Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Going forward in ups and downs

I was tempted to stop there.  To stop blogging with my last post and its final, joyous sentence: I am rediscovering the glorious, sweet thing that is life. 

Life.  What a great word to end a blog about cancer.  And I know how immensely fortunate I am to be here to enjoy simply being alive.  But in the daily routines and requirements of post-cancer life, you can't always be savouring every moment.  In fact, I read an article recently that talked about how difficult it can be for cancer survivors to deal with the pressures of life post-treatment - we are bombarded with stories about people for whom 'Cancer Changed My Life!!' and how they have gone on to live more fully than ever before.

In reality, for most of us, post-cancer life looks remarkably like pre-cancer life.  The washing, ironing and cleaning still needs to be done and winter days are still wet, cold and dark.  We just have to do it with short hair and scars.

Some of us may also be coping with survivors' guilt.  Why did we survive when so many admirable people do not?  Or else we get caught in a 'wait and see' scenario, holding off fully engaging until we can be sure that this gift of life is not simply a short respite.

But perhaps the most common feeling is that life feels just a bit...flat.  As a good friend put it recently, her post-cancer life feels 'lame'.  Dull.  Oh my, I feel guilty just typing that.  How can we complain about a dull life when we should grateful to be here at all?

This time last year I was facing a chemo-Christmas and, trust me, I am truly grateful that this year I am healthy.  I never want to go back there again.  And yet... When I was sick it seemed that nothing I could do was wrong, everyone thought I was so brave, so wonderful.  I found that I almost had a celebrity status when I was on chemo. Now I'm just 'me' again...     I am no longer a 'celebrity' and that is a good thing - but I miss being the centre of all that fuss.  

My friend writes: Last year I got so many emails and letters and visits from overseas. Now the stream of attention has dried up. Not that I always want to be in the floodlights, but it was great to have so many visiting friends and conversations and deep talks about life. Compared to last year I am living in social isolation - despite the fact that I spent most of last winter on or near the couch.

Combine that with scrappy new hair, no job and a thickening waistline (thanks Tamoxifen) and perhaps it's not surprising that our self-image isn't exactly sparkling at the moment.

So where do we go from here?  First of all, we DO need to remember to give thanks.  It's true that's its corny and we can't be expected to live our lives feeling happy every minute just to be alive - but we ARE alive and that is a gift.  Then we need to remember how strong we are.  Not because we 'beat' cancer (that's just luck) but because we fought it.  We lived through FEC and wigs and vomiting and scabby nails (or equivalents) and kept going.  We are still amazing - even if we can't expect to have cheerleaders around us telling us so any more.

And then we need to go forward.  Life post-cancer is still going to have grey days just as it did pre-cancer and that's ok.  We're allowed to have downs as well as ups just like everyone else.  But now we have experience of our deepest selves in the hardest of times and have learnt how to draw strength when we really need it.  The truth is that 'beating' cancer doesn't change anyone's life.  It just helps us realise how amazing we all can be. 

1 comment:

  1. I can relate. I was diagnosed with IDC in my left breast last November. Stage IIb, triple positive. Mastectomy, chemo, radiation, and continuing with Herceptin infusions through January. It is SO hard. In some ways more challenging now than during the harder parts of my treatments. And no one in my life understands what I am going through right now. Hugs to you, sister.