Saturday, 27 December 2014

Ten Good Things About Having Cancer

New Year is approaching, that reflective time when we look back at the year gone by.  On the face of it, 2014 was a pretty crappy year for me: cancer diagnosis, mastectomy, chemotherapy...  Cancer definitely sucks - but there were some pretty good things about 2014 too.

Back when I was about to start chemo and needed cheering up, I set myself the challenge of finding Ten Good Things about Having Cancer, and they had to be genuinely good things, not just Things That Could Have Been Worse.    As the end of year swings round, I thought this was a good time to remind myself. 

So here goes.

1.       Recreating close family bonds
This remains my number one.  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.  Something like this makes us say the things that too often go unsaid.

2.       Deepening friendships
 I've also been really touched by the way that friends have rallied around and offered help.  Meals provided, messages of support, help with childcare and shoulders to cry on.  Strong friendships are forged in times of trouble.

3.       Everyone thinks you're amazing
Seriously.  Just plaster a smile to your face and crack a few jokes about being bald and everyone will shake their heads and declare that you are just so brave.  Am I brave?  Of course not!  It's not like I have any choice, I've been dealt a crap hand and I just have to get on with living life as best as I can.  Yet somehow this brings me close to sainthood status.  This is cool.  Enjoy.

4.     Even baldness has its benefits
Losing my hair was one of the things that scared me most (more than losing my breast).  I won't say it hasn't been a pain but, with a decent wig and some great headscarves, it hasn't been the stuff of nightmares either.  And it comes with benefits: showers are super fast now that I don't have to faff around washing and blow drying my hair.  Meanwhile the signs have gone up at school warning that those dreaded head lice are creeping through our children's hair again.  Usually the mere idea is enough to have me scratching away until my scalp hurts.  Not this time.  Even if my kids get it, I will be a Bald Nit-Free Zone.  And all that time wasted shaving legs and arm pits?  No longer necessary!

5.       Guilt free chat sessions
It's difficult to find proper time to catch up with friends and easy to feel guilty about snatched coffees when really you should be doing laundry/shopping/ironing.  But I've taken to inviting people to join me at the hospital while I have my chemo session.  Hours of guilt free chatting, it's not like you can be doing much else while hooked up to an IV after all!

6.       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.

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
Waiting for hours in busy, strip-lit corridors of the hospital for endless appointments isn't how I'd choose to spend my time.  But I've been able to read those books I've wanted to read for ages.
9.       The opportunity to be selfishMost of us 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 after us for a change.  Or book that spa weekend with a girlfriend.  Who can say no to someone with breast cancer?

10.    The fierce exhilaration of being aliveI’m ending on a philosophical one.  Sometimes life can get a bit too comfortable – everything trundles along on an even keel.  But if we don’t experience some downs, we also don’t get the exhilarating ups.  Life can become flat, passing by in grey tones.
There's nothing flat about crossing the treacherous mountain range of Cancer.  There's nothing like the long haul of chemo to make you thrill with life on the occasional days of feeling actually well.  Or swell with a sense of achievement when another milestone is passed on the road to recovery.  Or burn with gratitude when a meal is delivered to the door on a fatigue-filled day.  I remember the fierce joy of pointing directly up at a blue sky with my left arm six weeks after my mastectomy, when I had doubted I'd ever be that flexible again.  And the heady relief when my liver finally got the all-clear.
So 2014 might not go down as my luckiest year ever ... but it will definitely be an intensely memorable one.

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