Sunday, 24 August 2014

Ten Good Things About Having Breast Cancer

Let’s be honest about this: having breast cancer totally sucks.  

When I was first diagnosed, one doctor suggested that I could make this a positive thing in my life.  Sorry, but there is no way I can ever imagine looking back on this and being glad that it happened.  Not the scarring surgery.  Not the hours I will spend putting toxins into my system and being ill. Not the fear in the night that this is only the beginning.

But it is nevertheless true that there is always a positive side to everything!  So this is my challenge, to find ten genuinely good things about having breast cancer.  (And the things that people usually offer don’t count, like ‘at least they caught it before it spread any further’, or ‘it’s good that you were diagnosed in Brussels where the treatment is so good’.   They might be true but they are mitigating factors of a bad situation, not genuinely good outcomes).

So here goes.
1.       Family
This is the main one for me.  My husband has been tremendous and it has recreated a closeness between us that routine life had started to erode.  My kids have shown understanding beyond their years and buoyed me up with their love and affection.  And the extended family have rallied round with support (well, most of them, there’s always one).  Something like this makes us say the things that too often go unsaid.
2.       Friends
 I’ve also been really touched by the way that friends have rallied around and offered help.  Meals delivered to the house, messages of support, help with childcare and shoulders to cry on.  Strong friendships are forged in times of trouble.
3.       New friends
Shared interests create friendships; a bit ghoulish in this case but still true.  I’ve already made one new friend; my lovely room-mate in my hospital room when I had my mastectomy.  I’ve contacted my local cancer support group and hope to meet some people outside my usual circle.  As an expat living in an international social network where friends regularly relocate to a different country, this is a benefit not to be sniffed at.
4.       I won’t have to wash my hair
This might sound silly but losing my hair is one of the things that has scared me most (more than losing my breast).  I am quite stressed about having to go out in the world with a bald head in a few weeks time and I hate the thought of wearing a wig.  But here's a thought from a breast cancer sufferer, she found not having to wash her hair liberating.  She’s right, I hate having to wash and blow dry my hair! 
5.       Exercise, exercise, exercise
I’ve been saying for a long time that I need to do more exercise but there always seem to be other chores that need doing first and it never happens.  Now the doctor has prescribed at least 2.5 hours of exercise per week.  So now no-one can complain that the laundry isn’t done and they don’t have clean underwear because I was too busy walking in the park.  It’s doctor’s orders.  I’m looking forward to the challenge of getting fitter...and doing fewer chores.
6.       New dresses
I don’t mind so much that I have no left boob any more.  But it’s still difficult to think of any really good outcomes from a mastectomy and this is the best I can manage – guilt free shopping.  I’m going to need some nice new evening dresses to disguise my lack of cleavage, lots of new lingerie, a new swimming costume, some nice scarves to disguise it...Oh yes, a shopping trip is definitely required.
7.       Improving my French
This probably isn’t one that will apply to many readers but I guess it shows that we all have our own positive outcomes depending on our situation.  As an English speaker living in Brussels, I have struggled to practice my French without people just switching into English.  At the hospital, most of the nurses prefer to stick to French and, if they are busy changing bandages etc, there is always an opportunity to attempt a bit of a chat.  You’d pay a fortune to go to a French conversation class for that!
8.       Reading some good books
There aren't many advantages to waiting for hours in busy, strip-lit corridors of the hospital for endless appointments.  But at least I've been able to read those books I've wanted to read for ages.
9.       The opportunity to be selfish
Most wives and mothers spend a lot of time running around after others.  This is a great excuse to put our feet up with a cup of tea and get them to run around for us instead.  Or book that spa weekend with a girlfriend.  Who can say no to someone with breast cancer?
10.    The fierce exhilaration of success
I’m ending on a bit of a philosophical one.  I think that sometimes life can get a bit too comfortable – everything trundles along perfectly fine on an even keel.  But if we don’t experience some downs, we also don’t get the exhilarating ups.  Often we find other ways to overcome the inevitable tedium; learning to ski, climbing a mountain, running a marathon.  We create difficult moments, even pain, so that our eventual success tastes sweeter.  I hate running and yet I’d still rather have signed up for a marathon than faced breast cancer.  But, like it or not, cancer is my challenge to overcome.  It’s already brought with it some terrifying downs.  But it’s also brought some exhilarating triumphs.  I have been despairing of ever having full movement in my left arm again but this morning, after two weeks of exercises, I pointed directly up at a clear blue sky.  That simple movement filled me with a sense of joyous achievement.  There’s a tough path ahead of me and it’s going to be exhausting and miserable at times.  But there will also be a fierce exhilaration at every stage successfully completed.

So that’s my list – I’m hoping it will help me through the next stage...the dreaded chemotherapy.   And you never know, I might even find a few more to add to my list along the way.

No comments:

Post a Comment