Monday, 28 December 2009

Some year it turned out to be

A year ago today I had diagnostic tests which revealed breast cancer tumours. It wasn’t confirmed until a week later, but all the evidence that day was not good. It was a complete shock as I had only been referred on the basis of experiencing slight tenderness in one place. There was no lump. It turned out to be at least five tumours, one of which was very aggressive, but fortunately at an early stage. If I hadn’t have thought to go to my GP when I did, it would most likely have spread through the lymph glands and my life could be so different. I urge anyone who notices ANY kind of change to their breast to go and get checked out.

I’ve been waiting for this year to come to an end. These last few weeks of it, my mind and memory have been travelling back to happy times this time last year, when I was unaware of what lay ahead, and had only just discovered a new me, one that had started to enjoy living in and for the present, experiencing a new kind of happiness. The first two days of the year were shared with someone who provided fun and laughter which took me back to a time I thought I had lost. Then, within a week of being diagnosed (and with no previous weeks worrying, as cancer was the last thing I thought was causing the tenderness), I had a mastectomy. It was all so sudden, no time to think things through. Emotions all over the place. Laughter gone. Six cycles of chemotherapy spanning 19 weeks followed plus three further weeks of radiotherapy. August 3rd was the last day of invasive treatment. (There are still tablets to take for the next five years). All signs are that it has done the trick. I feel lucky I didn’t experience any major physical side effects and was able to carry on studying and looking after my children, going out and, well, just getting on. Emotionally, though, it has been (and continues to be) more of a rollercoaster ride, and at times, it’s as though another person has undertaken what I had to endure, and I can’t quite believe that I have come through it all intact. There's laughter from time to time, but not in the same way as before. But I'm feeling less and less like I need to escape back to where I was and am intent on moving forward.

Christmas Day was spent with my children and their dad, as usual. He and I separated four years ago, this is in fact the fifth Christmas apart. Before then, we had been together 20 years. He’s still a good friend. We reflected on what he told me on my birthday this September, a time when I was at one of my lowest points. He’d told me that I ought to look back on this year as one of achievement; the way I have dealt with it means I have turned what should have been a shit year into one I should be proud of. I kind of agree. But it still feels like a lost year, a year of limbo floating around waiting for life to start up again.

So I keep ticking off all the “anniversaries”, all the “this time last year” stuff, waiting, anticipating a new beginning. But there’s still a while to go; reconstructive surgery in February will take a few months to heal and then there will be subsequent more minor ops to follow, gradually rebuilding what was taken away (or perhaps “remodelling” is a better word, as the procedures aim to create a flat stomach and perky breasts which hadn’t been apparent for quite a few years post childbirth…) So I envisage another gap year, but one that I am looking forward to and anticipating good results from. Let’s see.

So, here are some positive aspects of having breast cancer this year…

Cropping my hair, which seems blonder
Eventually growing longer eyelashes and fuller eyebrows
Being allowed the indulgence to rediscover myself
Becoming a Top Shop size 10
Winning a prize at art college for my self portrait project
Having the opportunity to take time away and go inter railing
The prospect of gaining new pert boobs and a tummy tuck to boot, all on the fabulous NHS
Most importantly, discovering strong friendships.

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