found the lump because of the strange not-very-painful-pain. At the time, I was busy packing up the old flat, and at first, I put it down to a packing injury – I thought I’d over-extended something, or pulled something, or bruised something – and so I put it out of my mind and pressed on. A couple of days later, when the niggle was still niggling I started poking around and there it was, unmistakable and heart-stopping: a lumpy little lump, the texture of frozen peas and the size of a five pence piece. And I thought to myself: “well SHIT. That’s that then.” It turns out your thoughts aren’t nearly as profound as you think they’ll be when those life-changing moments come around….
I haven’t written much about how my diagnosis came about, mostly, I guess because there’s not a huge amount to say. In summary, I spent several weeks between late October and early December last year trooping around medical establishments, showing various strangers my tits and submitting myself to a raft of progressively less comfortable tests – mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsies, and CT scans to be exact. I don’t mean to make light of it, but really, it wasn’t any more complicated than that.
As for how I felt about what was going on – well, if you really want to know, I didn’t feel a single thing. I was there in body but not spirit – looking on from the side-lines – acting, to all intents and purposes, like the whole thing was happening to somebody else. Whatever gets you through the day, right?
Excuse me, I think you’ll find this is an ABSOLUTE SHITSHOW
As the nights draw in and the trees get ready to shed their leaves, it occurs to me that almost a year has passed since I first found my lump. Or, to put it another way, I can’t help thinking that this time last year I had no idea of the ABSOLUTE SHITSHOW that was about to come my way. And I want to be very clear about this, lest there is any doubt – cancer treatment is an ABSOLUTE SHITSHOW.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been finding my way through it because I have to find a way through it. And I’ve been surviving it because surviving it is the whole bloody point. And sure, I’ve laughed my way through a significant portion of it because what else was I going to do? And do you know what? Life has even carried on as usual for most of the time because I guess that’s just what life does.
But here’s the thing: you can find a way through and survive and laugh and live a reasonably normal life with an ABSOLUTE SHITSHOW running in the background. Cancer has taught me that.
Figuring out what I need to figure out
They say that a cancer diagnosis hits people at different times and in different ways. For my part, I was doing just fine until there was a pause to recover from surgery. I found myself with time on my hands, and no treatment to distract me, and I started to realise that I’ve still got a lot of stuff to figure out.
I had no idea that the huge reality of it all was going to hit me when it did, or in the way it did. I didn’t realise how re-assuring the weekly chemotherapy sessions had been, or how sad I would be about the mastectomy. I didn’t understand how nervous I would feel ahead of the results of my pathology report next week, or how frightened I would be about the future. I didn’t realise that there would be times when even the most minor headache would lead me into a panic-driven, tear-soaked spiral of panic and grief. Until recently, it didn’t even occur to me that I might die and now I sometimes have to try very hard to put the thought of it out of my head at all.
There is, by the way, no indication that my demise is imminent and there is no reason whatsoever for me to fear the future. What I’m dealing with now is – for want of a better word – trauma. I’ve been living with a life-threatening illness for the past nine months, and it is no small wonder that now, as I near the final stage of my active treatment, the trauma of that reality should hit me. Dealing with the trauma is, of course, a large part of coming to terms with what has happened. And coming to terms with it is, in turn, a large part of leaving it behind.
And leave it behind I shall, in time.
This time next year
So I suppose what I’m saying is – autumn is unfolding, I’ve been through a lot, and I’m feeling more nostalgic than usual. I seem to spend a lot of my time looking back: to this time last year, or five years ago, or a decade ago. I find myself wishing it was any year but this year, any time but now – that it was a long time ago again and that I still had all of this to come. Or perhaps what I really wish is to be a long time in the future, with all of this behind me. Perhaps what I’m really thinking about is not this time last year, but this time next year, and the year after, and the year after.
Can you be nostalgic for the future? I guess you can. Hope is important and all that.
Aside from all the quiet reflection, life rumbles along like it always did. I’m healing well from the surgery – the scar is small, neat and strangely fascinating. I’m frustrated by how little I can move my arm (WHO KNEW HOW IMPORTANT ARMPIT MUSCLES ARE?) but I’m told that my range of movement is actually surprisingly good all things considered. All things considered, is, I believe, nurse speak for ‘I’m surprised because it should be absolutely fucked’…..
Meanwhile, in other news
Meanwhile, in other news, I’ve FINALLY got a full set of eyelashes and eyebrows to report, and my haircut is now somewhere in the region of Elle at the mid-point of Stranger Things One. Believe it or not, it’s only the second-worst haircut I’ve ever had.
I’ll wind up, for now, leaving you with a song and loads and loads of love from my little corner of the universe.
Love you all lots like jelly tots,