Sunday, 7 June 2015

Cancer One Year On: Under Siege

Today is a special day.  It's exactly one year since I went to the doctor to ask about the strange lump in my breast. 

There is so much to celebrate.  It's difficult to remember now how dark things seemed in those early days, when my liver scan suggested a possible metastatis and we worried that I might not live to see this anniversary.   My mastectomy scar has healed up beautifully, chemo is a distant memory and radiotherapy is all done.

And yet....It's not quite the celebration I had anticipated.  It's as if the battle is over but I am still under siege.  For much of the past year I have been in full fighting mode, focusing on getting through one day at a time and kicking Cancer's butt!  I expected to feel awful, so even on my worse days it was just a question of taking one step at a time.

But I suppose I thought that by now - a whole year since this war was declared - things would have gone back to normal.  And, indeed, things are much improved: Cancer is no longer the focus of our family life and I feel much better than I have for a long time.  And yet I still don't feel 'normal' -  my chest is still post-radio-sore, my arm has gone stiff and needs stretching yet again, I am suffering side effects from Tamoxifen that are very mild compared to chemo but I worry that I'll be stuck with them for the next ten years.  I worry generally.  I have tingling in my fingers and I worry about lymphedema.  I feel dizzy and I worry that there is an undetected tumour in my brain.  I worry that I used to be a person who never worried about her health, never went to the doctor, and now I am turning into a hypochondriac.

So that's what I mean when I say I feel under siege - open warfare is over and life has a semblance of normality but the enemy is still camped at the gate.  I can imagine fighting my way through the miseries of surgery, chemo and radio with a brave smile on my face - only to be ground into the dust by the minor, daily discomforts of Tamoxifen.  I can see why the oncologist warned me that this is often the time that women experience a bout of depression.

So - I will not surrender to the darkness camped at the gate.  I will celebrate my new, funky (if still rather short) hairstyle and the fact that I can finally go out bareheaded.  I will stretch my stiff arm and be glad that it has come so far from the days just after the operation when I was sure I would never have full movement again.   I will rest and be gentle with myself when I'm tired and accept that my body has been through a lot, and exercise and push myself when I can because I need strength in my body to face the future.  I am strong.  One year on and I am alive... and that is a lot.

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